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10 Inspiring Life Lessons from Astronaut Chris Hadfield

10 Inspiring Life Lessons from Astronaut Chris Hadfield

Chris Hadfield is an amazing human being. He commanded the International Space Station. He used YouTube to teach us about life in orbit. He used Twitter to give us a new perspective on our planet. He did that viral cover of Bowie’s Space Oddity.

Then he came home. He wrote a book called An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth. I read that book. It was awesome. Here are some things I learned from it.

1. Have an attitude

In NASA terminology, your attitude is your orientation relative to two positions, for example your spaceship relative to the Earth and a satellite. Losing your attitude is bad, because you could end up drifting, lost and alone in outer space.

Chris Hadfield also thinks of life trajectory like attitude control – you need to stay on the right path to achieve your goals. It’s always not in your control whether you get there or not, but you can do everything in your power to make it happen. In life, losing your attitude – drifting from your path – is way worse than not reaching your destination.

2. Aim for zero

In any given situation, according to Hadfield, you’re either a ‘plus-one’, a ‘zero’ or a ‘minus-one’. If you’re a plus-one, you’re actively adding value. If you’re a zero, you’re generally competent and don’t get in the way. Being a minus-one sucks, because you’re a liability and actively cause problems.

However, if you’re a plus-one and you walk into a situation trying to prove how great you are, you can go from a plus one to a minus one – your ‘I got this’ mentality might easily irritate and prove detrimental to the dynamic.

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So the best thing to do in a new situation? Aim for zero. Listen. Observe. Offer advice. Don’t try to take control of everything. If you know what you’re doing, you won’t need to tell people you’re a plus one. They’ll know it.

3. Utilise the power of negative thinking

‘Negative thinking’ sounds pessimistic. Defeatist. But when you think about it, planning for the worst can actually be energising and confidence-boosting. How? Well, if you always prepare a contingency for every scenario you’ll never be caught off-guard.

Chris Hadfield’s approach is to ask: “What’s the next thing that could kill me?” It sounds exhausting and masochistic. But actually, it isn’t. By thinking about what could go wrong in any specific situation, you preempt problems with your own solutions.

And that means you can actually relax and enjoy life, knowing you’re ready to act if things go wrong.

Chris Hadfield being interviewed

    4. Sweat the small stuff

    “An astronaut who doesn’t sweat the small stuff is a dead astronaut,” says Hadfield. The lesson: averting disaster isn’t about making one-off life-or-death decisions – it’s about learning and understanding all the little things that develop into a bigger issue. An example of astronaut small stuff is knowing the ‘boldface’ – the tried-and-tested instructions that make up NASA’s Flight Rules manual.

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    Not sweating the small stuff runs counter to conventional wisdom, yet there’s truth in it. Yes, an astronaut’s work environment is radically more hostile and dangerous than most people’s. But the point is that paying attention to the granular details – like physical health symptoms or signs of car trouble – makes you incrementally safer.

    5. Do care what others think

    It’s hard to accept we’re not in control of our own destiny. But the fact is other people have more influence over the course of our careers and lives than we do. Chris Hadfield has been to space three times – in 1995 and 2001 on the Space Shuttle and 2013 on the ISS. Yet no matter how hard he worked, it was always someone else’s decision to put him on a mission.

    Which means it makes sense to care what people think about you and your performance. So get feedback. Learn from it. Improve. If the only opinion you’re worried about is your own, you’re probably going to limit your progress.

    6. When the stakes are high, preparation is everything

    We can’t always control what happens to us in life when big moments come around. But we can control how prepared we are. It might seem obvious to prepare if you’re planning to pilot a Soyuz rocket to the ISS, but many of us fail to prepare for normal stuff in life – even if we know there are big moments are coming up.

    So whether it’s a big exam, a job interview or sports final, when the high-stakes situations arise planning for success is key. In most scenarios, Hadfield argues that you’ve passed or failed before you even begin, depending on your level of preparation.

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    Chris Hadfield speaking about his experience

      7. Good leadership means leading the way, not bullying other people to do things your way

      Some people are very successful at intimidating people into going along with their plans. It’s the brute force approach to getting things done. But leading through coercion and bullying others means you’re building your leadership credentials on very weak foundations.

      Chris Hadfield reckons the better way to lead is by proving the best course of action. Setting an example. It’s the consensus-building approach. By showing people the right path, you’re creating a stronger platform for teamwork and leadership. People will follow you because they want to, not because they have to.

      8. Put groupthink at the core of your teamwork

      For Hadfield, the key question to ask when you’re part of a team is: “How can I help get us to where we need to go?” It’s beautifully simple: put the team before yourself, and you’re more likely to win.

      Hadfield argues that you really don’t need to be a superhero to be a valuable member of a team – empathy and a sense of humour are often more important. He also suggests that searching for ways to lighten the mood is never a waste of time, because it encourages expeditionary spirit – everyone pulling together in extraordinary circumstances to collectively accomplish a shared goal.

      Conversely, while sharing common gripes can create a bond between team mates, excessive whining is corrosive and the antithesis of expeditionary behaviour.

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      Chris Hadfield (left) post-landing

        Credit: NASA

        9. Criticise the problem, never the person

        Chris Hadfield believes that if you need to make a strong criticism, it’s better to pinpoint the problem rather than attack the person. Yes, it can be frustrating when you suffer for someone’s mistake, but ridiculing or berating a colleague is counter-productive. ‘Work the problem’ is a core mantra of NASA culture. It’s not about ego.

        In fact, Hadfield advocates going out of your way to help colleagues improve in all areas. This seems strange coming from the hyper-competitive world of NASA, but Hadfield argues that promoting colleagues’ interests helps you stay competitive. Plus you have a vested interest in your colleagues’ success – the better they are, the more they can help you succeed.

        10. Be ready. Work. Hard. Enjoy it!

        Ultimately, Chris Hadfield’s life lessons boil down to being the best that you can be through hard work and preparation. This approach has taken him from being a fighter pilot and test pilot right through to a 20-year astronaut career. It’s not a ground-breaking philosophy, admittedly, but then how often do we truly earn the things we want by working for them? How often do we just wish or hope they’d happen?

        Featured photo credit: NASA via flickr.com

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        Last Updated on August 20, 2019

        How to Control Your Thoughts and Be the Master of Your Mind

        How to Control Your Thoughts and Be the Master of Your Mind

        Your mind is the most powerful tool you have for the creation of good in your life, but if not used correctly, can also be the most destructive force in your life.

        Your mind, more specifically, your thoughts, affect your perception and therefore, your interpretation of reality. (And here’s Why Your Perception Is Your Reality.)

        I have heard that the average person thinks around 70,000 thoughts a day. That’s a lot, especially if they are unproductive, self-abusive and just a general waste of energy.

        You can let your thoughts run amok, but why would you? It is your mind, your thoughts; isn’t it time to take your power back? Isn’t it time to take control?

        Choose to be the person who is actively, consciously thinking your thoughts. Become the master of your mind.

        When you change your thoughts, you will change your feelings as well, and you will also eliminate the triggers that set off those feelings. Both of these outcomes provide you with a greater level of peace in your mind.

        I currently have few thoughts that are not of my own choosing or a response from my reprogramming. I am the master of my mind, so now my mind is quite peaceful. Yours can be too!

        Who Is Thinking My Thoughts?

        Before you can become the master of your mind, you must recognize that you are currently at the mercy of several unwanted “squatters” living in your mind, and they are in charge of your thoughts. If you want to be the boss of them, you must know who they are and what their motivation is, and then you can take charge and evict them.

        Here are four of the “squatters” in your head that create the most unhealthy and unproductive thoughts:

        1. The Inner Critic

        This is your constant abuser who is often a conglomeration of:

        • Other people’s words; many times your parents.
        • Thoughts you have created based on your own or other peoples expectations.
        • Comparing yourself to other people, including those in the media.
        • The things you told yourself as a result of painful experiences such as betrayal and rejection. Your interpretation creates your self-doubt and self-blame, which are most likely undeserved in cases of rejection and betrayal.

        The Inner Critic is motivated by pain, low self-esteem, lack of self-acceptance and lack of self-love.

        Why else would this person abuse you? And since this person is actually you– why else would you abuse yourself? Why would you let anyone treat you this badly?

        2. The Worrier

        This person lives in the future; in the world of “what ifs.”

        The Worrier is motivated by fear which is often irrational and with no basis for it. Occasionally, this person is motivated by fear that what happened in the past will happen again.

        3. The Reactor or Trouble-Maker

        This is the one that triggers anger, frustration and pain. These triggers stem from unhealed wounds of the past. Any experience that is even closely related to a past wound will set him off.

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        This person can be set off by words or feelings, and can even be set off by sounds and smells.

        The Reactor has no real motivation and has poor impulse control and is run by past programming that no longer serves you, if it ever did.

        4. The Sleep Depriver

        This can be a combination of any number of different squatters including the inner planner, the rehasher, and the ruminator, along with the inner critic and the worrier.

        The Sleep Depriver’s motivation can be:

        • As a reaction to silence, which he fights against
        • Taking care of the business you neglected during the day
        • Self-doubt, low self-esteem, insecurity and generalized anxiety
        • As listed above for the inner critic and worrier

        How can you control these squatters?

        How to Master Your Mind

        You are the thinker and the observer of your thoughts. You must pay attention to your thoughts so you can identify “who” is running the show; this will determine which technique you will want to use.

        Begin each day with the intention of paying attention to your thoughts and catching yourself when you are thinking undesirable thoughts.

        There are two ways to control your thoughts:

        • Technique A – Interrupt and replace them
        • Technique B – Eliminate them altogether

        This second option is what is known as peace of mind!

        The technique of interrupting and replacing is a means of reprogramming your subconscious mind. Eventually, the replacement thoughts will become the “go to” thoughts in the applicable situations.

        Use Technique A with the Inner Critic and Worrier; and Technique B with the Reactor and Sleep Depriver.

        For the Inner Critic

        When you catch yourself thinking something negative about yourself (calling yourself names, disrespecting yourself, or berating yourself), interrupt it.

        You can yell (in your mind), “Stop! No!” or, “Enough! I’m in control now.” Then, whatever your negative thought was about yourself, replace it with an opposite or counter thought or an affirmation that begins with “I am.”

        For example, if your thought is, “I’m such a loser,” you can replace it with, “I am a Divine Creation of the Universal Spirit. I am a perfect spiritual being learning to master the human experience. I am a being of energy, light, and matter. I am magnificent, brilliant, and beautiful. I love and approve of myself just as I am.”

        You can also have a dialogue with yourself with the intention of discrediting the ‘voice’ that created the thought, if you know whose voice it is:

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        “Just because so-and-so said I was a loser doesn’t make it true. It was his or her opinion, not a statement of fact. Or maybe they were joking and I took it seriously because I’m insecure.”

        If you recognize that you have recurring self-critical thoughts, you can write out or pre-plan your counter thoughts or affirmation so you can be ready. This is the first squatter you should evict, forcefully, if necessary:

        • They rile up the Worrier.
        • The names you call yourself become triggers when called those names by others, so he also maintains the presence of the Reactor.
        • They are often present when you try to fall asleep so he perpetuates the Sleep Depriver.
        • They are a bully and is verbally and emotionally abusive.
        • They are the destroyer of self-esteem. They convince you that you’re not worthy. They’re a liar! In the interest of your self-worth, get them out!

        Eliminate your worst critic and you will also diminish the presence of the other three squatters.

        Replace them with your new best friends who support, encourage, and enhance your life. This is a presence you want in your mind.

        For the Worrier

        Prolonged anxiety is mentally, emotionally and physically unhealthy. It can have long-term health implications.

        Fear initiates the fight or flight response, creates worry in the mind and creates anxiety in the body.

        You should be able to recognize a “worry thought” immediately by how you feel. The physiological signs that the fight or flight response of fear has kicked in are:

        • Increased heart rate, blood pressure, or surge of adrenaline
        • Shallow breathing or breathlessness
        • Muscles tense

        Use the above stated method to interrupt any thought of worry and then replace it. But this time you will replace your thoughts of worry with thoughts of gratitude for the outcome you wish for.

        If you believe in a higher power, this is the time to engage with it. Here is an example:

        Instead of worrying about my loved ones traveling in bad weather, I say the following (I call it a prayer):

        “Thank you great spirit for watching over _______. Thank you for watching over his/her car and keeping it safe, road-worthy, and free of maintenance issues without warning. Thank you for surrounding him/her with only safe, conscientious, and alert drivers. And thank you for keeping him/her safe, conscientious, and alert.”

        Smile when you think about it or say it aloud, and phrase it in the present tense; both of these will help you feel it and possibly even start to believe it.

        If you can visualize what you are praying for, the visualization will enhance the feeling so you will increase the impact in your vibrational field.

        Now take a calming breath, slowly in through your nose, and slowly out through the mouth. Take as many as you like!

        Replacing fearful thoughts with gratitude will decrease reactionary behavior, taking the steam out of the Reactor.

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        For example:

        If your child gets lost in the mall, the typical parental reaction that follows the fearful thoughts when finding them is to yell at them.

        “I told you never to leave my sight.” This reaction just adds to the child’s fear level from being lost in the first place. Plus, it also teaches them that mom and/or dad will get mad when he or she makes a mistake, which may make them lie to you or not tell you things in the future.

        Change those fearful thoughts when they happen:

        “Thank You (your choice of Higher Power) for watching over my child and keeping him safe. Thank you for helping me find him soon.”

        Then, when you see your child after this thought process, your only reaction will be gratitude, and that seems like a better alternative for all people involved.

        For the Trouble-Maker, Reactor or Over-Reactor

        Permanently eliminating this squatter will take a bit more attention and reflection after the fact to identify and heal the causes of the triggers; but until then, you can prevent the Reactor from getting out of control by initiating conscious breathing as soon as you recognize his presence.

        The Reactor’s thoughts or feelings activate the fight or flight response just like with the Worrier. The physiological signs of his presence will be the same. With a little attention, you should be able to tell the difference between anxiety, anger, frustration, or pain:

        • Increased heart rate and blood pressure; surge of adrenaline
        • Shallow breathing or breathlessness
        • Muscles tension

        I’m sure you’ve heard the suggestion to count to ten when you get angry—well, you can make those ten seconds much more productive if you are breathing consciously during that time.

        Conscious breathing is as simple as it sounds; just be conscious of your breathing. Pay attention to the air going in and coming out.

        Breathe in through your nose:

        • Feel the air entering your nostrils.
        • Feel your lungs filling and expanding.
        • Focus on your belly rising.

        Breathe out through your nose:

        • Feel your lungs emptying.
        • Focus on your belly falling.
        • Feel the air exiting your nostrils.

        Do this for as long as you like. Leave the situation if you want. This gives the adrenaline time to normalize.

        Now you can address the situation with a calmer, more rational perspective and avoid damaging behavior.

        One of the troubles this squatter causes is that it adds to the sleep depriver’s issues. By evicting, or at least controlling the Reactor, you will decrease reactionary behavior, which will decrease the need for the rehashing and ruminating that may keep you from falling asleep.

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        Master your mind and stop the Reactor from bringing stress to you and your relationships!

        For the Sleep Depriver

        (They’re made up of the Inner Planner, the Rehasher and the Ruminator, along with the Inner Critic and the Worrier.)

        I was plagued with a very common problem: not being able to turn off my mind at bedtime. This inability prevented me from falling asleep and thus, getting a restful and restorative night’s sleep.

        Here’s how I mastered my mind and evicted the Sleep Depriver and all his cronies.

        1. I started by focusing on my breathing—paying attention to the rise and fall of my belly—but that didn’t keep the thoughts out for long. (Actually, I now start with checking my at-rest mouth position to keep me from clenching.)
        2. Then I came up with replacement strategy that eliminated uncontrolled thinking—imagining the word in while breathing in and thinking the word out when breathing out. I would (and do) elongate the word to match the length of my breath.

        When I catch myself thinking, I shift back to in, out. With this technique, I am still thinking, sort of, but the wheels are no longer spinning out of control. I am in control of my mind and I choose quiet.

        From the first time I tried this method I started to yawn after only a few cycles and am usually asleep within ten minutes.

        For really difficult nights, I add an increase of attention by holding my eyes in a looking-up position (Closed, of course!). Sometimes I try to look toward my third eye but that really hurts my eyes.

        If you have trouble falling asleep because you can’t shut off your mind, I strongly recommend you try this technique. I still use it every night. You can start sleeping better tonight!

        You can also use this technique any time you want to:

        • Fall back to sleep if you wake up too soon.
        • Shut down your thinking.
        • Calm your feelings.
        • Simply focus on the present moment. 

        The Bottom Line

        Your mind is a tool, and like any other tool, it can be used for constructive purposes or for destructive purposes.

        You can allow your mind to be occupied by unwanted, undesirable and destructive tenants, or you can choose desirable tenants like peace, gratitude, compassion, love, and joy.

        Your mind can become your best friend, your biggest supporter, and someone you can count on to be there and encourage you. The choice is yours!

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        Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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