An Astronaut’s Secrets to Success

UPDATED: May 23, 2024
PUBLISHED: December 18, 2017

If you’re going to work in an environment like outer space, you must be able to look fear in the eye and plan for any scenario. No one knows this better than Chris Hadfield, the first Canadian astronaut to command the International Space Station. He was awarded the NASA Exceptional Service Medal for his work.

Out of Hadfield’s many fascinating experiences in outer space, going blind during his first spacewalk is by far the most well known. While floating 254 miles above the Earth’s surface, his suit became contaminated, blinding him temporarily. He was able to regain his sight and even complete his mission by utilizing his training and confronting his fear.

Related: How to Confront Your Fear-Based Thoughts

Recently, Hadfield sat down with The Science of Success to share the biggest takeaways from his astronaut training and experiences in space. If you are trying to overcome your own fears, these tactics and mental frameworks will help you crush any goal on Earth, or in space.

1. Knowledge is power.

Oftentimes, fear stems simply from a lack of knowledge. “Things aren’t scary; people are just scared, and that’s a fundamental difference,” Hadfield says. While some things in life definitely warrant our fear, many of the common things people are afraid of are completely harmless.

Take spiders for example. “A lot of people are afraid of spiders,” he says. “Of course, most spiders are fine. If you have no understanding of spiders at all, you treat every one you see like the most venomous spider that exists. Rather than spending your life screaming and running, why not do the research and find out how many spiders are dangerous where you live? For a lot of places in the world, you’ll find the answer is none.”

If we take interest in the things we fear and try to understand them, we can gauge how rational our fear truly is. Once we have an understanding, we can create a plan to overcome those fears, or decide it’s something we should avoid.

2. Visualize failure.

It’s a common practice to visualize success. Imagining yourself conquering any obstacle and coming out a winner. At NASA, however, doing just the opposite is often what keeps everyone alive and leads to a successful mission.

Visualizing failure will serve you well,” Hadfield says. “We practiced over 10,000 different things going wrong. What is the most likely thing to go wrong, and am I ready to face it, and how do I know? Let’s practice that thing going wrong and see if I can deal with it.” By visualizing and planning for every possible variable that would lead to failure, you’re also helping ensure success.

As Hadfield likes to say, “There’s no situation in space that’s so bad you can’t make it worse.” So next time you’re planning a project or task, think of what could go wrong and plan for it. This will keep you clear headed, rational and able to make the right call even in the worst of circumstances.

Related: Why You Should Look Your Fears in the Eye and Smile

3. Don’t exaggerate.

Always tell it like it is. Not only to those around you, but to yourself as well. “Everybody wants to feel significant. One of the ways to increase your own significance is to exaggerate accomplishments or problems that exist,” Hadfield says.

When we exaggerate, we feel good about what we have accomplished or what we have overcome. A side effect you may not intend is that you shift the perception of the obstacle or triumph in the eyes of everyone listening. If you play up how difficult a certain task was, you may cause others to plan incorrectly or focus on the wrong things, which can lead to disaster.

4. Aim to be a zero.

When you’ve achieved a certain level of success, you begin to build up confidence in yourself. Confidence can be a great asset and open a lot of doors, but you can never assume that you’re always going to be right or add value. Sometimes, it’s best to sit back and learn more before pushing your opinion.

“When I was younger, I always called myself a plus one,” Hadfield says. “I thought no matter what I did, I’d come in as a positive influence.” The problem is that oftentimes in work and life, scenarios are more complicated than we initially think. If you let your ego come into play and assume your influence is always the deciding factor, you not only come off poorly to other group members, but may end up having a negative impact on the project.

“I try to be more realistic in my own abilities. I try to come into a new situation deliberately saying I’m going to aim to be a zero here,” he says. “I’m going to give myself time to notice what’s actually happening, to become informed, and be more selective and deliberate in how I am going to try to be a positive influence.” By using Hadfield’s method of being a zero and suppressing your ego, you can come into any situation and add value.

While you may never find yourself blind in outer space, these tactics will help you overcome fear of the unknown and be successful in anything you do.

Related: 34 Things You Need to Know About Becoming Successful


Austin Fabel

Austin Fabel is the producer of the “#1 New and Noteworthy” top iTunes podcast The Science of Success, handling all of the behind-the-scenes aspects responsible for growing the show. Austin is also the co-founder of Podcast Work, a podcasting agency that helps companies and individuals start and grow their own podcasts, build an audience and generate great content.