Death is rarely acknowledged. Even the word “death” is somewhat terrifying & taboo.
Even yesterday, when preparing this article in my journal, I avoided using the word.
Because it’s that one thing we’ve been able to conquer. The one thing coming for all of us.
We spend our lives focused on our career. On getting a mortgage. On having kids. On retirement plans. But never about what comes next.
Yet I have found that eventuality a comfort in my life — something, even, that can drastically improve one’s life.
I self-experiment all the time. Meditation, cold water immersion, journaling, productivity hacks, just a few.
But I’m also a Type A personality — somebody that constantly pushes themselves, that never feels they’ve done enough. That’s so future-focused that I sometimes fail to be present, in the ‘now’.
Through school, university & my first business, I just focused on the next challenge. Just getting that exam done. Then on to the next thing.
But once you hit your mid-twenties, you start to realise: time is scarce.
It flys by at a terrifying pace & you find yourself starting into the abyss of adult life, looking down a long corridor of your life towards retirement and, then, ultimately towards death.
Yet what for some may seem terrifying, for myself is a comfort. An unavoidable reality that one can either embrace or ignore.
It’s an inconvenient truth, but it is a truth. And that truth creates urgency. And urgency creates action.
And when you start accepting the inconvenient truth that life is short, all those excuses — those I’ll-do-it-somedays — start to become inexcusable.
“And there is one simple fact that most of us are utterly scared to meditate, reflect on and face head on: We are going to die. Everyone around us is going to die.” — The Daily Stoic
And then I found Stoicism.
An ancient Greco-Roman school of thought that accepts that life may be hard. Unjust. Difficult. Out of your control at times.
But that what happens happens. That whatever comes your way can either be accepted as a challenge to overcome, rather than a barrier. That life is something that should happen for you, not to you.
The ancient Stoics believed Momento Mori, a regular reflection on mortality, would keep us humble, or push us to live our lives fully.
Ancients such as the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, modern-day entrepreneurs & writers, such as Tim Ferriss & Ryan Holiday — all use this practice to enhance the quality of their lives.
Coins, bracelets, images, watches. All have been used by various historical or modern figures as a reminder of death.
Because Momento Mori is powerful. It is a practice that forces you to prioritise. To find meaning in the brief time you have. To find fulfilment in the now, rather than some vague, hypothetical future.
They remind themselves that life is short not to despair, but to do the opposite: to push themselves to find fulfilment in the present.
How would you approach life if you were told from birth that you were dying. That there was a ticking clock counting from eighty — maybe one hundred -years.
How would that affect your actions?
Your relationship with others?
Your relationship with ourselves?
Bronnie Ware is an Australian nurse who spent several years working in palliative care, caring for patients in the last 12 weeks of their lives.
The most common deathbed regret?
“I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
Regret because they always followed someone else’s dream, always tried to live up to someone eles’s expectations.
Imagine how your life would be enriched by the acknowledgement of death throughout your life?
So that, rather than dying with regret, you can take action in life.
Would you, instead of chasing fickle goals of wealth & status, opt to prioritise friends & family?
By acknowledging death, the objective is to live a more fulfilled path true to yourself.
To do that, it’s important to create a daily reminder — a Momento Mori.
- Identify a daily habit:
What do you do every day without fail? Where do you do it? In person? Online? Maybe it’s going to the fridge every morning, or the coffee machine, or sitting at your desk.
- Create a simple reminder
Once you’ve identified a habit & physical or online space you visit every morning, place a reminder — your Momento Mori — so that you can see it every day.
It doesn’t need to be a skull or something morbid. It can just be a simple, personal reminder to you — maybe the photo of your dog that passed away, a simple phrase or quote.
My Momento Mori is within my online journal. Each time I start my day, I open my journal & write about one thing I want to acheive that day. That focus, and acknowledgement that my time is scarce, is my reminder to be present, to be grateful, to make the most of my days.
Just find something that works for you.
- Dwell upon your Momento Mori
Try to stop every day for a few minutes to dwell upon that reminder. Ask yourself:
If I were to die tomorrow, have I lived a fulfilled life?
Am I fulfilled now?
If not, what can I do differently? What do I need to change?
(Author Tim Ferriss asks himself, every time he boards a plane, a variation of this question: “If this plane crashed, have I lived a fulfilled life?”)
Practice Momento Mori to enrich your life. To be one of the few that acknowledges that inconvenient, but very real, truth: that death comes for all of us.
And make sure you make the most of each scarce, valuable day you have.