Monday, January 13, 2014

Visualize failure and then plan for success

That’s what retired Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield says about handling fears (like that of public speaking) in his book, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth. It’s very different from what life or speaking coaches tell you about just visualizing success - because he’s been a test pilot.

In a 43-minute interview with Victoria Derbyshire on December 12th, 2013 at BBC Radio 5 that you can download or listen to, she asked him what he had  learned from being in space that helped him cope better on earth. Chris replied:

“Actually it’s not in space. That’s why I titled the book An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth. As of last December I’d been an astronaut twenty years. I’d been in space twenty days. So, an astronaut’s life is on earth, and occasionally, very rarely, we fly in space. The real lessons, a lot of them, at least from a personal point of view, are of course, developed and honed and learned and repeated on earth.

I would say the main one, maybe, that is of use to people is how do you deal with fear? Most people live their lives in fear, rational or maybe even more probably irrational, and they deny themselves a whole set of opportunities or maybe a whole section of life because they’re afraid of it, whatever it might be. Traveling to a certain place, or committing to having a family, or public speaking, or spiders, or something that you’re irrationally afraid of. 

I ride rockets. (Victoria: And you’re afraid of heights!) Well, yeah. But, how do you deal with that? How do you not let a fear dictate what you’re gonna to do with your life? And, the coping mechanism that, I tried to make it some sort of simple throwaway phrase in the book, but basically, um, Visualize Failure. Don’t visualize success. And, when I say visualize failure what I mean is, why are things gonna go wrong. Cause things, you can visualize success, but that doesn’t really help, cause things always go wrong. So, visualize failure. Do it in advance. It’s how we stay alive as astronauts.

But, if you can actually get to the core of whatever it is you’re planning to do, something simple. Getting to a job interview on time. Let’s look at the ten most probable failures. The alarm won’t go off, or my car will break down, or there will be a traffic jam, or whatever, I’ll freeze up, I won’t be prepared, I’ll spill something on my shirt. Simple things. But, visualize your most likely failures, and then have a plan. OK, this is what I’m going to do if this happens, this is what I’m going to do if this happens. This is why this is gonna work. And, you can apply it to something as prosaic as a job interview.

But, if you actually go through the process in advance. Visualize failure, and what your actions are going to be. You don’t end up feeling, you know, worried or depressed. In fact, you feel more optimistic and confident. Because, you know that, ok, I’ve got plans for all the most probable things that are gonna fail. And, it doesn’t take that much time. But the process is important. And, it’s the only way that, I was a test pilot before, it’s the only way I could stay alive as a test pilot. And, definitely the only way we could ever be successful riding rockets and living in orbit on a space station.”

The image came from Wikimedia Commons.   

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