How to Use the Thought of Death to Your Advantage

By Ethan Maurice | December 30, 2015

Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.” – Steve Jobs

Life implies death. The very fact that we're alive today means that someday we must die. A hundred years from now nearly every human currently walking this earth will be gone, cleared away for a new generation to come. It's nothing new. This change-over has gone on for billions of years and will continue to do so.

Most people can't stand this thought of death and try to bury it. It's understandable. Nobody wants to die and considering the temporariness of our existence can be mindbogglingly devastating. Pushing all thoughts of death away isn't going to help us live any longer though. Contrarily, we can use the thought of death to our advantage. The understanding that we are going to die is one of the most powerful tools we can utilize in life.

From Roman emperors to visionary entrepreneurs, many great individuals used the thought of death to guide them and to do the remarkable—you can do the same.

Here are four ways to use the thought of death to your advantage:

1. To make big decisions. Big decisions in life carry heavy emotion weight. Fear of failure, expectations of others, and an array of other factors cloud the mind when considering such diverging paths. Before making big decisions, ponder death. Consider our temporariness. If only for a couple minutes, worry and expectation seem so insignificant. In those moments, what's truly important becomes strikingly clear.

2. To vanquish fear. Many fears we experience are outrageous and unwarranted. Our minds tend to wallow in every potential failure that could result from stepping outside our comfort zones or trying something new. I'd often find myself gripped with fear the minutes before being interviewed live on the news for Pedaling with Purpose. To calm my nerves, I'd pull the thought of death into focus. I'd hold onto the thought that 100 years from now, not a single person who witnesses this interview will even be around, it doesn't matter all that much. Maybe it sounds a bit grim, but it's profoundly effective in those important moments when one's nerves begins to override logic.

3. To discard the clutter of your mind. In moments of indifference, when you're antsy, irritated, or find yourself overwhelmed, consider death. Play with the thought of our temporariness for a minute or two, then go back into the task at hand. Priorities will realign. Irritations and angst will seem insignificant. Mental clutter falls away at the thought of death, and we're brought back into life with presence.

You can discard most of the junk that clutters your mind – things that only exist there – and clear out space for yourself… by thinking of the speed with which things change – each part of everything; the narrow space between our birth and death; the infinite time before; the equally unbounded time that follows.” – Marcus Aurelius (Roman Emperor 161-180AD)

4. To find motivation. We're all procrastinators to some degree and nothing motivates us like a deadline. Wrap your mind around the thought that life could end tomorrow. Think how much you'd cherish this very breath if it was your last. Would you be doing what you're doing now?

This thought of death can be a limitless source of motivation and is a well I personally draw from. I almost took my last breath at the age of sixteen thanks to a mosquito bite and an incredibly rare viral infection. Deep down, I know nothing is guaranteed. I can find motivation and value in any moment with this thought.

Nobody has ever escaped death. Don't live with the indifference and lack of appreciation that comes with thinking you have forever. Play with the thought of death, consider it, hold it, and use it as the gift it is to help us get the most out of life.




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