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Begin with *your* end in mind


Idea Journal Weekly 3

April 24 · Issue #240 · View online

We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.

Summary: One of self-help guru Stephen Covey’s famous lines is “begin with the end in mind.” It’s a useful perspective not only for a project you’re working on, but for your life. This issue explores a few ideas to help you be more alive by envisioning your death.
(~4 min read)

#1. Clear your head enough to hear it
Entrepreneur Steve Sims writes in his book Bluefishing that when you feel anxious and unsure about your next move, you should pretend that you’re on your deathbed.
Literally lie down in bed and imagine you’re dying. What comes to mind?
When Sims does this exercise, here’s what he’s thinking: “Sims, you’ve got unfinished business. You have people to see through stuff. You have a beautiful wife and things you want to make happen together. You have to get all the kids through school, raised right, college if they want, they might have kids, and man, you want to see that.”
Sims acknowledges that this may seem morbid, but it’s clarifying. 
If your life has gone off the rails and you know in your gut that you’re not doing your best work, then you’ll probably feel some panic. 
The upside is that you now know exactly what to focus on.
#2. Which people would you think about most on your deathbed?
Writer and creator of the Wait But Why blog Tim Urban says in an interview that he uses what he calls the “Deathbed Test” to help decide which people in his life he should spend the most time with.
It’s only in the fog of our day-to-day rush that we think it makes sense to neglect our most important relationships. But a person’s deathbed “offers a level of zoomed-out clarity that’s hard to get in our normal lives.”
For Urban, the Deathbed Test helps to ensure that he’s doing two things: 
1. Spending time with the people he cares about most by asking the question: “Is this someone I might be thinking about when I’m on my deathbed?”
2. Spending enough high-quality time with those key people by asking the question: “If I were on my deathbed today, would I be happy with the amount of time I spent with this person?”
The people who matter most to you are always in competition with your work and with other people.
And the Deathbed Test is a good reminder that the only way to spend the right amount of time with your key people is to say no to a lot of other people and things.
As Urban puts it, the point of the Deathbed Test is that by the time you’re on your deathbed, it’s too late to change anything.
“So we want to do whatever we can to access that magical end-of-life clarity before the end of life actually happens.”
#3. Meditate on your mortality
Author Robert Greene writes in The Laws of Human Nature that when we disconnect ourselves from the reality of our own mortality, we distort our relationship with time.
We imagine that we have more time than we actually do: “Our minds drift to the future, where all our hopes and wishes will be fulfilled.”
If we have a plan or a goal, we often find it hard to commit to it with a lot of energy – we’ll get to it tomorrow, we tell ourselves. It can be hard to choose among all the things we want to accomplish, and the result is that we feel a generalized anxiety – we know we need to get things done, but we are always postponing and scattering our attention and efforts.
For Greene, the antidote to that anxiety and feeling of distraction is to consciously acknowledge the shortness of life, and to use that awareness to clarify your daily actions.
After all, given the uncertainties of life we could die tomorrow, and our current project could be our last.
This awareness can help us commit completely to what we do – we have goals to reach, relationships to improve, and from this view petty squabbles and side pursuits as irritating distractions.
Greene points out that many of us already do this on a smaller scale in our daily lives.
When a project deadline is forced upon us, that dreamlike relationship to time is shattered. We’re able to focus and accomplish in days what might normally take weeks or months. It can be invigorating to feel the total commitment to a single purpose.
For Greene, the key is to have the same focus and sense of urgency about your life and eventual death – to think of your mortality as a kind of continual deadline.
Quote of the week
“Most people die with their music still inside them.”
- Psychiatrist Gordon Livingston in his book And Never Stop Dancing
Idea Journal
Idea Journal
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