I’m going to give you five steps. Let’s start off with the easy ones.
Step 1 - Wake up.
(Ok, you can’t really control that step)
Step 2 - Acknowledge that there was absolutely no good reason why you were allowed Step 1.
We all know that one day our time on earth will come to an end. If you had a pet hamster or goldfish growing up, you learned that lesson early on. Although we know it at an intellectual level, the problem is we often actively deny the reality at a day-to-day level.
When it comes to death, most of us live in a constant state of cognitive dissonance, which is the underlying anxiety or discomfort felt when we hold conflicting beliefs. On the one hand we understand the fact that human beings have a limited life span, while on the other hand we are convinced that the end of our own life is so far in the future that we don’t even need to trouble ourselves with it. The psychological discomfort becomes much closer to the surface when we’re more directly confronted with the reality of death.
- Scheduling that long overdue checkup with the doctor.
- Buying life insurance.
- Sitting with a professional to draw up a will and estate plan.
- Learning about a friend’s terminal diagnosis.
and of course,
- Attending a funeral of someone close to you.
And now we can add “waking up to realize we’re still living in a global pandemic” to that list.
In an attempt to ease the psychological discomfort, many people choose to act as though they’re simply immortal. In his 1973 book, Denial of Death, cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker wrote:
“The idea of death, the fear of it, haunts the human animal like nothing else; it is a mainspring of human activity-activity designed largely to avoid the fatality of death, to overcome it by denying in some way that it is the final destiny…”
I’m not suggesting that people actually believe they’re immortal. However, some of the actions people take are more in line with someone who expects to live an incredibly long time.
- We don’t take good care of ourselves. This incredibly broad category can include over-eating, over-spending and over-indulging of all sorts.
- We stay in unhealthy or unfulfilling relationships.
- We stay in dead-end jobs.
- We abandon the hopes, dreams and goals we once had, dismissing them as naïve or childish or telling ourselves that “we’ll get to them eventually”.
The myth of “enough time”
The hallmark of what I call “immortal thinking” is the steadfast belief that we’ll somehow have “enough time”. I’ve been a life coach / business coach since 2008 and you wouldn’t believe the number of people who’ve told me “I thought I’d have enough time…” or “I assumed there would be more time…”. It’s one thing to have those realizations when you’re working with your coach, but it’s a completely different to have them when you’re standing at the grave of a loved one while you have a head and heart full of unsaid things.
This is why I work to help people develop the Mortality Mindset. My mission in life involves trying to help as many people as possible to avoid those graveside regrets. What’s more, when we live our lives as Mortals, we cheat death and open up an entirely new level of living!
I’m Mortal. What’s your superpower?
Being Mortal means always knowing whether or not you’re really living.
Death doesn’t give a 5-minute warning
You can’t beat death. It wins. Every single time. No one gets out alive. That’s just how the story ends. So what are we to do? And didn’t I promise you that I’d tell you how to cheat death?
Living like a Mortal involves taking away the power death has over us by breaking the cognitive dissonance. When we wake up (Step 1) and acknowledge that there was no guarantee we would wake up (Step 2), we no longer force our minds to try to hold two conflicting realities. Practicing this mindset provides an incredible sense of relief and peace. What’s more, it clears the way for us to begin to move into the more powerful steps of cheating death.
“A coward dies a thousand time before his death, but the valiant taste of death but once. It seems to me most strange that men should fear, seeing that death, a necessary end, will come when it will come.” — William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar
“It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.” — Marcus Aurelius
Step 3 — Gratitude
It is virtually impossible to be grateful and hold a negative emotion at the same time. If we’re feeling grateful, we’re not feeling stressed, anxious or angry. Volumes have been written about the importance of developing gratitude. When we start each morning with gratitude for our lives, we can begin to train and ingrain gratitude as a reflex.
Personally, I start each morning by having a coffee with death! I make my morning double espresso in this wonderful handmade mug that I bought in New Orleans. The best part is, as I finish the last delicious sip, I’m greeted with a skull grinning up at me from the remains of the crema. Each morning I gleefully look at it and say ‘‘Not today, my friend!” I know the day will come, but if I get to finish my coffee first, I consider that a win for the day!
Step 4 — Check your direction and make conscious choices
When we begin to live life more fully as a Mortal, we realize the importance of setting the direction of our lives rather than allowing life to direct us. The more we realize the uncertain nature of time, the more thoughtfully and deliberately we choose to spend that time. Not with an attitude of “carpe diem suckers — I’m off to crush my bucket list”. Rather, it’s an attitude of “it’s my life and I only get one, so I choose to spend my precious time with these people experiencing these things”.
Step 5 — Say the words.
I can’t stress this one enough:
Never leave an “I love you” unsaid.
Every trip to the store for milk doesn’t require a heart wrenching farewell, but it’s in everyone’s best interest to be sure that our loved ones know how much they mean to us.
Also, be quick to say “I’m sorry”, “please forgive me” or “I forgive you”. The more often we practice saying these important things, the less often we’ll be tempted to allow minor issues or disagreements to boil over into feuds or grudges that we might not have an opportunity to resolve.
We can’t beat death, but by developing the Mortality Mindset and consciously using it on a daily basis, we can absolutely cheat death out of its invisible stranglehold on our peace of mind. This, in turn will free us up to make more thoughtful and empowered choices and live better lives — no matter how long they last!
To help you get started
I’d like to offer you a free tool that you can begin using tomorrow morning -assuming you’re able to go back to Step 1!