Neil deGrasse Tyson: ‘Thinking About What I Have Yet to Accomplish’ Gives Me Energy

The American astrophysicist and director of the Hayden Planetarium on Twitter, burnout and the book that changed his life.


When you have the opportunity to ask some of the most interesting people in the world about their lives, sometimes the most fascinating answers come from the simplest questions. The Thrive Questionnaire is an ongoing series that gives an intimate look inside the lives of some of the world’s most successful people.

Thrive Global: What’s the first thing you do when you get out of bed?
Neil deGrasse Tyson: I check my calendar to begin preparing mentally and physically for what the day requires of me, and, more importantly, what I require of the day.

TG: What gives you energy?
NDT: Thinking about what I have yet to accomplish, and how many years I have left in my life to do so.

TG: What’s your secret life hack?
NDT: I let everyone else watch professional sports, and then I get them to tell me about it. That takes less time than actually watching professional sports.

TG: Name a book that changed your life.
NDT: Isaac Newton’s “Principia Mathematica” (1687). It’s where I realized how deeply a member of my own species — another human being — can be plugged into the operations of nature, leading to his discovery that the world is a knowable place, via universal laws.

TG: Tell us about your relationship with your phone. Does it sleep with you?
NDT: My iPhone is only an incidental phone to me. It’s primarily everything else: from a remote control for my AV equipment, to my calendar, to my access to the internet and Twitter. I also use it for spontaneous note-taking, both written and oral. It’s also, of course, my camera. But for most things that people take pictures (or video) of, I instead gaze with my my own eyes and commit what I see to memory. I have found that to experience the real thing is more indelible on the mind than tracking the actual thing via a 3-inch screen.

TG: How do you deal with email?
NDT: Swiftly and with great dispatch.

TG: You unexpectedly find 15 minutes in your day, what do you do with it?
NDT: Email. It typically requires my lowest mental investment, making it easy to parse into the temporal bits and pieces of the day that are otherwise lost doing nothing.

TG: When was the last time you felt burned out and why?
NDT: Dealing with all aspects of my father’s demise, death, and memorial. I otherwise hardly ever get burned out doing what I love. I just get tired and need sleep. But “burnout” is the wrong word to apply there.

TG: When was the last time you felt you failed and how did you overcome it?
NDT: As an educator, I fail if I think I am communicating one way, yet the audience receives my statements another way. If I were simply lecturing, this mismatch would matter less. It’s the job of the student to learn my lesson plan whether or not I’m a good professor. But I hold speeches and public talks to higher standards. Social media is a remarkable instantaneous medium for just this kind of feedback. If a word or phrase or meaning is received differently from my intent, I know it immediately, via the neurosynaptic snapshot of the collective public mind that is Twitter.

TG: Share a quote that you love and that gives you strength or peace.
NDT: Two quotes…

“When I trace at my pleasure the windings to and fro of the heavenly bodies, I no longer touch Earth with my feet. I stand in the presence of Zeus himself, and take my fill of ambrosia.” —Claudius Ptolemy, c. AD150

“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” —Oscar Wilde, 1893


Neil deGrasse Tyson is an American astrophysicist, author, and science communicator.

Originally published at medium.com

Thrive Questionnaire, Wisdom, Life Lessons

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