The truth is . . . once you learn how to die, you learn how to live.
Ever since reading Tuesdays With Morrie, I’ve been quite taken with the idea that in order to live, you must learn how to die. In other words, in order to get the most out of life, you should live each day with the understanding that your time on this planet is limited.
The problem is, we’re not very good at remembering our mortality—especially while we’re young. As such, we end up binge-watching Netflix and overeating McDonalds far more often than we should.
Morrie isn’t the only one to recognize the power of keeping mortality in mind as often as possible. In his book Show Your Work!, artist Austin Kleon recommends reading the obituaries every day to inspire you to take action. It’s a good suggestion, but the idea of reading obituaries every day doesn’t appeal to me in the slightest.
Thankfully, the internet is chock-full of people finding creative means of remembering their own mortality.
Yet, it seems that mortality is far from the most popular thing people like to remind themselves of. How do I know? During my research, I started typing remind yourself that you will die someday into Google. The Google search box, in an attempt to show me popular searches, gave me the following auto-completed results.
Not quite what I was looking for, I’m afraid. It seems one’s mortality isn’t top of mind for people searching on the web.
Nevertheless, after sprucing up my Google search, I found some interesting techniques for keeping mortality top of mind, whether to boost your motivation to act on goals or for greater mindfulness of our time on this beautiful planet.
1. The Colored Beads Technique
I came across this technique on Boing Boing. In a nutshell, game designer Chris Crawford owns 29,216 small plastic beads, which he transfers into a jar with each passing day, representing his numbered days on earth.
Similar to the colored beads technique is using jelly beans to represent your life in days. Even if you can’t replicate this, the video describing it is a powerful reminder of our limited time on Earth.
Regardless of what material you choose to use, a physical representation of your life passing by is the essence of this first technique. I really love the physical representation and the daily ritual of moving one more bead into the jar of life, but had trouble with implementation. As someone who hates clutter, I dislike adding big, clunky things into my tiny San Francisco apartment. Alas, my search for an effective, minimal technique continues.
2. Imagining Your Own Funeral
In the words of blogger Anne Lee:
Pretend that you are a ghost, spying on your own burial ceremony. Who has come to say their goodbyes, place lilies at the base of your headstone? What will people remember you for? Are you content, watching the funeral? Do you have any regrets that make your little ghostly heart waver and wisp like smoke inside your nebulous chest? Imagine seeing your pale form in the casket, your eyelids withered closed, one last time, before they place on the lid and lower you into the earth and cover it up with more earth. Make it dramatic, if you want. Add in black umbrellas and pouring rain. But know that the sun will continue for the living once you are gone.
This is some pretty morbid stuff. Nevertheless, it’s an effective technique for shocking your brain into awareness of our limited time on Earth. Although this technique can leave you feeling a little shaken, it does not require bulky materials and can be done at almost any point in your day.
3. Watching Time Fly
This is very similar to the colored beads technique, but it relies more on the counting down of time, rather than the physical manifestation of passing days.
Examples of this technique are easy to find. Wired co-founder Kevin Kelly set up a countdown clock that shows him how much time he has left to live (assuming an average lifespan).
In the past, I’ve tried countdown timer apps that sit in your browser, but I found those easy to ignore. Thankfully, a Redditor with similar goals in mind created a Mac OS X countdown timer app that lives right in your toolbar. This is much harder to ignore and it works very well for me.
Note: Since this app is not in the Apple App Store, please exercise caution when installing. Although the app works great right now, I don’t know this developer personally, so can’t endorse future versions.
Here’s what it looks like on my computer, counting down second by second.
There are many ways to instill mortality awareness into your own life. For now, I’ve settled on the Mac countdown timer—it’s minimal, free, and hard to ignore. However, it’s very possible I’ll start to take it for granted in a few weeks, requiring a new technique to instill the right amount of awareness. Because of this, I’m still unsure of the best way to go about mortality awareness.
Nevertheless, I’m definitely convinced of the power here—feeling your own mortality is an effective way of spurring you to action and making the most of your precious days.
Funeral image credit: Carol Von Canon