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.