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Chris Hadfield’s preparation helped him recover when he was blinded during his spacewalk.

James Duncan Davidson/James Duncan Davidson

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Chris Hadfield is an astronaut who is afraid of heights, so fear seemed like a good topic around which to structure his TED talk.

Mr. Hadfield used a fear of spiders to drive home his point that there is a difference between danger and fear, and that one can use reason to conquer their fears – and not let them limit their possibilities in life.

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Arachnophobia is something to which the 1200 people who packed into the theatre Monday night in Vancouver could relate – as well as the millions, no doubt, who will ultimately watch online. But Mr. Hadfield, of course also told tales of dealing with fear in space.

"There's no way that you could get on a rocket ship if you just allowed your primal natural reaction to dictate how you would behave," he told reporters after his talk on Monday night.

"One of the things we say in the cockpit all the time is what's the next thing that's going to kill us? And it's a mantra: what's the next thing that's going to kill us? Because that is what really matters. Not like 'holy crap there's a lot of stuff going on here.' Instead you go 'okay what's the actual threat? What is the next thing that is truly going to kill us and let's focus on that and how we can keep it from happening or how to react when it does happen and then let's go onto the next thing. What's the next thing that's going to kill us?' And it's just a coping mechanism in order to get someplace that otherwise you just never could."

Giving a TED talk itself can be fear-inducing. Perhaps not for the likes of Bill Gates – a TED veteran who spoke at the 30th anniversary conference in Vancouver Tuesday night – but even high level operators will get a case of the nerves before giving their talk.

For someone who truly understands the difference between danger and fear, Mr. Hadfield was able to put his fears around his TED talk in perspective. Sure, he was worried a guitar string might break or that something else he had no control over might go wrong. But otherwise he said no, he wasn't really afraid.

"Because all I'm doing is talking and what's the worst thing that could happen? So I say something wrong and I forget my words for a minute. So what? I'm not going to die. It's a loving audience and it's no big deal. So what is the real threat? Embarrassment is personal. Make sure my fly is done up, walk out there, try to remember my lines, tune the guitar first – and just speak."

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