My daily routine of staring death straight into its baby blues

What you’re looking at there is my life – from beginning to end – in a simple picture.

It’s a visual representation of how long I’ve lived and how much I have left (should I die an old man).

It’s an extension for Chrome called Mortality.

I see it every day – multiple times a day in fact. 

It’s a reminder that life is impermanent and death is inevitable.

I think it’s important to be reminded of that often, but not because I look forward to dying. 

Death is a reminder that this great party of life can’t go on forever. At some point, all the guests have to leave and you’ll get ushered out. 

Until then, it’s worth the reminder to get the most out of your time  – give love generously, build connections, contribute and make it memorable. 

Perhaps, it’s a bit morbid. But, I hope to meet death with a smile on my face knowing I lived life fully rather than confront it staring back at an unfulfilled life. 

Death is life’s greatest motivater. 

It doesn’t hurt to be reminded of this. 

A Daily Choice

Nothing is miserable unless you think it so; and on the other hand, nothing brings happiness unless you are content with it.

Boethius

Today, you have a choice.

The day may not go at all as you planned. In fact, everything may go horrible. 

But such is life.

We do not control the outcome. Events are neutral, neither good nor bad. We ascribe meaning to them. 

Misery vindicates us as the victim and allows us to blame the outcome on the event. We give eskimo kisses to our ego and reassure it we are not the architect of this existence. And while that may absolve us of responsibility, it leaves us feeling powerless.

Happiness requires we take responsibility for our own state without relying on externalities to define it. The hardest part about happiness is learning to be content in a culture that sells scarcity and convinces us we need more.

Both are a choice.

Which will you choose today?

Control What You Can Control

Suffering for the sake of suffering is a fool’s choice. 

And I had been a fool lately.

I’d had some tough workdays. The kind of days that make you doubt the path you are on. The ones that cast a pretty big cloud and bleed over outside of work.

I was letting them spill over into the most sacred and scarce moments of my day – time spent with my family or time spent engaged in regenerative activities such as sleep, exercise and play. 

One minute I’d be watching my daughters do something silly and the next I found my mind drifting back towards work.

I’d wake up in the middle of the night and work would pop into my head and shine like a blinding neon light, kissing any chance I had of going back to sleep goodbye.

Or I’d be at the gym in the early morning, I’d remember something about work and start worrying about the day and lose focus on my workout.

I would let myself suffer in advance or relive a difficult day outside the boundaries it existed rather than being present in the moment.

I would get irritated. My patience became nonexistent. Every little thing would rub me wrong and I’d get dramatically mad and curse the gods for being drunk on ambrosia.

I was allowing these bad days to encroach on the best parts of my day.

I needed to figure out how to free myself from this hostage situation.

Philosophy Meets Application

Over the past year and a half, I’ve been working with a fitness and nutrition coach. One of the things we always talk about is the discipline of controlling what you can control.

  • Control the number of calories you consume.
  • Control for your macronutrients.
  • Control for hours of sleep.
  • Control for your daily movement or exercise.
  • Control for doing the minimum effective dose.
  • Control your emotions and assess results objectively.
  • Focus on the key inputs that drive results and do your best to execute on those, ignore everything else.

This focused mindset has yielded impressive results in my fitness and nutrition. 

I wondered…could the same principle apply to the shadowed mindset I was experiencing from work?

Perhaps I was focusing on the wrong things. Was I trying to control things outside my control?

Upon examiniation, I found that I was trying to control for clients emotions – did they like me or were they upset? I was trying to control for the types of problems I hoped to solve that day but didn’t. I was too attached to expectations about how the day should go. 

Instead of focusing on the things within my control – was I showing up and contributing to the best of my abilities, did I help my team grow, was I setting the right leadership example – I was focused on the wrong things.

When I realized this, I recalibrated my internal score keeper to focus only on what I could control. Once this shift in mindset occurred, I noticed a couple things that hadn’t been clear to me before.  

When I didn’t maintain clear boundaries that helped me live in the present (like being intentional to not check work email after hours), that lack of discipline shifted my focus to things outside my control. 

The mornings I woke up and dove straight into the maddening world of social media or the infinite news cycle, my focus would shift to a mindset of comparison or outrage. I was starting the day at a mental deficit. Goodbye self-esteem and empathy. 

Over the next couple of weeks, I found that controlling for what I could control didn’t eliminate bad days. Rather it helped me quickly assess if I was focused on the wrong things.  

Once I noticed it, I could refocus and start again.

The discipline is in learning to ignore the outcome of the day, which can be as predictable as a spider monkey that’s just chugged a Four Loko.

Instead, it meant focusing on the critical few things within my control. 

I found that I got to decide what the day meant by what I focused on.

Why not me?

The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control. Where then do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own…

Epictetus, Discourses 2.5.4 – 5

Things happen.

Events are neutral by definition.

Most are outside of our control.

But we as humans love to sort them into neatly labeled categories like good or bad. 

Rather than fighting the urge to categorize, we might as well learn to control the choices we make about what those events means. 

When something bad happens, we can despair and bemoan the world woe is me or agonize over why me?

This is one option. 

And I won’t judge you if you take this route (I’ve chosen this path plenty times before). Playing the victim absolves us of any responsibility about what to do next. 

Over time, this thinking leads to learned helplessness. And you could eventually convince yourself you don’t have any other choice but to play the victim.

Or we can ask ourselves why not me?

Perhaps your current challenge requires grit, courage, determination, patience, resilience, empathy or persistance to overcome. 

Every experience has a lesson to learn from it. Figure out what that is and own it. Choose to lean into the challenge and be open to learn what it has to teach you.

Take pride in being the type of person that isn’t afraid to face a challenge and turn it into an opportunity for growth. 

There will always be external events that positively or negatively impact us. 

But that doesn’t mean we don’t have a choice. 

We get to choose how we define these events.

That’s something that no one can take away from us.

But what did you learn?

There’s no point in sugar-coating it. This sucks. We’ve lost hundreds of thousands of people to the pandemic. There’s still much uncertainty about what the future looks like or when normalcy will return. 

Many of us (parents especially) are juggling additional roles we’re not equipped nor prepared for.  

As the seasons change and we’re forced back indoors, we’re bound to start feeling even more confined. Holidays that once helped ease us into the colder months by giving us something to celebrate are bound to look different. 

There will continue to be disruption to life as we knew it and there’s no telling when it will end.

But what’s even worse than all of this is if we only focus on how bad things are and learn nothing from this moment. 

This is a time to find appreciation in the ordinary

A walk around the block.

Quality time with family.

Playing with your kids.

Moments of quiet in the stillness of the early morning.

A mid-afternoon nap.

A great workout.

Conversation with a good friend.

An evening reading a book. 

These have always been accessible but often got buried among the myriad of activities we thought were important. 

And now with many of our options removed, what better time to learn how to savor the little moments that life gifts us. Gratitude is a practice, so why not start practicing now.

Because normalcy will eventually return and if we haven’t practiced, we’re lying to ourselves if we think we’ll make it a priority then. Who’s to say we’ll even be around when normalcy returns. 

Don’t squander the opportunity of the moment. No matter how bad life gets, there’s always opportunity for growth.

Life will always be rife with difficulty and suck – we’re really good at noticing these moments. Start noticing the good in life. Stop putting things off for a later date and stop taking things for granted. 

Life is short. It can be disrupted. We can lose everything. But, our ability to enjoy it and find appreciation is entirely within our control. Appreciate it while you can.

Nothing Is Guaranteed

“…Before this year, I probably would’ve overthought when to release this music at the ‘perfect time,’ but the times we’re living in keep reminding me that nothing is guaranteed. My gut is telling me that if you make something you love, you should just put it out into the world. That’s the side of uncertainty I can get on board with.”

Taylor Swift

This year has reminded me that nothing is guaranteed.

The entire world can upend. The things we took for granted, that we never fathomed could be taken away, were suddenly halted. 

We’ve had to alter the way we interact as a society. Rethink and retool. It’s very possible some of the things we enjoyed most about daily life won’t be coming back for a long time. 

And on its face, it seems dire (it is). But, it’s always dire. 

Nothing in this world is certain. It never has been. We’re just getting a healthy dose of reality at this moment. 

And you can lament (it’s OK if you do), but if nothing is guaranteed, at what point does it become counterproductive?

What if instead, you practiced acting indifferent?

There is power in learning to be indifferent. 

You aren’t married to a particular outcome. But, you also enjoy what you have when you have it because you realize that it won’t always last. 

You learn to enjoy the present without needing it to reamain as it is. Because, change is inevitable. 

So, instead of waiting for the perfect time to do something worth doing or sharing your gift with the world, you just do it. Because, the world could turn upside down overnight. 

With nothing guaranteed, you’re challenged to strengthen youreself, to recognize the need to work on skills that help you endure and be resilient.

But that doesn’t mean you actively hope it gets worse, rather you find appreciation in the beauty of now. The fact that it’s fleeting and impermanent means it is something that requires your presence, because you know it won’t last forever.

But, there is no sense in lamenting change – doing so robs you of the present. And when things change, you are indifferent, because you know that it too is impermanent.

So, yes, it’s dire right now. And will continue to be. 

But, there’s opportunity.

To endure.

To be resilient.

To find moments worth living in the present for. 

Because, none of it will last forever. 

Your time is limited

Remember how long you’ve been putting this off, how many extensions the gods gave you, and you didn’t use them. At some point you have to recognize what world it is that you belong to; what power rules it and from what source you spring; that there is a limit to the time assigned to you, and if you don’t use it to free yourself it will be gone and will never return

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 2.4

Life is fragile. It always has been. And the current state of the world has put a spotlight on that truth. It’s a daily reminder of our own mortality.

But mortality doesn’t have to be scary or something we shy away from acknowledging.

In fact, it can be the greatest driver you have for a meaningful life.

Most of us think of death as something far off in our future and therefore discount its likelihood. But none of us know when death will come for us.

I’ve often wondered if I’d live my life differently if I had to face an event that drastically exposed my own fragility.

Would I live life fuller if I was diagnosed with cancer but overcame it?

Or if I were stranded in the middle of the ocean, near death but ultimately survived?

Would it really take such an extreme event to make me live life to the fullest?

Thankfully, not! But it does require us to face the reality of death. To sit with it and intentionally think about how we could very much greet it sooner than expected.

How much more would you be inclined to slow down and savor the little moments that pass us by each day if you thought the end was near?

Where would you focus your time and energy?

Would you let daily annoyances take hold of your attention?

Negative Visualization

There’s a technique, dating back thousands of years, known as Negative Visualization that can help us face our worst-case scenario from the comfort of our brain. 

The idea is to think about a negative outcome that could occur in your life and think through the implications.

Imagine being in a moment where a doctor tells you that you have a terminal illness or that a close loved one has passed? 

It’s not an easy thing to think about. That’s the point.

But, as you hold yourself in that moment and let yourself feel those emotions and grapple with how it would impact your life thereafter, you can also imagine yourself wishing you could go back to a moment in time before that outcome.

You would yearn for those little moments in life you let slip by or wish you could have a mulligan on certain events.

That’s the beauty of this technique, because it gives you the chance to think deeply on the fragility, and ultimately the beauty of life.

Certainly, the current state of the world is a worst-case scenario for many.

It’s also an opportunity to acknowledge the very real truth that our time is limited on this earth.

It’s a chance to reset and focus on things that matter – family, friends, self-care, love, social connection, doing inspiring work, living purposefully, being mindful and serving others.

Your time is limited and the grave awaits us all.

What you do between now and then is entirely in your hands.