An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth- (What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything) By CHRIS HADFIELD


“See, a funny thing happened on the way to space: I learned how to live better and more happily here on Earth. Over time, I learned how to anticipate problems in order to prevent them, and how to respond effectively in critical situations. I learned how to neutralize fear, how to stay focused and how to succeed.

And many of the techniques I learned were fairly simple though counterintuitive—crisp inversions of snappy aphorisms, in some cases. Astronauts are taught that the best way to reduce stress is to sweat the small stuff. We’re trained to look on the dark side and to imagine the worst things that could possibly happen. In fact, in simulators, one of the most common questions we learn to ask ourselves is, ‘Okay, what’s the next thing that will kill me?’ …

The upshot of all this is that we become competent, which is the most important quality to have if you’re an astronaut—or, frankly, anyone, anywhere, who is striving to succeed at anything at all. Competence means keeping your head in a crisis, sticking with a task even when it seems hopeless, and improvising good solutions to tough problems when every second counts. It encompasses ingenuity, determination and being prepared for anything.

Astronauts have these qualities not because we’re smarter than everyone else… It’s because we are taught to view the world—and ourselves—differently. My shorthand for it is ‘thinking like an astronaut.’ But you don’t have to go to space to learn to do that.

It’s mostly a matter of changing your perspective.”

~ Chris Hadfield from An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth

astronauts guide on earth

THE BIG IDEAS

1. Have an Attitude

How’s yours?

2. The Colonel Says!

Be ready. Work hard. Enjoy it!

3. Astro-WOOP!

What can go wrong?

4. Sweat the Small Stuff

It’s all small stuff.

5. Deep Love

Schedule it!

6. Finish Strong

Be a hero at the end.

7. Everything Counts

So make it count.

After reading Adam Steltzner’s great book The Right Kind of Crazy about his incredible experience landing a rover on Mars, I decided to stay in deep space and read this book.

I’m glad I did. It’s awesome.

You might know Chris Hadfield as the guitar strumming astronaut in outer space—if you haven’t watched this astonishing video of him singing a revised edition of Space Oddity while aboard the International Space Station, check it out!

The easiest way to describe the book is to imagine how cool Chris must be to create THAT video and then imagine how cool a book of his would be. That’s this book.

As the sub-title suggests, it’s all about what going to space taught him about ingenuity, determination, and being prepared for anything. It’s a wise, witty, humble and fun look at how to rock it on Earth. (Get the book here.)

It’s also packed with Big Ideas and I’m excited to explore some of my favorites so let’s jump straight in!

IDEA ONE: HAVE AN ATTITUDE

“In space flight, ‘attitude’ refers to orientation: which direction your vehicle is pointing relative to the Sun, Earth and other spacecraft. If you lose control of your attitude, two things happen:the vehicle starts to tumble and spin, disorienting everyone on board, and it also strays from its course, which, if you’re short on time or fuel, could mean the difference between life and death.In the Soyuz, for example, we use every cue from every available source—periscope, multiple sensors, the horizon—to monitor our attitude constantly and adjust if necessary. We never want to lose attitude, since maintaining attitude is fundamental to success.

In my experience, something similar is true on Earth. Ultimately, I don’t determine whether I arrive at the desired professional destination. Too many variables are out of my control. There’s really just one thing I can control: my attitude during the journey, which is what keeps me feeling steady and stable, and what keeps me headed in the right direction. So I consciously monitor and correct, if necessary, because losing attitude would be far worse than not achieving my goal.”

Attitude.

If you’re flying through space at crazy speeds, it’s best you keep very close tabs on it.

And… Same thing with life on Earth!!

As you keep good track of your attitude, keep this gem by Walter Rusell (see Notes on The Man Who Tapped the Secrets of the Universe) in mind: “Joy and happiness are the indicators  of balance in a human machine, just as a change in the familiar hum in a mechanism immediately indicates an abnormalcy to the practiced ear of the mechanic. An inner joyousness, amounting to ecstasy, is the normal condition of the genius mind. Any lack of  that joyousness develops body-destroying toxins. That inner ecstasy of the mind is the secret fountain of perpetual youth and strength in any man. He who finds it finds omnipotence and omniscience.”

So, how’s your attitude?

Let’s keep track and adjust in flight! 🙂

IDEA 2: THE COLONEL SAYS!

“My kids are endlessly amused by what they see as my earnestness. For years now they have played a game they call ‘The Colonel Says,’ which involves parroting sayings of mine that they find particularly hilarious. My son Evan’s personal favorite, which I barked at him from beneath the family car I was trying to fix: ‘No one ever accomplished anything great sitting down.’ Recently, they’ve joked about creating a ‘Colonel Says’ app that would spit out sayings appropriate to any situation. It’s a great idea, though I think you’d only need one: ‘Be ready.Work. Hard. Enjoy it!” It fits every situation.”

Head on over to your local app store and download ‘The Colonel Says’ app for some fresh wisdom from the good Colonel.

Download complete. Now, fire it up!

It says: “Be ready. Work. Hard. Enjoy it!”

Refresh: “Be ready. Work. Hard. Enjoy it!”

One more: “Be ready. Work. Hard. Enjoy it!”

Perfect.

Fits every situation. 🙂

IDEA 3: ASTRO-WOOP

“It’s puzzling to me that so many self-help gurus urge people to visualize victory, and stop there.Some even insist that if you wish for good things long enough and hard enough, you’ll get them—and, conversely, that if you focus on the negative, you actually invite bad things to happen. Why make yourself miserable worrying? Why waste time getting ready for disasters that may never happen?

Anticipating problems and figuring out how to solve them is actually the opposite of worrying: it’s productive. …

My optimism and confidence come not from feeling I’m luckier than other mortals, and they sure don’t come from visualizing victory. They’re the result of a lifetime spent visualizing defeat and figuring out how to prevent it.

Like most astronauts, I’m pretty sure that I can deal with what life throws at me because I’ve thought about what to do if things go wrong, as well as right. That’s the power of negative thinking.”

The chapter titles throughout the book playfully go against a bunch of modern self-help ideas. For example, there’s “Sweat the Small Stuff” and “Aim to Be a Zero.”

This Idea is from a chapter called “The Power of Negative Thinking.”

Gabrielle Oettingen would approve. In her GREAT book Rethinking Positive Thinking, she scientifically confirms the power of Chris’s wisdom.

In short (as we’ve discussed), it’s not enough to simply visualize your life unfolding perfectly.

Gabrielle tells us we need to “mentally contrast” that ideal vision with the obstacles that may get in the way of us attaining our goals.

It’s EXACTLY what Chris says: “Anticipating problems and figuring out how to solve them is actually the opposite of worrying: it’s productive.”

When we’re willing to rub our ideals up against reality, we can plan appropriately. THAT leads to a true, deep confidence because we know we’re ready to deal with whatever life throws at us.

= The power of negative thinking.

Remember to WOOP!

W: Start with your ideal Wish.

O: Feel the benefits of achieving that Outcome.

O: THEN look at the potential Obstacles within *you* that might get in the way.

P: Then create an if… then Plan to rock it and voila!

You’ve ASTRO-WOOPed your way to awesome.

<— Let’s do that.

Right now.

Wish:          ___________________________

Outcome: ___________________________

Obstacle: ___________________________

Plan:          ___________________________

IDEA 4: SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF

“Later, discussing what went wrong, we all suspected the droplets from my water bag—maybe they mixed with a bead of sweat, or something from my hair, or something inside the suit itself. We were going over all the possibilities with Mission Control when CAPCOM asked, ‘Chris, did you remember to anti-fog your stuff?’ Of course I had. The night before I’d polished the visor of the suit so it wouldn’t fog up like a ski mask. ‘Well, we think you didn’t do it perfectly. Probably you didn’t get it all off.’ Apparently the solution is basically dishwashing detergent; mix it with a few droplets of loose water and it’s as though you’ve squirted soap directly into your eye. My first response to this news was, ‘Really? We’re using detergent? No More Tears baby shampoo wasn’t an option?’

But my second response was, ‘Next time, I’ll be even more detail-oriented.’ A spacewalk with a multi-million-dollar piece of equipment that was—is—absolutely vital to the construction of the ISS was jeopardized because of a microscopic drop of cleaning solution….

That’s why it’s worth it to sweat the small stuff. And even in my line of work, it’s all small stuff.”

Imagine doing a spacewalk to install an incredibly important piece of equipment to the International Space Station. (The Canadarm2—a robotic arm that would be essential to building out the ISS, which was then in its infancy.)

After a year and a half of training and an entire life of preparation before that, you’re out in space. (SPACE!!!) (Seriously. Imagine that. NUTS!)

Then, midway through a long day of hard work in OUTER SPACE (!), imagine going blind as some weird irritant gets in your eyeball and painfully eliminates your vision. If you stop now the mission would be a (very expensive!) failure. (Yowsers!)

Then, remember how astronauts think—keeping their *attitude* dialed in with an empowered, “I’ve got this!” mindset. Good news: You’re able to work blind for a bit and tough it out—blinking your way through the scary challenge and doing what needs to get done. #highfives!!

Then… As you troubleshoot with Mission Control, you learn the issue that nearly jeopardized the whole spacewalk was tied to a slight imperfection in how you anti-fogged your mask. Countless millions of dollars to get you out into space and a microscopic drop of DETERGENT nearly ruins the whole thing.

Reminds me of Adam Steltzner’s story about Radio Shack in The Right Kind of Crazy where he tells us: “When you’re building something like an Entry, Descent, and Landing system to put a spacecraft on Mars, it’s easy to devote all your attention to the “naughty bits,” things  like phenolic impregnated carbon ablators, Mach 2.25 disk-gap-band parachutes, and high- thrust, deep- throttling hydrazine monopropellant engines, the innovative, glamorous new designs that push the boundaries of the physical laws. And it’s all too easy to completely ignore the more mundane elements that are just as essential. It pays to remember that you can have written the most sophisticated EDL software known to man, but all it takes to kill your billion- dollar project is failure in one component the likes of which you could have picked up at Radio Shack.”

Moral of the stories? SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF!!!!

What’s your mission these days? Launching a business? Navigating your relationship through an asteroid field? Recovering your health?

REMEMBER: Eat. Move. Sleep. Train your mind. Master the fundies.

Sweat the small stuff. It matters way more than you may think!!

Question: How can you dial in the Radio Shack aspects of *your* life just a little more today?

IDEA 5: DEEP LOVE TIME BLOCKS

“When you have great backup, as I have always had, you can start to take it for granted or become selfish and just expect that your needs will take precedence. I’ve tried to guard against that by making sure that when I have any wiggle room in my schedule, Helene is the one who sets the agenda, whether it includes me or not. I also make a point of actively looking for opportunities to spend time together. On Sunday mornings, for instance, no matter what else is going on, Helene and I try to walk the dogs, then go get coffee and do the New York Times crossword puzzle together. Prioritizing family time—making it mandatory, in the same way that a meeting at work is mandatory—helps show the people who are most important to me that they are, in fact, most important to me.

And it’s not exactly unpleasant for me, either.”

In How to supercharge our days we talk about some key elements to creating the kind of great days that will add up to a great year and a great life. Scheduling time for family is one of the core Big Ideas.

We know that “time blocks” are the #1 time-management power tools out there—we need to schedule our Deep Work time blocks if we want to do great work.

AND… We need to schedule Deep LOVE time blocks as well—that are just as non-negotiable as any other essential meeting we might have during the day.

I’d never be late for a meeting with my hero. So, why am I so consistently late for adventure time with my sister or family time at the end of the day?

Note to self: Show the people who are most important to me that they are, in fact, most important to me!

Note to you: When’s your next Deep Love time block? Schedule it!

IDEA 6: FINISH STRONG!

“The lesson for me was that the very last thing you do on a mission is just as important as the first thing you did—perhaps even more important, actually, because now you’re tired. It’s like the last mile of a marathon: the effort has to be more deliberate and you’ve got to push yourself,hard, to keep going right to the very end. It’s tempting to tell yourself, ‘I’ve only got 20 steps left,’ but if you start anticipating the finish line, chances are that you’ll let up and then you could make mistakes—ones that could be fatal in my line of work.

It’s dangerous to think of descent as an anticlimax. Instead of looking back longingly over your shoulder at what you’re leaving behind, you need to be asking, ‘What’s the next thing that could kill me?'”

Remember the Sanskrit word for being a hero in the beginning? You know, when you start a new project with trumpets and fanfare and then tip-toe out the back door the moment it gets hard. Arambhashura.

Astronauts LITERALLY can’t afford to be heroes in the beginning. They need to make it home and be heroes at the END.

Paulo Coelho tells us: “To avoid falling into treacherous traps, it is best to consider that you have covered half your journey only when you have walked ninety percent of the road.”

And, then, we’ve STILL gotta finish strong!

As one of my mentors reminded me during the dot-com implosion, “It’s not how you start something, it’s how you finish it.”

Let’s FINISH STRONG! Again and again and again.

IDEA 7: EVERYTHING COUNTS

“If you start thinking that only your biggest and shiniest moments count, you’re setting yourself up to feel like a failure most of the time. Personally, I’d rather feel good most of the time, so to me everything counts: the small moments, the medium ones, the successes that make the papers and also the ones that no one knows about but me. The challenge is avoiding being derailed by the big, shiny moments that turn other people’s heads. You have to figure out for yourself how to enjoy and celebrate them, and then move on.”

One of the key themes Chris comes back to many times is the fact that astronauts are ALL (!!!) about the process—the daily grind of practicing a certain maneuver again and again and again.

When we think of astronauts, we think of the big launches and spacewalks and other magical things. But the fact is that most of their lives are dedicated to the extremely mundane aspects of getting there and back safely.

It’s anything but sexy. (Which reminds me of Darren Hardy’s gem from The Compound Effect:“I want you to know in your bones that your only path to success is through a continuum of  mundane, unsexy, unexciting, and sometimes difficult daily disciplines compounded over time. Know, too, that the results, the life, and the lifestyle of your dreams can be yours when you put the Compound Effect to work for you. If you use the principles outlined in the The Compound Effect, you will create your fairy-tale ending.”)

Tom Rath tells us we have ~500 million moments and that it’s all about appreciating the small moments day-in and day-out that leads to sustainable happiness.

So, let’s celebrate our launches and moonwalks AND appreciate the mundane moments of joy as we optimize, actualize and flourish in this precious life on Earth.

If you liked this Blog, you’ll probably like:

  1. What to say when you talk to yourself
  2. The Miracle Morning
  3. The Happiness Equation
  4. Excuses Begone!
  5. THE EXCELLENCE MANIFESTO

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As always,Let’s Keep Optimizing and see you at the top where there’s enough room for everyone :)

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2 comments on “An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth- (What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything) By CHRIS HADFIELD

  1. Interesting…a book worth checking out. This is the second “astronaut” book I’ve read good reviews about this week. The other was a collection of short stories. So I think this will stick in my mind next time I’m book shopping!

    Liked by 1 person

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