What’s the most dangerous thing you’ve ever done, and why did you do it?
These are the questions Chris Hadfield challenges his audience with at the outset of his TED talk, recorded earlier this month in Vancouver.
Hadfield is one of a distinguished class: he’s an astronaut who has not only served on, but been the commander of, the International Space Station.
In his TED talk, which is available for free to watch online, Hadfield talks about the most dangerous thing he’s ever done.
“It’s a really interesting day when you wake up at the Kennedy Space Centre and you’re going to go to space that day,” Hadfield told his audience. “You realize at the end of that day you’re either going to be floating gloriously and effortlessly in space, or you’ll be dead.”
Hadfield used his experiences as an astronaut primarily, his experience going blind while in the middle of a spacewalk to address fear.
In his words, if you study and prepare yourself for challenges, or directly confront an illogical fear with logic, you can conquer your own fears, and then “see a beauty that otherwise you never would have.”
He likens it to arachnophobia: if you are afraid of spiders, he says, look up the facts. In Canada, those facts include the very low number of actual, venomous spiders. Once you understand the facts, put that knowledge to the test and walk into spider webs knowing the spiders can’t harm you.
“But the key to (this) is, by looking up the difference between perceived danger and actual danger where is the real risk, and what is the real thing you should be afraid of? ... You can fundamentally change your reaction to things,” Hadfield said. “The danger is entirely different than the fear.”
In his own case, it was NASA training that kept him from panicking when he lost his sight.
“If you’re outside on a spacewalk and you’re blinded, your natural reaction would be to panic,” said Hadfield. “But … we practiced with a whole variety of different spider webs. We know everything there is to know about the space suit … and we don’t just practice things going right, we practice things going wrong, all of the time.
“Even if you’re blinded, your natural, panicky reaction doesn’t happen.”
The message: adapt, conquer, and relish in the rewards of your victory.
It’s a good, powerful talk — and well worth watching.