Like most people, I have a countdown timer that has been programmed to run down the time until the date of my probable death.
Wait, you mean to say that I’m alone in this?
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Well, I wouldn’t exactly say that I’m ALONE in this, but very few people I know of actually take this kind of thing seriously (or should I say sincerely?), and even fewer take advantage of the great power that I’m going to give to you.
I’m definitely not the first person to keep such a timer and I’m definitely not the first person to write an article on the internet about it, but there’s a lot of crap out there because people are just trying to shock you into buying what they have to sell. Death can be an attention-grabber, and you can sometimes get some page-views and clicks from it, but at the end of the day, the person writing about it usually doesn’t really believe that they’re ever going to die.
I not only know it intellectually, but emotionally; viscerally.
I’m not passing judgement, but it just goes to show you that everybody knows that they’re going to die, while very few actually believe it.
I guess I’m trying to shock you too, but I actually believe, (like I said) viscerally, that I am going to die one day; that there is a darkness coming for me that I can’t possibly escape and that no matter what I do here on earth, I can’t do anything to stop it.
This floods my awareness every single day, and in order to keep myself aware, and to keep myself thinking about it, it helps to have this kind of “death clock” hanging around.
Most people spend their entire lives trying to shut out this realization, that death is ever-present in their lives, and that’s why you see so many people living boring, meaningless, ungrateful lives, when they could be out enjoying everything that this gorgeous universe has to offer.
WHY 100 YEARS OLD?
The timer that I have is set to my 100th birthday, on July 5th, 2090.
Please, no gifts!
There’s nothing special about this number, except that it makes for easy math.
And also, it’s kind of something to shoot for. A way to not sell yourself short.
If I set the age of my probable death at 75 years, or what have you, then it’s almost like I’m forfeiting those extra 25 years.
It’s kind of like saying that I’m OK with “only” living to 75.
Alan Watts might say that there’s really no necessity to go on living at all, and I would absolutely agree with him. Part of living a life of no regrets is about being willing to die at any time.
Age 25, 50, 75, 100, it really doesn’t matter. But why limit your thinking? Why not assume 100 years and then do everything you possibly can (within reason) to get there?
That’s where my number ‘100’ comes from. You can set yours to whatever you’d like, if you decide to do something similar to what I’m doing with my death clock.
I just ask that you don’t settle for 25 fewer years of life that you could be living.
DISTRACTIONS AND THE POWER OF FOCUS
When you dig in to an exercise like this one, you’re really going to start to notice where your time is being spent today.
You could waste a lot of time trying to “optimize” every minute of every day, and end up spending so much time tracking where your time is going that you forget to actually live. Please don’t become one of these people!
Then there’s the other extreme where you don’t track your time at all, don’t guard your schedule at all, never defend your priorities, and end up watching your entire life slip away in fast motion.
Somewhere between those two extremes is where you want to be.
You want to have a system in place to track the major chunks of your time and make sure that most of your days are spent moving you forward in some way. But you also want to be sure to cultivate awareness of what’s going on in your life at each moment, and remember to actually live it; and live it intensely.
I used to have an app on my phone that reminded me every 30 minutes to live fully “NOW”.
That worked for a while, until I just started getting used to seeing it and never really paid attention to it any more. Plus, it was kind of a pain to turn it off at night so that my phone wouldn’t go off every 30 minutes while I was trying to sleep. I use my phone as my alarm clock, so that was a real issue. Perhaps if you yourself keep your phone in a different room at night (which, really, you should with all of your electronics), then you could try my reminder app method.
Today, I have a space in my Notepad app under “TRACKING” where I record focused half hours, unfocused half hours, and what I call “necessary” half hours, or half hours where I was doing something like showering or shaving etc which, while important for various reasons, aren’t exactly benefiting the world in any measurable way.
At the end of the day, I record on a separate time sheet how many of each category of half hours I actually accumulated.
This method does NOT let you cheat.
You have to become completely accountable to yourself for how you are spending your time because of this method, and you’re really going to find that you’re much better able to make productive use of your time.
And the best way to make productive use of your time is to figure out how you’re spending it now.
Reading this far may have taken up as many as 5 of the 1,440 minutes that you have to spend each day, so let’s move on.
Time for some math!
Yes, exclamation point.
I don’t particularly like math (that’s a polite way of saying that to me, it’s a rage-inducing source of stress and nightmares) but some concrete numbers might help all of us to see what a death clock can do for us, and what negative experiences and toxic people are really taking away from us when they suck away our remaining time on this earth.
What you want to do is measure everything against the percentage of time you have left.
This will let you see, in clear numbers, how much time is being eaten away by things that may not be all that important to you. Things like toxic relationships, jobs you hate, activities that don’t bring you any satisfaction, etc.
So let’s start with where most of us spend the majority of our waking hours…at work:
A JOB YOU HATE
Forgetting the idea that most people will not spend their entire lives in one job or one capacity within the same company, let’s assume that over your entire working life, you work a regular 40-hour workweek between the ages of 19 and 65.
And let’s also assume that you’re going to live to be 75 years old (“Race you to 100!”).
That means that over your entire life, you have had/will have 27,375 days to live.
Or 657,000 hours.
Side note…with these kinds of assumptions, why in the HELL would you wait until you’re 65 in order to enjoy yourself and all the money that you’ve made??? My recommendation is really Tim Ferriss’ suggestion that you should be taking a multitude of “mini-retirements” throughout your entire life so that you’re not constantly postponing the time during which you plan to be happy and enjoy yourself.
Alright, back to our calculations:
What we have so far works out to 46 years of work between the ages of 19 and 65.
If we assume that most people take about a month off every year (again, this is so wildly different for so many people that you should really just go with me on this one), then they work 48 weeks a year over those 46 years, or 2,208 weeks of work over their lifetime.
2,208 weeks of 40 hours per week works out to 88,320 hours of work, which is 3,680 days if you divide by 24 hours.
3,680 days of your life is spent at work!!!
But…what if you hate your job?
That’s not only 13.4% of your entire life WASTED, but that doesn’t even include all the time that you spend dreading going to work, complaining about going to work to anyone who will listen, and all the time spent getting READY to go to a job that you hate.
Without giving you time to digest how CRAZY that is, let’s move on to toxic relationships…
We all have people in our lives who drag us down in some way, or who would like nothing better than the chance to do that. So let’s examine the negative impact that they can have on our remaining time on this planet.
I’m a firm believer in patience, forgiveness, and all that good stuff, but bottom line…the people who are dragging you down need to go.
This isn’t the place for me to delve into all the intricacies of such a project (what if it’s your wife’s parents and you live across the street from them?), but we can at least take some general math into consideration.
It’s not a giant leap to say that you can easily spend at least an hour a day dealing with people who are toxic influences in your life. In some cases, this will be a boss that you see for 1-8 hours a day (sometimes more or less), or a husband or wife who is the “source” of all your negative emotions. I hate to see it happen this way, but sometimes it does.
Since we’re trying to keep all this math simple (mostly because I can’t do any complex math whatsoever and I’m pretty sure I’m going to make a mistake in here somewhere anyway), let’s assume that it’s possible to have to deal with toxic relationships from age 16 to age 75.
You can go your entire life dealing with people who don’t care about you, belittle you, or literally put your life in danger. But let’s keep the math simple and assume an hour every day of your life (allowing for some days in which you’ll see this person/these people for 15 hours straight, and those months when you retire to the Himalayan mountains to avoid having to come into contact with them) will be spent in this toxic relationship if you sit back and do nothing.
Alright, so that’s a lot of explaining concerning my assumptions, but it’s important to think about these things.
One hour a day over 59 years (from age 16 to 75) works out to 21,535 hours, or 897 days.
That’s another 3% of all the time you have left on this planet!!!
And of course, for many people, this number could be ten times higher. Those are the people who need our help.
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This will be a short one because I don’t want to spend a lot of my precious time on it.
Basically, if you get the 8 hours of nightly sleep that is absolutely CRITICAL to your proper functioning as a human being, then you will be asleep for 9,125 days.
8 hours of sleep per night x 365 nights a year x 75 years / 24 hours = 9,125 days. OR, 33.3% of your entire life.
So, in review…if you have a job you hate, enter into toxic relationships without removing yourself from them as QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE, although you’re also smart enough to get 8 hours of sleep each night, then the total number of waking hours available to you for other things you might want, like, you know, HAPPINESS, is just 328,145 hours, or 13,672 days.
And THAT’S if you live to be 75 years old. Since many people are definitely NOT getting their 8 hours of sleep each night, exercising, or eating healthy food, there are many people who won’t even get close to that age.
If you’re really observant, you’ll notice that that is close to HALF OF YOUR LIFE!!!
And that doesn’t even count the kinds of trivial things we do each day that are just basic to human beings.
I mean, did you know that 852 hours of your life are spent brushing your teeth?!?!
Here are some other trivial things that actually end up eating a lot of time:
This is another semi-short one, and it’s just for serious athletes and other crazy people.
If you want to get really, REALLY good at something, the accepted general rule is that you need something in the area of 10,000 hours of focused, precise, deliberate practice in order to become world-class.
The reality is that the mega-stars in various sports and games like chess have been practicing or playing for more than 30,000 hours. It turns out that that whole ten-thousand hour thing was just an average before the age of TWENTY!!!
Most of us don’t care about becoming world class in some sport or other; we just want to have fun on the weekends and beat up on our friends.
But even still, if there’s one or more activities that you care about more than anything else in the entire world (with me it’s reading books, working out, and working within the human rights movement), then you’re going to have set aside serious time for it in order to become as good as you can possibly be within the time allotted to you.
I mentioned reading, and it’s true that I read more than a hundred books every year. Assuming an average page number of 300, and (with time set aside for note-taking, etc) that I read a page every 3 minutes, then in order to read 100 books, I will have to spend 1,500 hours per year reading.
One year I read 170 books, so you can imagine how much time out of my day that generally took!
This is the price of being really, really dedicated to something.
In actual fact, you could apply it to just about anything. I love movies too, and so what would it take for me to watch 200 of the greatest movies ever made? Assuming they’re 2 hours each, then that’s 400 hours, or almost 17 days in total.
There’s no right or wrong way to spend time doing something that you enjoy, but these are the things that you have to think about.
KEY IDEAS TO KEEP IN MIND
1) Look At It Every Day – This doesn’t work if you treat your death clock as some sort of ‘curiosity’ that you stumble upon every once in a while and think, “Oooh! Creepy!”. No, this only works when you make it a focal point of your life.
This is important precisely because so many people repress the awareness of death in their daily lives. In a great 4-minute video below, Sheldon Solomon (one of the authors of “The Worm at the Core”) explains “Terror Management Theory” and how the subconscious fear of death motivates all of human activity.
Basically, the reinforcement of our immortality is SERIOUS BUSINESS, and you have to fight against your natural human inclination to take life for granted.
2) Make It A Real Number – When you have something like the Days of Life app, you have a real number staring you in the face, and that’s the best possible situation to be in.
Don’t just take this vague idea of dying one day and think about it every once in a while. Calculate out a specific number of hours/days/Saturdays/etc and put that number somewhere you can see it.
3) Keep It Front And Center – This is just a natural extension of everything we’ve been talking about. A reminder about death is sometimes referred to as a Memento Mori, or literally “Remember Your Mortality”.
I have the app, many of my favorite books deal with death, I have reminders written down in notebooks, I have other reminders on my phone…basically the idea of death is prevalent in my life. Do I obsess over it? Of course not. Do I let it control my life? Only to the extent that it makes me get out there and live.
“The aim of life is to live it intensely, to be fully born, to be fully awake. To emerge from the ideas of infantile grandiosity into the conviction of one’s real though limited strength; to be able to accept the paradox that every one of us is the most important thing there is in the universe – and at the same time not more important than a fly or a blade of grass. To be able to love life, and yet to accept death without terror; to tolerate uncertainty about the most important questions with which life confronts us – and yet to have faith in our thought and feeling, inasmuch as they are truly ours. To be able to be alone, and at the same time one with a loved person, with every brother on this earth, with all that is alive; to follow the voice of our conscience, the voice that calls us to ourselves, yet not to indulge in self hate when the voice of conscience was not loud enough to be heard and followed. The mentally healthy person is the person who lives by love, reason, and faith, who respects life, his own, and that of his fellow man.”
Amazing book, by the way. It’s from “The Sane Society”.
MOST PEOPLE DON’T WANT TO LIVE FOREVER
There are entire movements dedicated to life extension and pseudo-immortality. It’s beyond the scope of this article to go into the details, but suffice to say, some of these efforts are incredibly involved.
But I would venture to say that most people don’t actually want to live forever. Even those who profess that they want to don’t ACTUALLY want to.
I believe that, confronted with an eternity of endless time, most if not all people would choose to take their own lives at some point. I mean, look at how many people complain about being bored all the time, and then they turn around and talk about how they want to live forever?
Instead, I believe that most people want “indefinite” time, rather than eternal life.
They want to choose when they depart from this life, and don’t want to face the idea of being ripped away from everything and everyone they hold dear.
And hey, I can’t really put up any arguments against that. That, to me, is just the human condition and we can’t really run away from that. Although, as I’ve said, most people try to do just that.
But since we (more or less) can’t choose the date of our own death, the one thing we do have control over is how we spend our days.
And now, after reading through all this stuff here in this article, I hope that you have a little bit of a clearer perspective on how to do that, what that might look like, and how serious you have to take this if you want to avoid having your time stripped away by trivialities.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to awareness and focus.
Your days are limited, and there’s nothing you can do to stop the ceaseless approach of death. But instead of that being a source of anxiety and fear, that will be your biggest competitive advantage.
And the source of your greatest happiness and gratitude.
Full humanness may require full fear and trembling throughout at least some of the waking day; you’ll have to come to terms with the limits of the human condition in order to break through to what is possible for you.
But again, this doesn’t have to be bleak.
And you don’t have anything to run away from any more.
What I call existential courage is the ability to not turn away from the brute facts of life.
Full awareness of the human condition and the inevitability of death is how you escape the cycle of triviality and unhappiness that have plagued so many people for way too long.
This is both ‘Serious Business’, and a whole hell of a lot of fun. You won’t miss a moment. Every cool summer breeze, every hug, every weight triumphantly lifted into the air, every phenomenal book devoured.
In contrast to all those jerks with their cute little death clocks that they never take the time to look at or think about again, yours will be front and center for the rest of your life.
*What is the most important thing that I could be doing right now?
*Will I regret not doing this?
*Is this how I want to spend my one and only life?
*Am I holding back because of fear?
*Is this going to make my life more interesting?
*Will this make for a good story?
In short, it will guide you to what will make you happiest. And to what will remove all the superfluous activities from your life.
It’s also important to remember that nobody has this stuff figure out. And if someone tells you that they DO have it all figured out, then they’re goddamn well lying to you, and they probably just want your money.
Nobody has it all figured out, and since we all came from the same universe, we’re all in the process of returning to that same universe at the time of our individual deaths.
But we’re not dead yet!!!
There is still Life in us.
Life that is resilient, strong, powerful.
And when one of us stumbles, we can help each other find happiness.
As Rumi says, we’re all just walking each other home.
All the best,
THE GODLIKE DISCIPLINE HANDBOOK
You can now download your free copy of my OWN book, The Godlike Discipline Handbook, by following this link HERE.
It features 13 concepts that are absolutely critical to achieving superhuman self-control, and gives 64 specific, actionable strategies to help you master self-discipline and willpower.
May your discipline become godlike.
Matt Karamazov is a human rights activist, boxer, and writer who reads at least 100 books every year and throws 300 punches per minute. His website, Godlike Discipline, is dedicated to raising money for causes like Doctors Without Borders, and Human Rights Watch, among others. It’s also dedicated to helping people tackle their biggest willpower challenges. He also like death metal, and so, consequently doesn’t get many second dates. Here he is on a horse.