Book Reviews

Book Review: An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth

It’s been a long time (a good few months!) since I did a book review, and I’ve read so many good books since then that I’m going to have to start writing!

On a visit to Oxford back in March; my friend took my into Blackwell’s bookshop. It is an AMAZING place. Books sprawl over several floors and the Norrington Room is like the library every book lover wishes they had. I could have spent hours in there.

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As it was, we only had a little while to look around, so after a brief wander I settled on buying ‘An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth’ by Chris Hadfield. Hadfield shot to worldwide fame in 2013 when his version of ‘Space Oddity’ recorded on the ISS was released on YouTube. His career as an astronaut spanned 21 years and during that time he has become the first Canadian to walk in space and the first Canadian commander of the International Space Station. Not a bad career path eh!

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My purchase did not disappoint. Hadfield’s writing flows smoothly and openly, with plenty of humour and sarcasm thrown in for good measure. It’s an easy and engaging read; and I’d encourage you all to read it at once!

Chris’s book roughly follows his life, from 9 year old boy watching the first moon landing on TV to his final space flight in 2013.It is full of tips, techniques and methods of thinking that can, and should, be applied in everyday life on earth. There are lots in there, so I have plucked out my favourite take-aways below.

1) Attitude 

In space; attitude is the orientation of your vehicle relative to the sun. You must keep adjusting your attitude to make sure you don’t stray from your course, lose control and spin out. On earth; the same rule applies. You can’t control all the variables around you in life; but you can control your attitude towards them and the attitude that takes you through your journey. If a variable changes; change your attitude in line with it. Changing your attitude is a much better outcome than being disappointed in your destination.

2) Work the problem

‘Working the problem’ is astronaut speak for working through every possible decision tree for solving your problem, until you reach the one that presents you with a solution. The message here is that rather than stressing out about the issue that’s thrown itself in your way; you should take a breath, step back and calmly work through your options for dealing with it. Did you ever see an astronaut have a me,t down because something went wrong?…….fair enough, they have many many years of training to get them to that point, but the concept still applies 😉

3) The power of negative thinking

I’m sure that most people will at some point have heard of the term ‘visualisation’ – the practise of picturing yourself achieving that goal you’ve been working towards for so long. You see yourself getting that promotion, winning that race, writing the bestselling novel; picture all the positive steps that it is going to take to get you to that goal…..and then you stop. What happens afterwards? What happens if your master plan does not, as is so often the case; go entirely to plan?

Col. Hadfield is a big advocate of the power of negative thinking. What’s the point of not preparing for things going wrong? As part of an astronaut’s training, they will go through countless simulations, or sims, to learn how to prepare for things taking a wrong turn – or as Chris puts it ‘what’s the next thing that could kill me?’ (when you’re hurtling upwards into the atmosphere at however many thousands of miles an hour things are a little more extreme!). His confidence comes from always preparing for the worst, and planning how to avoid it.

4) Aim to be a zero

This particular takeaway was possibly the the piece of advice that resonated with me the most. I’m sure there are many in the corporate world who have watched a new team member or manager join the company and immediately sweep through making changes without a real understanding of the current dynamics or the impact those changes will make. In Hadfield’s opinion; you can either be a zero, a plus one or a minus one.

If you’re a zero; you have no positive or negative impact on a situation. You are neutral. You don’t make life more difficult for the people you’re working with, you don’t excel or have a positive impact either.

A minus one is pretty self explanatory…..you are having a negative impact on the situation. Your actions are perhaps not well thought out and rather than providing solutions, you are creating problems.

A plus one is, obviously, the ultimate goal. Everyone wants to be a plus one, to be actively contributing to your situation in a positive manner. But becoming a plus one takes time, and work, and patience. If you waltz into a situation trying to prove how much of a plus one you are; the likelihood is that people are going to perceive you as a minus one, regardless of the skills or the ability you are bringing to the table.

In a new situation, be it a new job or a volunteering or just helping someone out, always aim to be a zero – you’ll eventually be viewed as a plus one without ever having to tell people that you are.

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There are so many positive pieces of advice in the book that I couldn’t possibly list them all here (though you could easily fill a fair few blog posts with them all) – all I can say is that this book is absolutely, definitely worth a read. And that I hope Chris Hadfield signs up for some talks in the UK sometime soon! In the meantime, I will be watching the below TED talk if you need me 😊

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