As astronauts prepare for space they are trained on one skill more than in any other: the art of not panicking.
Because panic leads to mistakes.
Let’s get specific. Panic is a reaction, meaning you are not being deliberate in controlling your response. Sure there are situations where panic (a reaction) is by chance the correct response, e.g. touching a hot surface and pulling away.
However, especially in space when a wrong move equates to death, placing your life on the unsteady foundation of a reacting is, well: unappealing.
John Glenn, the first American astronaut to orbit the earth, spent nearly a day in space and kept his heart rate under a hundred beats per minute. This man was not sitting at the controls but in control of his emotions.
This is a skill that is not exclusively valuable for those in space.
Do you remember a time when you traded a plan for a good ol’ emotional freakout, or decided not to create a plan and instead freakout?
Truthfully, some of us almost crave sounding the alarm because it’s easier than dealing with whatever is staring us in the face.
(Easier is used liberally here because it certainly isn’t easier to accomplish what you want if you revert to reacting and sounding the alarm.)
Panic is an indulgence of our lesser self.
How do we avoid it?
Realize that if an emotion can’t positively change the condition or the situation you’re dealing with, it is likely an unhelpful emotion. Or quite possibly a destructive one.
The Greek have a word for this called: apatheia.
It refers to a state of mind in which one is not disturbed by the passions. It is best translated by the word equanimity rather than indifference.
You might respond with: But it’s what I feel.
Right, no one said anything about not feeling it. No one said you can’t cry. Real strength lies in the control of emotions, not in pretending they don’t exist.
Go ahead, feel it.
But DO NOT lie to yourself that by feeling an emotion it is the equivalent of controlling it.
You may feel anger bubble up but say to yourself, out-loud if needed, No, thank you. I will not get angry.
Ask yourself these questions:
What am I choosing to not see?
What am I missing because of choosing to get angry?
Do I need to freak out?
Learning to avoid panic is a skill, it must be cultivated, and is so worth it.
Why an important choice up to a reaction? Learn this lesson from those who ventured to space.