(Read this when you have a bit of space in your day—probably not in the 5 minutes between meetings 🙂)
At the most fundamental level, the #1 struggle of being human, by far, is managing your time while you’re alive.
As an animal, you get a certain amount of time.
Then you die.
Therefore, by far the most important questions to be regularly asking yourself are:
- How can I make the most of the limited time I have?
- Can I get more time (i.e., extend my healthy lifespan)?
- In case it’s possible to get additional time after this life, how can I best prepare for that?
What do you think? Are those the right 3 big questions? Did I miss something?
In any case, these are big questions with big answers. I can only scratch the surface here in a reasonably-sized post. But I’ll offer some broad areas of focus for each.
Ok, let’s dive in.
Part 1: Making the most of your time alive
If you have a limited resource (time), the most important question is how best to use it.
This is the central driver behind all my writing (and coaching work).
We’re all going to die. How can we most fully live until then?
Logically, we can approach this from two perspectives: increase the positives and decrease the negatives.
Ideally, do both.
The “positive” angle: Focus on increasing satisfaction & pleasure in three ways:
Improve your sense of belonging (i.e., find or create a community to plug into, and build a trusted support network with whom you can truly be yourself);
Put your energy toward work that feels aligned with your values and that makes a real, positive impact on others (though focusing on developing mastery for yourself is also valid);
Design your life so that you have agency & freedom to do what lights you up in your free time (and have enough free time in which to do it).
The “negative” angle: Focus on decreasing unpleasant experiences:
One way to approach this is to remove obvious negatives from your life:
- Quit the job you hate;
- Leave the relationship that isn’t serving you;
- Ban yourself from YouTube or TikTok if it’s making you depressed.
But there’s something just as important as removing specific unpleasant things:
Minimizing the degree to which you’re negatively affected by the unpleasant in general.
This is all about cultivating a mindset of emotional resilience & mindful equanimity. In fact, it’s not just a mindset. It’s a psycho / emotional / spiritual / somatic state.
No woo-woo here. I’m simply saying that you can’t just force-of-will yourself to this ideal state by thinking happy thoughts.
This state—where negative circumstances have less power over you—is built upon a foundation of:
- Logical awareness (e.g., of your biases and stories in your head) +
- Mental / emotional health +
- Some kind of spiritual / existential grounding (i.e., avoid nihilism) +
- Physical health & body awareness.
The first step I recommend for cultivating this state is daily meditation. (Here’s my deep-dive beginner’s guide.)
What do you think? Did I miss anything? Which appeals to you more: approaching from the “add positives” or “remove negatives” angle? What’s one step you could take toward either?
Part 2: How to increase your time alive
More specifically, it’s not just about living longer, but about extending your healthy lifespan.
In other words, how can you prolong the amount of time in which you feel great and get to enjoy being alive?
I’m not a medical professional, but I’ve done a lot of research on the latest thinking in the longevity world.
Some of my favorite experts include Dr. Rhonda Patrick, Dr. Andrew Huberman, and Dr. Andrew Weil.
Here are the practices most commonly recommended by those experts (plus my personal top tips for each):
- Intermittent fasting and/or caloric restriction (I typically eat nothing from around 7pm to 11am to give my digestive system time to rest)
- Regular sauna usage (as well as cold therapy—I take a normal shower then turn it to the coldest setting for the final 15-30 seconds)
- Stress management, including using breathing techniques (Dr. Weil highly recommends breathing in for a count of 4, holding for a count of 7, and breathing out for a count of 8; repeat 3 more times)
- Reduction of sugar intake (I tend to dislike stevia, but I’ve found that monk fruit is a great sweetener alternative)
- Cardiorespiratory fitness (I’ve tried all sorts of things, but my favorite form of cardio is 10 minutes on a rowing machine)
- Plant-rich diet, especially leafy greens (try getting a bag of fresh pre-washed baby spinach and eat it raw alongside your meal, or only lightly cooked with olive oil, salt, and spices)
- Cutting out smoking & alcohol (sorry, the idea that wine is healthy because of resveratrol turned out to be false; I suggest trying kombucha instead of alcohol since it can have a similar mouthfeel)
- Consistent high-quality sleep (the most important tricks for me were blocking out light, getting my room as cold as possible, and meditating early in the day to reduce ruminating in bed)
What’s a step you could take today toward one of these?
Part 3: Preparing for potential additional time after this life
First, what can we all agree on?
I’m not going to get into a religious debate here, so let’s focus on some of the most common ideas shared by virtually all religions and spiritual systems:
- Practice contemplation / prayer / mindfulness;
- Be of service to some cause larger than yourself (whether that’s God, your family, your community, charity, the environment, etc.—pick some cause and put your energy into it);
- Focus on love, compassion, and empathy for others.
Second, could it be possible to get more information about what comes after this life?
Highly promising research is being done at top institutions like Johns Hopkins around psychedelics.
There’s so much potential here in a variety of directions. But for our purposes in this post, I want to tell you about a 2016 study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.
This randomized, double-blind, cross-over trial found that terminal cancer patients were able to overcome their fear of death with a single dose of the psychoactive psilocybin.
Moreover, 83% reported increases in well-being or life satisfaction, and 70% reported the experience as one of the top 5 most spiritually significant lifetime events.
This is a big topic that I don’t have space in this post to get into, but clearly, something very significant is happening with these substances.
If you’re not familiar with the renaissance of psychedelic research happening right now (at extremely reputable institutions like Yale, Johns Hopkins, and Stanford), here are a few quick places to begin learning:
- A Vox article “Why psychedelic drugs could transform how we treat depression and mental illness”
- Trailer for a documentary about using the psychoactive MDMA to treat PTSD
- Johns Hopkins’ Center for Psychedelic and Consciousness Research
Third, give yourself compassion
Thinking about death can be very scary.
In Part 1, I mentioned working toward a state of equanimity where negative circumstances have less power over you.
So yes, developing a healthy relationship with the fact that you’ll die someday (maybe tomorrow!) is very important. But it’s also a lifelong practice.
Even reading posts like this one might be anxiety-inducing, and that’s normal.
It’s useful to remind yourself regularly that time is precious. But it’s also not realistic to put pressure on yourself to make every day absolutely amazing just in case it’s your last. Some days we still have to take out the garbage and file our taxes 🙂
Ultimately, I believe it’s not healthy to totally plug your ears and ignore the reality of death. But it’s also not healthy to be thinking about it to an extreme degree. As with so many things in life, the middle way is best.
Now, what do you think? What are your biggest takeaways from this post? What can you take action on today?