How Death is Bringing Me to Life
The Top 4 Ways That the Mortality Mindset has Changed Me
Can the Mortality Mindset actually change your life?
If my life is any indication, then the answer is a resounding yes.
I practice what I preach--not perfectly, of course, but with genuine intent. All this Mortality Mindset stuff isn’t just academic or an angle for me; it’s personal.
This episode was an attempt to articulate and celebrate how the consistent practice of the Mortality Mindset has changed me.
Because as I reflect on the past three years and observe who I am today and how I operate in the world, I see some clear improvements.
Aaaaand right now some of you who know me well might be chuckling a bit as my many obvious deficiencies spring to mind. And fair enough. But my goal is to compare myself to who I was yesterday, not to who someone else is today--to quote my favorite distance mentor, Jordan Peterson. I’ve got a long way to go still. But I’m grateful for how far I’ve come. And I’m beyond grateful for how Mortality has propelled me forward.
I hope that the results I’m seeing in my own life will encourage you and motivate you to double-down on this life-changing way of living--with Mortality in mind.
Setting the Stage
Before we dive into the results I’m experiencing, a couple preliminary thoughts are in order.
First, a disclaimer...I don’t mean to imply that the observations I share today and call “improvements” in my own life are irrefutably “improvements”. You may disagree with me in categorizing some or all of the changes as changes in a positive direction. And you might be right, partially or completely. But I do unapologetically assert that the changes I’ll share have created a qualitatively better experience of life for me. I feel better and, I think, operate better in the world because of them.
And based upon these early results, I think it’s very likely that persisting in the Mortality Mindset will allow me to look back on my life with greater pride and satisfaction and fewer regrets whenever the grim reaper comes a-callin’.
As ER doc David Talbott said in episode 045, “from the day we're born, we're all a statistic waiting to happen. We just haven't been introduced to the lethal details yet.”
And second, let’s define the Mortality Mindset so we’re on the same page to start with.
Simply put, the Mortality Mindset is the habit and practice of living each day with your Mortality in mind and making real-world decisions based upon that awareness.
Choosing this instead of that, prioritizing this over that, summoning the courage right here and now to do the hard thing, tackle the big thing, and give attention to what matters most. Living today as if it’s the only day you’ve got because, in fact, it IS!
The Top 4 Ways that the Mortality Mindset had Improved My Life
Now, without further ado, here are top 4 ways that the Mortality Mindset has improved my life.
1) I’m braver. Fear and anxiety have less power in my life.
If you tune in to this show regularly, then you know that the longest and most intense battle of my life so far has been with anxiety. A big turning point came a few years ago when, in desperation, I began to accept the anxiety rather than fight it. That acceptance transformed the anxiety into something useful in my life and revolutionized my self-confidence. I won’t go into that transformation any more here, but if you’re interested in hearing more, tune into episode 003, How to Turn Your Imperfections into Superpowers: The Key to Unlocking Your Unique Purpose.
As awesome as that transformation was--and it truly was--the anxiety still created pain and chaos in my heart and mind on a regular basis.
But it dawned on me recently that I’m anxiety’s boss today more than I’ve ever been before. And that I have the Mortality Mindset to thank for it.
When I’m tempted to get stuck in an anxious thought pattern, the Mortality Mindset is right there, reminding me that life is short, and I can either waste some of it by getting sidelined by anxiety or I can get on with living. And more often than not, I’m able to choose to get on with living.
What a strange and wonderful reversal this has been for me: Where Mortality was once a source of crippling anxiety, it has now become a source of healing and liberation.
You don’t have to suffer from anxiety to be able to appreciate how useful it is to have greater mastery over fear. The Mortality Mindset is a powerful antidote to fear--if not possibly the MOST powerful antidote there is.
2) Contemplating my future demise has helped me be more “present” today.
If the idea of being “present” isn’t overused and worn-out, then I don’t know what is. It seems like everyone’s trying to be more present these days. And I suppose for good reason. But I get annoyed with terms like that that get hijacked by the mainstream narrative and then converted into something that all of us ought to be doing more of. So I hesitated to use it. But I realized that it really does describe what I mean.
And what I mean is that the here-and-now has more significance to me today than ever before.
A few examples to make the point...When my boys beg me to wrestle with them after a long day, I’m more likely to do it. When we’re enjoying a good meal and good company, I’m more likely to enjoy the food and drink heartily and less likely to be concerned about the impact on my waistline. In moments of conflict or tension with my wife, I’m more likely to see her as the wonderful human that she is, let down my defenses, and hug her than continue to press the attack. I’m less likely to work long hours and more likely to say, “It’ll still be there tomorrow; I’ll come back to it then, with fresh eyes.” I have my friend Joe Harsel from episode 011--who was clinically dead for 30 minutes before coming back to life--to thank for helping me with that particular perspective.
Overall, maybe it’s accurate to say that I bring more heartiness to living than ever before.
The Mortality Mindset has created this shift in me because when I fast forward to my demise, I’m persuaded that being HERE, NOW with my family and friends will be something I’m immensely proud of as I approach my last breath.
3) I have more clarity and conviction about how to spend my time and energy.
I’m gonna let that one stand on its own without a lot of unpacking. Because it’s as simple as that. And I think it’s something that a lot of us could use more of.
4) I’m more willing to speak the truth, to myself and to others.
By most conventional standards, I’m an honest guy. I pay my taxes, I pay my bills, I show up when I say I’m gonna show up.
But there’s a kind of honesty that can elude me and, I know, many of you, too.
It’s that truth deep within us that we fail to acknowledge and the truth about another that we fail to express. It’s the thing we hide because we’re afraid of what will happen if it becomes known. It’s the thing we fail to say because we’re afraid of the consequences if we do. I’m finding that I have much less tolerance for dishonesty in those areas than before and much more willingness to acknowledge and speak the truth--at least in so far as I’m able to discern it. Life is simply too short to deal in half-truths and shrink away from necessary conflict. And the truth is--the absence of visible conflict may not truly be the absence of conflict. It may just be the avoidance of underground conflict that needs to be brought to the surface in order for new growth to be possible.
My coach, Amy Musson, gave me an awesome tool for truth-telling. It’s been revolutionary in my own life, and I deploy it often with my own clients. In any area where you’re seeking to discern your personal truth, simply complete the sentence that starts with, “the truth is…” It’s simple, but it’s often far from easy because many of us have gotten really good at avoiding the truth--and often for very compelling reasons.
But if we can’t be honest with ourselves, then we have very little chance of truly being honest with anyone else.
And our relationships with ourselves and others suffer because they’re built on an incomplete or cracked foundation.
So there you have it: the top four ways that the Mortality Mindset has changed me so far.
HOW I Use the Mortality Mindset
You might be wondering how I’ve deployed the Mortality Mindset in a way that has produced these results. What have my actual habits and practices been?
First, my practice of the Mortality Mindset has included The Graveyard Group, or TGG.
I started the first-ever TGG in January 2019, when my new awareness about the potential power of the Mortality Mindset was emerging, and I’ve been a player-coach in that original group ever since. Since then, I’ve started two more TGGs, and the first-ever women’s group is forming now under the leadership of my friend and colleague, Beth Romano. In that setting on a weekly basis, we tap into the power of our Mortality to motivate us to become the people we were made to be and live the lives we were made to live with guts, gusto, and abandon.
So, for almost three years in the original TGG, I’ve had a dedicated day and time during which my Mortality is front-and-center, and I make real-world decisions in light of it on the most important parts of my life.
And for almost two years, I’ve led two other TGGs in that same undertaking.
In addition, since April of 2020, I’ve produced episodes of this podcast every two weeks. Through my guests’ stories and the creation of original solo content, I’ve been trying to equip us all with the mindset and the means to leave it all out on the field of life--to maximize our one-and-only lives. That consistent focus and regular interaction with remarkable people and their stories has impacted me a lot.
And lastly, supported by my TGG and podcast experiences, I’ve simply made it a point to keep my Mortality in mind. And it is on my mind, every day, influencing my thinking and my decisions and my actions, big and small.
I’m living, laughing, and loving with more guts, gusto, and abandon than ever before.
Now you might be thinking, “that’s great, Andrew, but not all of us can lead three TGGs a week and publish a mortality-themed podcast on a regular basis.” And you’d be right, but only partially. Here’s why.
First, you can join a Graveyard Group! Secondly, I’m actively looking for more men and women to start new Graveyard Groups so that as many people as possible can embrace the Mortality Mindset. If you’re interested in either of those two options, connect with me via any one of the channels I’ll share at the end of this episode. Thirdly, you can tune into this podcast consistently to refresh your Mortality Mindset and keep yourself sharp.
If none of these options work for you, then come up with your own ways of making the Mortality Mindset part of your daily and weekly calendar. It has to take up actual real estate on your calendar. Read the obituaries regularly, and write your own. Take walks in your local cemetery. Befriend someone at a retirement community and learn from their perspective in their twilight years.
But whatever you do, don’t ignore your Mortality.
As Ecclesiastes 7:2 says, “...death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart.”
I think this is the underlying transferable lesson: We don’t have to wait for an actual encounter with Mortality to approximate the impact of one in our lives.
We can embrace habits and practices that keep the pressure of our Mortality in our conscious awareness on a daily basis. And that pressure can motivate us to live with more guts, gusto, and abandon NOW. My experience testifies to this fact.
Remember, you ARE going to die. But you’re not dead yet. So get after it!
How is the Mortality Mindset changing you?
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When I’m not producing Andrew Petty is Dying, I’m having conversations with people about their lives that transform their lives. Sometimes, that’s in the context of a 1-1 coaching partnership, and sometimes that’s in the context of The Graveyard Group mastermind. Contact me so we can explore if one of these is right for you.
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If you're new to this show, browse the archive of past interviews with fascinating people and short, topical solo episodes--all designed to equip you with the mindset and the means to become the person you were made to be and live the life you were made to live with guts, gusto, and abandon. We flip the script by inviting our ancient foe, Death, to become an unlikely ally in our heroic journey to leave it all out on the field of life. Turns out, Mortality might just be the most potent motivator available--blasting us out of our ambivalence and complacency and into the fullness of our potential.