When I was younger, I was an over-analyzing worrier. I worried about everything; things that didn’t matter, things that would probably never happen. It kept me from fully living in the moment. I was always afraid of possible outcomes; what could happen, how I could react to what could happen, and so on. I still occasionally worry and over-analyze, but not nearly as much anymore. It became significantly less since my son was born. Overnight almost I learned how to live in the moment more.
There wasn’t anything that I actively did to figure out how to live in the moment more after he was born. It just happened.
Although you may not have a life event that causes this to happen for you, you can help yourself learn how to live in the moment more with this odd (and counter-intuitive) trick. All you need to do, is think more about death.
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or mental health professional. This is something that has helped me, and others, live more fully and present in the moment in life. I present it as a way that others may benefit as I have. If you feel this may be harmful to you in any way, please do not attempt. You know yourself best. Consider seeking professional therapy if it is something you want to overcome but struggle with too greatly to do on your own. There are always people to help and there is no shame in asking for it!
I’m sorry. Think more about what?
When Zach was born, I immediately started thinking more about death.
What would happen to him if I died?
How would I react and cope if something should happen to him?
It crossed my mind constantly. Initially, this wasn’t great.
I wasn’t over protective. I actually approached motherhood with a fairly relaxed attitude. Even my doctor noted how calm and relaxed Andy and I were for new, first time parents.
But sometimes, inside, I would be worrying about him incessantly.
I did all of the things that I’m sure most new parents do. I checked to see if he was breathing all the time during those early days for fear of SIDS. And I worried about if his car seat was in snug enough, or if his winter clothes were too thick under the straps to protect him properly.
And because he was a rather warm baby, I was constantly checking his temperature because he felt hot all the time. It was never a fever. (He actually never really got sick until about a year and a half.)
But as time went on, I started to just acknowledge those thoughts, and our mortality, as catastrophic events that I would deal with if they arose. And instead of worrying, I just started living more intentionally.
It happened fairly quickly, my acceptance over not being able to control or change the outcomes of things. Which I’m so very thankful for. It has allowed me to be fully present in our life, and to be more aware when I am not.
How it helps
Thinking about death, or our mortality, in a healthy, proactive way allows us to be more accepting of it. The more we come to realize we don’t really have more than minimal control, the more we realize we better just enjoy everything as it is while we can.
This acceptance helps us strive to focus on the things that are most important to us. Everything becomes so much more clear.
Things in our lives that we never really thought about, we can recognize as a waste of time. They may not a waste all the time, but we can recognize when it is interfering with our priorities and make changes.
We avoid thinking about death because it terrifies us.
It terrifies us to not know what comes next. We’re heartbroken over missing out on loved one’s lives. These thoughts can be absolutely excruciating.
But isn’t it more excruciating to never question the way you are living and when the inevitable occurs, be stuck with the regret of having lived in a way you wish you could change?
You have that chance now. You are alive and well. Your family is alive and well. Do the difficult work and make the changes while you can.
How to use your mortality to live in the moment
It isn’t hard to begin to use this thought process to change your mindset and live more intentionally and more fully in the moment. But it can be difficult.
First, you want to simply acknowledge it. Acknowledge that you do not have complete control. Don’t hide from it. We will all die, and most of us will die in ways we can’t comprehend.
Then, evaluate how you spend your time. Are you spending it doing mostly activities that are priorities to you? Are you spending time with your kids, your spouse, on hobbies and activities you enjoy? Or are you working, trying to “keep up with the Jones,'” and spending hours a night scrolling through Twitter or Facebook? You
Determine how you would feel if things were different tomorrow. If tomorrow you found out you had a terminal illness and 6 months to live, would you regret the way you’ve spent the past year of your life or would you be happy with the memories you’ve made?
What if you got a call that your child was hit by a car and gone? Would you have memories you cherish, or memories you wish you could go back and change?
After you figure out how you would feel, identify those things that you want to do more of. Equally important, also identify what you want to do less of. Increasing things that you value and decreasing those things that you would have given up if you could change it will help you to avoid regret if something were to happen.
For example, if you feel you would be regretful over having spent too much time saying “I don’t have the time,” every time your child asked you to play, then that is something you can identify as needing to decrease. Figure out what you can do less of so you can say yes more.
This will be difficult at first, especially if you usually avoid thinking about these things.
Eventually it will become easier, as long as you do it in a constructive way. Consider the following when starting this process so that you don’t become too overwhelmed with the lack of control and inevitability of death.
If you do become too overwhelmed and the feelings become invasive or destructive, please seek professional therapy. No one likes to ask for help, but everyone needs it sometimes.
Don’t dwell too long on negative thoughts of what might happen or how you’ll feel in that moment. That’s not necessary to benefit. In fact, that could do the exact opposite and leave some people feeling helpless and nothing more than sadness.
Simply acknowledge the thoughts and realities and move on to how you can live your best and be present in every moment so that should something happen, you have lived fully and presently with those you love.
You may feel sad; in fact you likely will. This is normal, and it’s how I felt at first tool. Honestly, sometimes I still do a little. It’s not something our society thinks about anymore and therefore is incredibly difficult to overcome. It’s something we push away and try not to think about.
Take the time to think about this weekly, then once you’re comfortable with the process and are no longer engaging too much fear, do the process at some point each day.
Create a simple acknowledgement and resolution statement that you think about for a moment, or even a few times a day. Something like, “I cannot control when I or my loved ones are no longer here, but I can make the most out of every moment I have with them. I have control of how I live and I’ll spend each day living and loving as much as I can.”
The best thing is that eventually, those things you identified earlier as wanting to reduce or increase you’ll naturally start to notice more. You’ll feel out of sync when you’re doing something and just feel you should be doing something else. You’ll feel that because you’ve done the work to identify that those things are what really matter to you. Then, you’ll be able to intervene and make changes without the exercise.
Now that you know how to live in the moment, do it!
This process is ultimately no different than what someone who truly does face life or death goes through when they come through. They often experience a newfound appreciation for their time and are more tuned in to what they really want to focus on. This allows you to do that without being in that situation.
Facing our own mortality, or that of our loved ones, can be a great source of fear and anxiety. However, if you harness it correctly, it can be an incredible tool to prompt us to live more in the moment, more fully, and in a more engaging way. We can learn to accept death as an inevitable part of life and use it to help us live the life we truly want, with no regrets.