Ep. 073 | The Mortality Mindset
A New Way in the New Year to Make New Things a Reality
What new things do you have in mind for this new year? Maybe you want to tackle a new professional challenge. Maybe you want to pay more attention to your health. Maybe you want to dial back your intensity at work to make more time for family and friends.
Whatever your new things are this year, how will you make them a reality? At the very least, how will you ensure that you’ll be able to say that you gave it your best shot?
All of us are familiar with getting a strong start out of the gate–fueled by fresh inspiration and determination–but then fading somewhere along the way. Our willpower runs out. It’s discouraging and can be genuinely perplexing.
“I really wanted to make that change,” we reflect regretfully to ourselves. “What happened?!”
Let this be the year that you say goodbye to the demoralizing cycle of abandoned objectives and replace it with a new capacity for focus, perseverance, and tenacity that gets you where you want to go.
Some of the prevailing wisdom out there tells us that we need to create better goals, manage our time more effectively, develop better morning routines, get more sleep, get up earlier, make sure you do a cold plunge and a sauna every day, and keep a journal, to name a few. Those are all well and good and doubtless have their time and place. But they also depend upon our finite reserves of inspiration and determination–resources that haven’t been adequate so far. What leads us to believe that our willpower will suddenly be up to the task this go-round?
We need something more primal, more compelling, and more reliable. Something that we just can’t get around or ignore, even if we try.
That’s what I’m going to give you today by sharing a simple message, a transformational mindset, and the practical means by which to apply the message and the mindset in the real world.
First, here’s the message. It’s short and sweet:
You are going to die.
Here it is a little differently:
You ARE going to die.
And one more time:
YOU are going to die.
It’s not a matter of IF; it’s just a matter of WHEN and HOW.
Say this with me: “I am going to die. It’s not a matter of if; it’s just a matter of when and how.”
Most of us pay little attention to the reality of our Mortality. Some of us aggressively avoid thinking about it. There’s something deep inside of us that recoils at the thought and actively resists it. And in the absence of a personal encounter with Mortality, the comforts and conveniences of modern life simply distract us from the reality of our Mortality.
But all of us will one day be forced to confront it.
My experience has convinced me that avoiding the reality of our Mortality does us much more harm than good. It’s also convinced me that voluntarily confronting our Mortality is a key to living the life we were made to live with guts, gusto, and abandon and dying with no regrets.
The Mortality Mindset
So, the mindset I want to share with you is a way to transform your Mortality from an unpleasant reality that you avoid like the plague into the most powerful motivator you’ve ever had to create a life you’re proud of.
I call it the Mortality Mindset.
First, I’ll share a few snapshots from my story to show how this message and this mindset have changed my life. Then I’ll explain what the Mortality Mindset is and the practical means by which to apply it in your life.
Snapshot 1: A Descent into Hell
25 years ago, I was a recent college grad, and after years of on-and-off, low-grade anxiety, my psychology had reached a perilous tipping point. I had been a gold-star kid all the way through college, but I now found myself aimless–without a plan, without an overarching purpose, and unable to find a way forward. Depression was beginning to sink its talons into me. Then, I began to experience some vague but persistent physical symptoms.
My doctor wasn’t able to provide a clear diagnosis, and I suddenly found myself in the grips of severe, debilitating, and all-consuming anxiety–specifically about catastrophic health events and Mortality. My psychology had been pushed beyond its limits, and I was in a full-blown mental health crisis.
No more a young man with the world as his oyster, I was now a young man clinging to his sanity by the thinnest of threads.
At one point, it dawned upon me that I would rather die than go on living if relief from the psychological anguish didn’t arrive soon.
Snapshot 2: A New Lease on Life
Fast forward 14 years to 2012.
Over the years, I had slowly and painfully found a way forward. I’d even gotten married, and my wife and I now had two young boys. Unfortunately, though, I’d let myself go physically and had picked up some unhealthy ways of trying to cope. I was 60 lbs. overweight, abusing alcohol, and smoking heavily.
Then, in 2012, my brother-in-law got a bleak cancer diagnosis and began a three-year cancer battle that, sadly, ended in his death in 2015. As I watched him undergo excruciating and ultimately unsuccessful surgeries and treatments, I literally and figuratively looked down at my gut and realized that even though I wasn’t in control of when I died, I certainly wasn’t doing what I could to stay alive.
I was gripped with a white-hot motivation to do whatever it took to get healthy again so I had a better chance of being around for my family as long as possible.
Staring death in the face through my brother-in-law’s experience instantly clarified what was most important to me and supplied the will to act on it.
It was the ultimate status quo-buster.
For the first time, awareness of my Mortality was an asset rather than just a neurotic and crippling liability.
Within a year, I was back to my fighting weight. I was on a completely new path of health and wellness, and the depression that had lurked annoyingly in the back of my mind for so long had vanished. Anxiety was still an unwelcome companion, but I was now a man in motion, not just a deer caught in the headlights.
The momentum created by that tragic involuntary encounter with Mortality ultimately led to a major life renovation, our move out here to CO in 2014, and the professional path that I’m on today. Its effects are still unfolding.
Take a moment to reflect on this question: How has an experience with Mortality impacted you?
Snapshot 3: My Ally, Anxiety
About four years ago, I reached a new level of exasperation with the Anxiety. All my years of trying to make it go away had been unsuccessful. One day, in desperation, in my mind’s eye I turned around to face the Anxiety–this unwelcome, uninvited, and tenacious hitchhiker in my psychology. And I said, “If you aren’t going to go away, then what are you here for?”
That desperation-driven moment of surrender and acceptance transformed the Anxiety from a hated enemy into an unlikely ally.
I had begun my work as a coach by this point. Thanks to my newfound acceptance of Anxiety’s place in my life, I had begun to wonder how my particular fixation on catastrophic health events and Mortality might be of use in my coaching work. I was certainly susceptible to thinking about Mortality too much.
But I began to wonder: What if most other people thought about their Mortality too little–and as a result were twiddling their thumbs on the way to a regret-filled grave?
From seemingly out of nowhere, the words “The Graveyard Group” sprang to mind, and I immediately sensed that there was something to it. In January 2019, the first Graveyard Group was formed. Today, Graveyard Groups members courageously and voluntarily tap into the power of their mortality each week to live with guts, gusto, and abandon and escape death-bed regrets. More on Graveyard Groups later.
In 2020, I launched this podcast to share Mortality’s unmatched motivational power with a larger audience.
Snapshot 4: My Friend, Mortality
In the 3+ years that Mortality has had a central role in the way that I help people, it’s also become clear that it’s healing me. My once-bitter enemy, Mortality, has actually become a valued friend. Consistent voluntary consideration of my Mortality through The Graveyard Groups and the podcast has been a sort of exposure therapy. Through consistent, voluntary exposure, I’ve gotten braver. Today, I’m the boss of the Anxiety more than it is of me.
Nothing has ever given me that much authority over the Anxiety before.
It’s more than just an antidote for Anxiety, though, as significant as that is; I’m more alive today than I’ve ever been before. I’m living more boldly than ever before. I’m more ME than I’ve ever been before. The things that matter most get more of the attention they deserve than ever before.
If I died today, I would be proud of the life I lived. And I have Death to thank for it.
This is the Mortality Mindset in action.
Here are a couple questions for your own reflection:
On a scale of 0-10, and you can’t pick 5, if you died today, how proud would you be of the life you’ve lived?
If you died today, what’s one thing you would regret?
But What is the Mortality Mindset, Exactly?
I’ve described how the Mortality Mindset has become part of my life and how it’s impacted me. But what is the Mortality Mindset, exactly?
Simply put, the Mortality Mindset is the voluntary integration of awareness of your Mortality into your daily life.
It creates the transformational impact of a real encounter with Mortality without the trauma and tragedy of one–and while there’s still time left to do something about it. It clarifies what’s most important to us and motivates us to give it the attention it deserves NOW, rather than waiting for the ever-elusive “tomorrow” or “someday.” It gives us the extra nudge we need to pursue a dream, to take a risk, to have the conversation we know we need to have.
It provides a more compelling and reliable source of motivation than our finite, fickle, and fragile willpower.
The Mortality Mindset is NOT normal. Those who embrace it are swimming upstream against their own innate tendencies and the prevailing tendencies of the culture we live in. It is rare, heroic, and life-affirming work.
How Do I Use the Mortality MIndset in My Own Life?
To use the Mortality Mindset, one must cultivate it.
Farmers don’t plant a seed one day and expect a fully mature crop the next. They plant the seed, water and fertilize it, and manage weeds over weeks and months in order to produce a crop. They cultivate their crop with care and consistency over time. The same is true of the Mortality Mindset.
It must be cultivated with care and consistency over time, too.
Each of us is different and has a different pre-existing relationship with Mortality, so there isn’t a one-size-fits-all list of steps that each of us has to take to cultivate the Mortality Mindset. There are no shortcuts, either. But here are some examples of things we can do:
Die on Paper Before You Die for Real: Write your own obituary as if you’ve lived a life you’d be proud of. Be as specific as possible, and you get to choose when and how you die. Then, ask yourself what needs to change now in order for that obituary to have a chance at becoming a reality. With your Mortality as motivation, summon the courage to take action NOW on at least one of the things that needs to change. Revisit and revise your obituary occasionally, and take new action.
Set Your Date of Death and Work Backwards from There by asking yourself this question and taking bold action on your answer: If I knew I was going to die 5 years from today, what would I start doing differently today?
Make this podcast part of your routine, and resolve to do at least one thing in the real world–no matter how small–with a takeaway from each episode you listen to.
Join a Graveyard Group so that voluntary awareness of your Mortality is built into your calendar each week.
Create an intentional partnership with a friend, colleague, or coach for the specific purpose of cultivating and using the Mortality Mindset.
Visit the old and dying to remind yourself of how quickly time flies and glean valuable lessons from their experience.
Commune With the Dead by making occasional visits to your local cemetery. Read the tombstones, and reflect on the fact that you too will share the same fate as those buried there.
Just like a farmer’s crop wilts and dies from neglect, so does the Mortality Mindset. Many of the guests on my podcast who have had extraordinary encounters with Mortality–people for whom you’d think the Mortality Mindset was now hardwired because of their experience–say that their awareness of Mortality fades over time. If it fades for them, how much more will it fade for us who haven’t had the same kind of experiences if we don’t tend to it diligently?
How Will I Know If I’m Using the Mortality Mindset Effectively?
Here are some of the ways you’ll know you’re successfully cultivating the Mortality Mindset:
You intentionally live in one-day increments, acknowledging that today is all we have.
You make daily decisions about how to spend your time and energy with your Mortality in mind…
You give the things that matter most more of the attention that they deserve NOW. For example, you prioritize relationships over tasks and cherish the mundane moments with family and friends.
You value imperfect action now over “perfect” action tomorrow.
You find yourself having to summon fresh courage more often in order to open up new personal and professional frontiers for yourself.
What evidence do you find in your life that the Mortality Mindset is already at work?
To Sum Up…
Alright, let’s land the plane.
Don’t rely on your finite, fickle, and fragile willpower to help you make the new things you have in mind this year a reality. Don’t pin all your hopes on today’s prevailing wisdom about how to achieve your goals, either. Reliance on willpower and prevailing wisdom just perpetuates the demoralizing cycle of abandoned objectives. Instead, dig deeper for a more primal, more compelling, and more reliable source of motivation: Cultivate the Mortality Mindset to acquire a new capacity for focus, perseverance, and tenacity that gets you where you want to go.
Year after year until the day that you die, the Mortality Mindset will empower you to live with guts, gusto, and abandon and give the things that matter most the attention they deserve before it’s too late.
Remember: You ARE going to die. But you’re not dead yet. So get after it!
The Graveyard Group: Exchange Willpower for “We-power”
No matter how compelling the motivation, we still can’t do it alone. In the Graveyard Group, you not only have a consistent time and place to cultivate the Mortality Mindset, you also swap out willpower for the vastly superior “we-power.” With the support of your very own confidential board of advisors, break free from the status quo, become the person you were made to be, and live the life you were made to live.
I’m so glad you tuned in today. Don’t forget to follow this show, and I’ll see you next time on Andrew Petty is Dying.
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Welcome! I invite you to 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 best motivator available--blasting us out of our ambivalence and complacency and toward the fullness of our potential.