Meditating on your mortality can be scary, but it can also help you focus on maximizing each day.
What would you change about your life if a doctor told you that you have cancer? Would you stop wasting your life and prioritize your limited time remaining?
We are here to tell you that you are going to die. All of us have a terminal diagnosis. Most of us don’t know how or when, but it is going to happen.
Near Death Experiences
Many people describe a renewed clarity and focus on the future after having a brush with death. Sixteenth-century French nobleman Michel de Montaigne tumbled off his horse and nearly died. Montaigne described feeling his life slip away from his physical self, only to have it return at the last possible second. The experience changed his life.
After the incident, he committed to writing and became one of the most popular essayists in Europe. He also served two terms as a mayor, became a confidante to the king, and traveled the world as a dignitary. One key to his success, he writes, is how the vivid near-death experience focused him on maximizing his second chance at living.
The Obstacle is the Way
Ryan Holiday’s 2014 book The Obstacle is the Way is full of stories describing how famous people from many stages of history pushed past obstacles to achieve success. Holiday references many stoic philosophies in the book, including a section at the end of the book on mortality.
“We may not say it, but deep down we act like we’re invincible. Like we’re impervious to the trials and tribulations of mortality. That stuff happens to other people, not to ME. I have plenty of time left.
We forget how light our grip on life really is.
Otherwise, we wouldn’t spend so much time obsessing over trivialities or trying to become famous, make more money than we come over spend in a lifetime, or make plans far off in the future. All of these are negated by death.”
Meditating on Your Mortality
Michel de Montaigne meditated on his near-death experience for the rest of his life. His writing can help the rest of us benefit from the experience without the event. Here are some tips for using the knowledge that you are going to die productively.
- You don’t need a near-death experience to focus your actions. Imagine that you only have one year left to live – what three things can you accomplish that year to maximize your remaining time? Meditating on your mortality can help you identify what is most important to you.
- Accidents do happen, so treat each and every day as a gift. Focus on living in the present moment rather than over-planning for an uncertain future.
- There is no use worrying about things outside of our control, including death. But also, don’t put off the things that are important to you – a long future is not guaranteed.
- Consider ideas from Die with Zero including “time bucketing,” prioritizing having experiences earlier in your life, and saving only “just enough” money for retirement.
Measuring Your Mortality
Podcaster and Physician Peter Attia shares a tool he recently adopted to help him understand his mortality. He ordered a poster from 4k Weeks that represents a month-by-month calendar for the rest of his life (based on Peter’s best guess, using a Life Expectancy Calculator).
Every week, Dr. Attia colors in one of the blocks on the poster. He has circled the dates for when his kids will graduate from high school and likely move away to attend college. Seeing how limited this remaining time with his kids is has encouraged him to prioritize this time – often saying “no” to engagements that require travel and takes him away from his kids.
Dr. Attia has focused much of his medical practice on helping his clients increase their longevity – their healthy and productive lifetime. We will cover his recommendations in a future post.
Sharing Your Meditations
Some of your meditations on mortality can benefit others in the Personal Kaizen community. We would love to know what changes you are inspired to make in your life. Please share some of your ideas below, as long as they are not too private.
Thanks for learning alongside us!