What NASA can teach you about breaking free

I complain. There’s things I don’t want to do anymore.​

If I was smart I’d use that negative energy. Sometimes I’m smart.

All energy can be transformed into another form. I can transform my negativity into something useful. So can you. Energy can’t be destroyed or lost, it just changes form. You can use the pain.

Another term from physics is “escape velocity.” Here’s how NASA describes it:

​“Did you ever watch a group of children playing “Red Rover?” Arms linked up for strength, they chant, “Red Rover, Red Rover, let Sally come over,” and Sally’s challenge is to break through that chain of linked arms. If she does it, Sally wins.

If Sally breaks through the chain of arms, she’s also demonstrated several key aspects to the space concept of escape velocity. Escape velocity (or a rousing game of Red Rover) requires an object to propel itself with enough speed and thrust to break through a barrier. Sally’s reward is the cheers of her teammates. A spacecraft’s reward is a journey into space or orbit.”

We spend our lives on the ground, looking into space and wondering, what’s out there? That’s all we can do. Wonder. Because there’s an infinitesimal chance that me or you will go there. So far, only 536 individuals have been to space. There’s billions of us on this planet. Run the numbers.

A similar thing happens when we look at the gap between the life we have and the life we want. We’re on the ground. We look at the people in space, the people with autonomy, with financial freedom, who live on their own terms and think, what’s it like? The difference is that blasting from the life we have to the life we want is much more achievable.

A physicist can calculate what force a spacecraft needs to achieve escape velocity, what it needs to bust out of the Earth’s atmosphere. Answer: a lot. What do we need to escape what we don’t like about our lives? Answer: not so much.

Here’s an experiment. Go and use Tim Ferriss’ Lifestyle Costing tool. Or calculate what Jon Goodman calls your freedom number.

It’s not a big number. For most people, me included, it sits somewhere between two to three thousand per month. If you have a family and a mortgage, it will be more, but not by much.

Consider the words of fighter pilot John Boyd: “”If a man can reduce his needs to zero, he is truly free: there is nothing that can be taken from him and nothing can hurt him.” By reducing what you need you make it easier to achieve your freedom number and gain your independence.

NASA again:

“Achieving escape velocity is one of the biggest challenges facing space travel. The vehicle requires an enormous amount of fuel to break through Earth’s gravitational pull. All that fuel adds significant weight to the spacecraft, and when an object is heavier, it takes more thrust to lift it. To create more thrust, you need more fuel.”

Fuel is energy.

Your energy depends on a few things: The quality of the people you surround yourself with. Everything bad that has ever happened to you. Everything good that has ever happened to you. What you’re grateful for. What you’re scared of. What you think about. All the people you help. The work you do. The things you love. It’s all energy that you can transform.

Weight is what you need.

Flashy house. Fancy car. The latest tech. Branded clothes and appliances. Gourmet meals and expensive wine. Big TV. It’s all weight that anchors you firmly to the ground.

We won’t all be astronauts, but we can all escape what we don’t like about our lives. There’s three things you have to do.

First, increase the amount of energy at your disposal. Cut out negative people. Don’t consume junk: food, TV, information, books. Look for opportunities. Solve people’s problems. Be grateful. Give generously.

Second, decrease your weight. Most of what we have or say we desire is just filler for the holes of insecurity we have inside of us. Reduce what you need. I’m not a minimalist. Minimalism is a good idea taken too far. Just aim for maximum happiness from fewer things.

Thirdly, you have to push the button.

As a productive way to procrastinate before writing this, I was watching videos from the Space X YouTube channel. I was gonna write about lifting off so I thought it was appropriate. The videos are exciting. The countdown, the tension. And then the flames gush out and the rocket begins to ascend. Incredible.

What you don’t see on the video is the preparation. The years that the scientists, the engineers, the staff put into building and testing and calculating. The devotion and the dedication. And you don’t see Elon Musk push a big red button.

Pushing the button starts the countdown.

​I can’t imagine there was any fuss when he did it. He and his team are professionals. The time for celebration is when the launch is successful. They’ve done the hard work. It’s the home straight and they’re hitting the finish line at full speed.

For us to push the button and leave our old lives behind requires preparation, sometimes years of it. We need a level head to handle the lift off too. But we don’t need to be in a command centre at Cape Canaveral with a team of PhDs to do it. You can do it right now, as you read this on your phone or tablet or laptop.

Fuel is energy. Increase it. Weight is what you need. Decrease it. Push the button. Launch out of the atmosphere.

And remember what the brains at NASA said. “Escape velocity requires an object to propel itself with enough speed and thrust to break through a barrier. Sally’s reward is the cheers of her teammates. A spacecraft’s reward is a journey into space or orbit.”

For reaching escape velocity, your reward is the life you’ve always wanted but never thought you could have.