Astronaut Naoko Yamazaki shares strategies astronauts use in tight confines of space, and gives us advice on staying motivated in difficult times.
Based on your experiences in space, what’s your advice for working remotely?
When the line between your home and your workplace disappears, it’s stressful. Normally we take it for granted, but our transitions between home, commuting, and work actually help refresh us. We interact with different people — our families, our colleagues, and so on.
But it’s different when you work where you live. When you’re always in the same place, talking to the same people you have to be more conscious to set aside time for breaks. And of course you end up sitting down for long stretches of time when you work at home. You need to make sure you stand up once every 30 minutes, and build in time every hour or so to loosen up your shoulders, get a cup of tea or coffee, or whatever you need to refresh yourself.
In the space station, we were especially mindful of communication. It was easy enough to talk to fellow astronauts inside the station, because even though our cultures and languages were different, we were in the same situation.
But communication with mission control was much harder. They were a long way away, and in a very different environment. And we rarely saw their faces — it was mostly just audio. So the communication was often fractured. Maybe in your workplace, you have some people working from home and some people going to the office. When that happens, it’s harder to get everyone on the same page. To put yourself in their place.
How do you stay motivated in challenging situations?
It’s not easy to become an astronaut. I was accepted on my second try. Many of my fellow astronauts also applied multiple times. Even if you’re accepted into the program, there’s no guarantee that you’ll actually go to space. I waited 11 years to go to space. I spent all that time training. In a situation like that, you have to believe in yourself and what you’re doing. That’s true in many fields, not just for astronauts.
If you have an ideal, a vision that you can work toward, then you can make change in the world. It’s very important to have a clear vision, though of course visions don’t just suddenly realize themselves. In my case I’m always trying to learn — from other people, from hands-on experience, or from nature.
Learning isn’t just something you do at school. It’s a continual process. Everyone and everything can be your teacher. And of course there are books and the internet, too. The key is to connect this everyday learning to your vision.
What’s your strategy for handling unexpected situations?
On a space mission, unexpected things will always happen. Even if you train for years, you’ll have to respond to events that your training didn’t cover. Those events are actually more common than the kind you directly train for.
But that doesn’t mean training is pointless. If you master the basics, you’ll be mentally prepared for all kinds of situations. You and your teammates will have a set of shared decision-making priorities to guide you. That will allow you to make decisions quickly. Fundamentals are important, and not just in a crisis. At a time when movement is restricted and people are working from home, keeping to a regular schedule is important. Get up and run at the same time each day. Remember to say “good morning” and “thank you” to your teammates, even if you’re not working in the same place.
Basics like gratitude and communication are crucial. They build a strong foundation for an organization or team, which helps when something unexpected happens.