An Astronaut’s Tips for Adults Dealing with ADHD

astronauts Tips ADHD


Astronauts might have particularly useful tips for adults with ADHD—and everybody else, of course. These tips include how to manage risk–and fear.   After all, when you sit in a spaceship hurtling around the Earth at 17,500 miles per hour, you tend to learn something about managing risk—and panic.

As I listened to this interview with a famous astronaut, Chris Hadfield, I thought, “That’s exactly the strategy Dr. Goat and I need for planning a terror-free vacation!”

We ran through every contingency. We had index cards. We practiced. It worked!  I’ll share the details in a future post.

This strikes me as a powerful global strategy for ADHD-challenged adults and their partners. No, not planning for disaster but planning for fun—and preventing or coping with predictable disasters instead of down spiraling when they occur.

For now, a few tidbits from this accomplished astronaut and how he preps mentally for orbit.

YouTube’s Space Oddity Sensation

You might already know astronaut Canadian Chris Hadfield from his YouTube version of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” with almost 32 million views so far.

In space, Commander Hadfield has:

    1. Flown three space missions
    2. Conducted two spacewalks
    3. Spent a total of six months in space (Hadfield says: “Getting to space took only 8 minutes and 42 seconds. Give or take a few thousand days of training.”)

Earthbound in Houston, he’s served as the chief of International Space Station operations and chief CAPCOM commander (that’s the person who communicates from mission control with astronauts in orbit).

He’s written a very engaging book, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything. “This memoir is part fascinating view, part Boy Scout manual,” wrote The New York Times.

You can listen to Hadfield’s interview with “Fresh Air’s” Terry Gross (October 30, 2013) and download the transcript.

Interview excerpts follow below.

astronauts Tips ADHD

This Might Kill Us—Now What?

GROSS: Give us a sense of what that “what’s the next thing that will kill me” training process is like.

HADFIELD: Terry, I found it to be so helpful in my regular life. But I didn’t mean it to be that way. But of course as an astronaut, especially during launch, half of the risk of a six-month flight is in the first nine minutes. So as a crew, how do you stay focused? How do you not get paralyzed by the fear of it?

What we do is break down what are the risks. And a nice way to keep reminding yourself is what’s the next thing that’s going to kill me. It might be five seconds away. It might be an inadvertent engine shutdown. It might be staging of the solid rockets coming off. Or it might be, you know, some transition or some key next thing.

We’ve already, say, had one computer fail, and we’ve had one hydraulic system fail. So if these three things fail, we need to react right away, or we’re done.

So we don’t just live with that, though. And the thing that is really useful, I think, out of all this is we dig into it so deeply, and we look at OK, so this might kill us. This is something that would normally panic us. Let’s get ready. Let’s think about it. And we go into every excruciating detail of why that might affect what we’re doing and what we can do to resolve it and have a plan and be comfortable with it and practice is.

Astronaut Tips ADHD Adults

But We Are Dealing with ADHD, Not Space Travel

Even if you won’t get on a plane—or a roller coaster—these astronaut trips can be particularly useful for adults with ADHD.

How is that? Consider how ADHD can create difficulties with prioritizing—goals, tasks, and even risks.  How do we cut through the blur of what seems like equal-priority issues?

Hadfield trained himself to think “What’s the next thing that will kill me?”   That helped him focus on top priorities.

Similarly, you can train yourself to ask, for example:

  • What’s the next thing that will get me closer to my goal?
  • What’s the next thing that will derail me from my goal if I don’t stay on top of it?

Definitely, fear can be a motivator. In fact, my husband says that prior to his ADHD diagnosis, his coping strategy was “Fear-Based Management.”

To motivate himself to complete an important task, he’d whip up fear in his mind—all the awful things that could happen if he didn’t complete the task.

As with many coping responses that crop up when dealing with unrecognized ADHD, it had its benefits but also its downsides. He might have completed the task. But he kept himself in a rather constant state of fear—hardly a pleasant way to go through life.

I wrote more about that here:  ADHD & Fear-Based Management”

To Make It Work? Neutralize Fear

Rather than whipping up fear, Hadfield’s approach focuses on identifying fears and then neutralizing them.

GROSS: And you say in order to make this work, you have to neutralize fear.

HADFIELD: Yeah, but, I mean, it’s not like astronauts are braver than other people. We’re just, you know, meticulously prepared. We dissect what it is that is going to scare us and what it is that is a threat to us, and then we practice over and over again so that the natural, irrational fear is neutralized.

So you have to practice and learn what’s the right thing to do. But given that, it actually gives you a real great comfort. It’s counterintuitive, you know, to visualize disaster, but by visualizing disaster, that’s what keeps us alive.

And your first reaction is not just to scream and flee with your hands waving over your head, but in fact, to go hey, we thought about this, and I know that this is dangerous, but there are six things that I could do right now, all of which will help make things better.

And it’s worth remembering, too, there’s no problem so bad that you can’t make it worse also.

Finally, you’ll find an excerpt of the book here:  Astronaut Chris Hadfield Brings Lessons From Space Down To Earth

Bonus: Creating Order from ADHD-Related Fallout

Are you looking for more inspiration and guidance on “getting organized” once and for all?

I could not be more pleased to present an excerpt from a captivating and inspiring new book from Jaclyn Paul: Order from Chaos: The Everyday Grind of Staying Organized When You Have ADHD.

How do you manage fear and panic?

Do you find this astronaut’s perspective interesting or helpful?

—Gina Pera
Originally posted April 24, 2016


10 thoughts on “An Astronaut’s Tips for Adults Dealing with ADHD”

  1. Hi Gina, I read the post, but I must say I did not get it? Not in an Adhd context.

    I would love to go to space. Would not hesitate even an instant. There would be fear , maybe, but more of exhilaration, adrenalin, dopamine. The good stuff!
    And planning? not so high on my list. People would have taken care of that, and if not, that’s ok.

    My thoughts on [quote]: “OK, so this might kill us…” — Eh, of course, but.. and..?

    “This is something that would normally panic us…” — Nope. Not me. It would get me in the zone more than anything I’ve ever done! So let’s Do It! [Let’s get ready].

    “Let’s think about it.” — Why?

    “And we go into every excruciating detail of why that might affect what we’re doing and what we can do to resolve it and have a plan and be comfortable with it and practice is.” — Why would anyone ever do or even think that, when the promise of a fantastic experience is served on a platter!?!

    My Adhd comes with a deadly allergy of “hints and tips” “manage your adhd”, “take control of your feelings”. And at the same time I do, like Lori above, see only disaster and failure the second my speed slows down, when my positive, fearless, idiotic, creative, good, – maybe not so thought through – impulses get the – light of reality -treatment. And this is for me the real fear. The thought of living my life caged by to do lists I wont do, hints and tips I wont ever use, adapting to situations I can not adapt to, or maybe can, but won’t. I believe I would be a damn good astronaut! If it were not for the taking of orders, following routines, and the death of creativity that entails.

    I will read the post again later. But something lit up in me when I read it. And I Do Not Get It.

    1. Hi Peter,

      What an interesting comment! 🙂

      I’m sorry to hear about your “deadly allergy.” 🙂

      I understand the fear you describe — “the thought of living my life caged by to-do lists I won’t do….” In fact, I just wrote about that in my training module on practical strategies.

      “A damn good astronaut”? My husband, the “space nut” in our house, speculates that you would be stratospheric roadkill. 🙂

      But I think you were being facetious.

      I’m also writing about how our belief systems determine our thoughts and thus our emotions. If you tell yourself that being a goal-driven and organized person means the “death of creativity,” of course you will avoid becoming that — see it as a type of prison even.

      You might want to read this essay from my friend Frances. A lovely woman who was diagnosed with ADHD in her 70s, after a life of raising 5 children, running several businesses, living in a Daoist monastery, and constantly coming up against her ADHD. Thereafter, she started making sense of her life—and making sense of how to come out of ADHD-fueled chaos for others.

      She was killed in a horrible car accident, the driver not paying attention and taking the curve too fast—and driving the car into the bay. The driver was a self-described “creative” person with ADHD. Who never understood how her reckless actions resulted in death.

      The last paragraph:

      This means you are free to do whatever you want, instead of having to unconsciously shape your life around all the things that you don’t think that you can do. To the extent to which we hang onto our disorder, we are hanging onto negative beliefs about our self and our lack of ability to change.

      There are trade-offs to getting organized. There are trade-offs to anything we do. But in this case, it is not freedom you lose, but fear.

      A little food for thought! 🙂


  2. Anne Hallock

    This is a wonderful way to break down ‘fear’ into layers instead of just reacting. I guess that’s why we have fire drills in schools, senior communities, shopping malls, etc. I’m going to approach any fear with this type of thinking! I already feel a bit lighter today-thank you!

    1. I’m glad you agree that this can be so useful, Anne. Thanks for your comment — and for reading.


  3. My friend calls me Dilly as she says that I made everything into a dilemma. But I realised how much I was missing out on through fear so I decided to shiftfrom being a ‘grave worrier’ to a ‘brave warrier’. While I am still no dare devil, there are many things I have achieved which would not have happened without that choice I made not to let panic limit my dreams.

  4. I have always been ridiculed for seeing disaster in everything and trying to avoid it. This is so validating (and gives me one more useful step in the process) in that preparation isn’t just “oh you worry too much” but is a valuable self-care tool. My challenge is that once I have done all that thinking through, is that I then have to let go, knowing I have done my part but also realizing we can never have complete control. Thanks for this!

    1. Yay! I’m happy this piece is validating for you, Lori. See you on a spacewalk! 🙂


  5. I love this info. I now take the fear head on and tell myself what’s the worst that can happen. It helps using that approach and helps calm my fears.

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