Is Living Like Today Might Be Your Last A Good Idea?

SandPit.jpg

photo by brightroyalty

I was saddened and alarmed a few years ago to hear a good friend of mine announce cheerfully she was making a practice of thinking “Today might be my last day—I might die tomorrow.” This helped her to “make the most of the day”, she said.

Since I started doing this blog, I have been clicking on the web searches that appear in my StatCounter statistics, and so have been coming across questions like “would you want to live forever if you could?” on things like forums and Yahoo Answers. Many of the responses are along the lines of “knowing you are going to die helps you make the most of life”.

I even came across a blog recently that was entirely devoted to trying to make the most of life by imagining you had only a certain number of days left to live. It’s called XX days, where XX is the number. The blog seems to have, from what I can see, an intelligent, connected and loving community around it. I don’t think it’s for me to say they shouldn’t be thinking like this, as who knows what each person’s path is? But I’d like to suggest to them and all the others who do this that there is better way.

one more thing…

As well, I was surprised by a speech I found recently on the web, made by a well-known Californian technology entrepreneur a few years ago, to university students. I am rather keen on this person’s products. He started by talking about the value of following intuition and doing what you love, which I thought was terrific stuff, and moved on to saying the best way to make the most of life is to imagine that today might be your last day. Here’s part of the speech:

When I was 17 I read a quote that went something like “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself, “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “no” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important thing I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life, because almost everything–all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure–these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

What’s wrong with this thinking?

The main problem if we think like this is that it takes us away from being in the present moment, and we need to be alert in the present moment to be aware of our intuitive impulses. And following our intuition is what brings the goodies of life… joy, satisfaction and health, for example.

Eckhart Tolle’s book The Power of Now is very popular—it has been a best seller, and every second personal growth blog seems to have it, or another one of his books, for sale in the sidebar. Steve Pavlina has written a post about it which I really like, called The Power of Now. That it is important to live in the present moment seems to be an idea fairly widely subscribed to.

If we change what we choose to do today because we may not be alive tomorrow (or in XX days), we are acting from consideration of some future restriction—this is NOT being in the present moment. It’s being motivated because something might be running out rather than being motivated by the joy of doing something. It’s also coming from the intellect, which is not intuition.

Young children live in the present moment—they do and say exactly what they want to, when they want to. If they want to go outside and play in the sandpit, they just do it. Do they decide they will play outside this morning because they are concerned it may rain this afternoon?

Being in the present moment means doing what we want to do today because WE WANT TO DO IT. If we want to go bicycling, we want to go bicycling—why complicate it? If we want to curl up in front of the fire, we want to curl up in front of the fire—why question it? If anyone needs to imagine some future possible restriction in order to decide what to do today, they are in real trouble, because they could only be like this if they are REALLY out of touch with their own inner guidance, and that leads to all sorts of emotional and health problems, including, dare I say it, life-threatening ones.

And getting back to the entrepreneur’s speech, I think he is suggesting that using his technique is a way of not allowing ourselves to be run by our ego. My response to this thinking is that consistently living in the present moment and acting on our intuitive impulses are what give us the kind of true confidence and self-awareness that prevents us from being puffed up with pride, fearful and having any of the other ego issues going on.

Be careful what you think

Another reason for not imagining today may be our last is that thoughts are powerful. Thoughts are things, and we can will scenarios to come true by thinking about them. I am not surprised when I hear about people who advocate the “today might be my last” method of motivation/clarity becoming seriously ill.

My wonderful readers

One of the visitors to this blog, Urban Panther, wrote in the comments section of my post How I Found Immortality:

…[it] made me think of the expression “Live like you are going to die tomorrow” and I think that really puts a negative spin on things. I “live like I am going to live tomorrow”. That way, everything I do Today, I am accountable to Tomorrow for. Not as a burden, but as a joy.

Good one, U.P!

I think many of you would not really pay too much attention to these sorts of techniques, just like Urban Panther. My guess is you’d hear about it, be somehow not very interested, and move on. I would like to suggest though, that the principles I’ve discussed apply also to the whole of life. If we believe we are going to live to be about 100 (and even if we don’t think about it, it’s there in the sub-conscious), we are going to find it really hard as we get older to always make our decisions in the present moment, rather than with regard to how old we are. It would work much better to see ourselves as immortal, I’d suggest.

What I’d say now

These days, if someone were to say to me they are living each day like it might be their last, to help them make the most of their life, I’d try to gently suggest to them that doing this takes them away from following their intuition, and it is through following their intuitive impulses they will discover the fullness of life.

If anyone is interested in reading more about how to follow intuition, I go into more detail about it in my post How to be a Man and a Woman Both At The Same Time.
Marelisa has also just put up a really good post about intuition called Creating Your Dream Life: Practical Intuition.

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What do you think? Any comments about all of this are most welcome.

More posts, a random selection:

Comments

  1. I agree. I think living like that sounds good on paper, but the reality of it is a little dangerous.

    I’ve seen several people who had to deal with serious illnesses, and their reaction was always to just want to continue their ordinary daily life. They didn’t want to make huge changes… they just wanted “normal”, and they learned to value normal more than ever before.

    Vereds last blog post..Powerful Men, Half-Naked Women (Best Shot Monday)

  2. Urban Panther said it very well, almost as good as you!
    Somehow on some level I know, death and life are one and the same. To fear death, is to fear being alive.
    The more I focus on the now, the moment, the opportunity, the instinct and the discipline of this very second of time, the more life I can experience – moment by moment.
    The urge to live a fuller life because you know that death is waiting is understandable, and I guess if you don’t have any other motivation to LIVE BIG, that is one. But, Robin, thank you for saying it…why use death as a reason?
    Your fan,
    Harmony

    Harmonys last blog post..Sometimes Silence is the Only Way

  3. That’s a little weird: knowing you are going to die helps you make the most of life” to me. Ask these same people to pick the date they would want to die and see how many people would be able to do so. I’ve come to the realization though that people think living forever would be boring, the thought of immortality is not for everyone, so for these people, let them die. It seems like a waste of time to convince people otherwise. Personally, I enjoy life..I might not be living the life I would like to be, right now, but I’m enjoying the journey. Nice quote from Urban.

    Naturals last blog post..A Fish Out of Water, Literally

  4. I read an interview from one of our Canadian singer/songwriters Jann Arden. I love this quote from her, which goes something like “I don’t bemoan getting older. The alternative is to be dead.” This is fantastic. Each day that passes is a celebration. You don’t pass a day, it’s because you are dead. Quite simple, really. I have learned to live in the moment, but I certainly have days when my mind starts a little rant about how I need to be making plans for the future. But I give my head a shake and quiet that voice.

    The Urbane Lion and I have certainly discussed potential futures, but from the perspective of what do we want to do today based on the road we think we want to travel. This helps us make the most of the moment, and we are always open to new roads and new adventures. And we have never said “we have to do such and such before we retire…get old..die”. Like you said, it’s limiting, and potentially self-fulfilling.

    Urban Panthers last blog post..Whatever you do, don’t go there

  5. I think that living each day as if it were your last sounds very stressful. I mean, I imagine it would be horrible being told by a doctor that you have a terminal illness, so why on earth would you want to pretend that you do? I understand that there’s a danger of always putting things off until tomorrow, until eventually there are no more tomorrows. But I think the answer to that is to set specific, measurable goals with a clearly defined deadline, not to pretend that you’re about to die. And like you say, this kind of thinking might actually attract harm to you.

    Marelisas last blog post..Creating Your Dream Life: Practical Intuition

  6. I agree to a point that thinking that there’s no tomorrow might not be a purely healthy approach to finding our inner joys. I do think though that it somewhat helps to free any psychological shackles that may be there. There may be healthier ways to go about it, but the “live like there’s no tomorrow” is a quick and dirty approach.

    Al at 7Ps last blog post..Jump Right In!

  7. I understand the intention of the phrase and so I appreciate it for that but I can certainly see (as others have suggested and as you pointed out) the error in it. To me, there’s no time like the present to enjoy life. I try not to stress over the notion that there might not be a tomorrow (the thought of that is simply “too” stressing).

  8. @Vered – that’s interesting about the people who just wanted to continue with their normal life, and they valued it more. I’ve seen the same thing – thanks.
    @Harmony – YOU”RE BACK! YIPPEEEE!!! ///clap clap clap\\\ (to borrow Barbara’s clapping). And I think you’re right-on about the moment-thing.
    @Natural – hi Natural and sorry about your fish – we are enjoying your journey with you too!
    @Urban Panther – firstly, thanks for giving me that quote – and I think it’s interesting to hear the way you guys are operating e.g making plans “from the perspective of what do we want to do today”.
    @Marelisa – it does sound stressful doesn’t it! And yes, there are many tools around for achieving a satisfying life besides doing something so silly.
    @Al – hi and thanks for your comment! From my point of view I don’t think this way of thinking actually does free things up – it might seem very carefree at first glance, but if a person is having trouble being spontaneous (I think this is what you are referring to), they need to learn to act on their intuition, which has nothing to do with “tomorrow” (unless their intuition is telling them to make a plan for tomorrow!) I agree though that this may have some usefulness maybe in a personal discussion, and where there is not too much focus on it.
    @Ribeezie – it would be stressful wouldn’t it! Why would anyone want to dampen their energy like that? Cheers!

  9. Wow! If I lived every day as if it were my last I would wind up in jail in no time at all! And probably all bruised up too! I have two ‘mantras’ I like to use: “The present moment will never come back.” This reminds me to enjoy the present moment as much as I can and not waste it in frivolities. The second is “I would rather die with remorse than with regrets” . Do not let opportunities fly by you. Things didn’t turn out like you thought they would? At least you tried it and you’ll never have any regrets about it.

  10. Living as if it were last day … doesn’t sound good to me. There are so many things we do every day because they have a long term meaning/result which we would then start skipping – like eat, exercise, spend sensibly, be responsible etc.

    I believe the original idea was to think as if you are going to die the next day and then “review life”. Are you happy with the way it has turned out? What are the regrets you have? What would you like to do differently? Etc. The exercise is very powerful because what is important to us literally pops out.

    Avani-Mehtas last blog post..Cheat Codes To Have A Happy Marriage

  11. Based on the practical side of things, I would find it stressful to live each day as if it would be the last. But to me, I think the intent of what was being said was meant to kick us in the butt for not living our best life in every single day. I would say that a lot of us tend to procastinate in the things we want to do or choose not to follow our dreams.

    I’m wondering if you are also referring to Randy Pausch as the entrepreneur in his speech on The Last Lecture. He has since passed away from cancer 2 days ago.

    Evelyn

    Evelyn Lims last blog post..Confess Your Secrets

  12. @Urbane Lion – you sound like a naughty lion! – albeit an urbane one. Good to see you are taking up your opportunities!
    @Avani-Mehtas – hi there! – yes – it’s not a real situation, so I think has little value. Personally, I don’t think it’s healthy to think we may die the next day under any circumstances, but I know there would be many who would disagree with me! Thanks for your thoughtful comment!
    @Evelyn Lim – hi there Evelyn – I just have reservations about the idea of living our best every single day… I think many people interpret this sentiment to mean they should get out there and be busy busy busy, whereas it might actually be better for them to stay in bed all day (I feel you would agree with me here). The entrepreneur isn’t Randy – I don’t want to mention his name because this stuff is so personal, but you can find out who it is by doing a search on the quote and clicking through to the sites that have the speech. Cheers Evelyn!

  13. Well, it can be done for a short time period. It is indeed difficult to have the “last day” mind set when I know that it isn’t ;-0)
    Having said that, I think we can still use the concept to motivate us and bring the best. One good example is the – The Last lecture – I haven’t read the book, but I watched the his lecture on YouTube. That’s something I try to live by.

    Shamelle

    Shamelles last blog post..12 Words and Phrases That Automatically Kill Your Self Image

  14. Hi Shamelle! – I think we’ll have to agree to disagree here – I think we’ve done that before 😉
    I watched the Last Lecture video over on The Change Blog, and felt sad that people find it inspiring. If it was a truth that sooner or later we become helpless victims of death, I suppose it would have some merit, but I don’t think that’s the case (I also felt sad he died – I’m doing this blog because I think death is an unnecessary and very sad waste.)
    Thanks for visiting!

  15. Hi Robin.
    If I were to imagine living each day like it were my last it would be the equivalent of living with stage fright every second of every day. Not my idea of a joyful time at all. That would do me in all by itself 🙂

    Davinas last blog post..260+3 Blog-to-Show — How Did You Choose?

  16. Hi Robin,

    Yes, Harmony is back ///clap, clap, clap\\\ Yipee, hey?

    I like the concept of the “Power of Now”. You’re right! Kids have the right idea. They don’t over analyze. They just do it. Obsessing on today being our last could easily create negative thoughts and make us start worrying that it might be. Yikes! Banish those thoughts!

    Barbara Swaffords last blog post..NBOTW – Blogging – No Age Requirement

  17. Living like is it’s your last day sounds like a good idea but it’s also irresponsible. This way of thinking is on the immature side of living. Children just do what they want to do without thinking of the repercussion of their actions because by nature they are immature. As mature adults we cannot live like this because we need to think about the effects of our actions.

    I believe living in the present should not excuse people from responsibility.

  18. @Davina – yes I know… I think so too!
    @Barbara – yep she’s back – and yes, banish them indeed!
    @Chris – YOU’RE BACK TOO! More clapping! Two people in the one week!
    Thanks for bringing it up about adults being responsible… my view is that when an adult follows their intuition, they will be lead down the path of greatest responsibility for themselves and others. They might feel an intuitive prompt to sack an employee, for example, which, if it is true intuition, would be the most responsible thing to do in that situation.

  19. Robin,
    I have to totally agree with Urban Panther. I think that the entire “live each moment as if it’s you last” mentality is just an excuse for not taking responsibilities for the things we do today. As social beings, our actions affect not just ourselves, but others, most importantly our loved ones.
    And what happens to the wonderful concepts of setting goals, looking for some sort of long-term achievement, and the concept of planning. It’s the old “vacation” attitude: the best part of a vacation is usually the countdown to getting there, rather than the actual arival. And in this day of “instant everything,” people lose sight of the lovely smell of a roast cooking, as opposed to just wanting the roast to be finished so that it can be enjoyed. (I know – I don’t cook…it’s just a metaphor!)
    Rita

  20. I actually have a different take on the whole idea of living as if today was your last day. I take it to mean live like you mean it. Don’t put off what’s important to you. Make time for the people and activities that will make you feel that your life was worth living. So many people say things like “I’ll travel when I retire” or “if I don’t get into the housing market now I never will”. Stuff that really comes from a place of fear. A place where you don’t believe you can have what you want right now. I think this is a dangerous way to live and if you did die tomorrow would leave you feeling great regret.

    My stepbrother died very young (16) and not long after a friend had died in a motorcycle accident. This was an eye-opening time for me. Full of grief which then turned into a determination to make my life count. To make sure I died feeling that I had given it my all, utilized my unique gifts, loved and lived hard and not let fear win. If you think you have forever there is the temptation to get caught up in silly dramas and work and not love and live with every ounce of your being.

    So, I guess I have always taken the “Live as if it was your last day” quote to be essentially about living as if life was sacred and waiting for you right now. Do something. Make the day count. And personally, I swear by this thinking.

    Interesting discussion. Thanks.

    Kelly

  21. @Rita – hi and welcome! I really like your slow roast analogy – not only because I always like thinking about food, but also because I think some people use the idea of “making the most of today” as a reason to rush around like chooks with their head off, being so busy they actually don’t even know what they really want.
    @Kelly – great to hear from you! I think an interesting thing is that everyone, whatever they think about this, is looking at ways to make the most of life! I’ve seen people behave as I just described to Rita – so that is a large part of where I am coming from. (Maybe some people need to speed up and others need to slow down.) I’m really sorry to hear about your stepbrother and friend.

  22. “Live like you are going to live tomorrow” – I love that! Well said by the Urban Panther.

    This says to me that we live responsibly, while also living the life we want and desire.

    So, I’m with you Robin – let’s not live like today might be our last. Let’s live like tomorrow will come. And let’s be present in the moment we’re at.

    Lances last blog post..We Are A Motley Crew

  23. Hi Robin – I think I’m coming round to your point of view. If I live each day as if it’s going to be my last, I’m never going to start any long-term project am I? I’m not even going to *continue* any long-term project, even if I know I’m going to get it finished tomorrow.

    The motivation behind this popular ‘last day’ fantasy is to persuade ourselves to really *appreciate* our lives, but it is possible to do that without evoking fear of death. Like by taking time to count our blessings for instance…

    Simons last blog post..Ten Words That Can Heal The World

  24. Wayne Rintoul says:

    Hi Bobs,
    Just a reply and thanks for posting some interesting topics.
    To add my little part to the subject of living for ever, the main
    thing that I see is live as we know it has one fundimental law
    attached, and that is CHANGE. This universe is in a constant state
    of change. We as spirtual beings, are in conflict or harmony with that change. How we cope which that is interesting as many comments show.
    Do I know the answere? no. From most religions and wise people
    I find it is the attitude one chooses to deal with CHANGE that matters. Life was never ment to be eazy nor does it have to be difficult all the time. The fact that it can change is a bonus. IF YOU SEE IT THAT WAY. It is a bonus we care at all to ask, these questions,solutions,and not give in to changing into cosmic dust.
    If we do live for ever I hope we all can be together mate.

    Much Love The Lighthouse Keeper.

  25. Robin this is a powerfully insightful post. Upon reflection I have always been living according to what you recommend. I guess I just knew that if I lived every day as if it were my last I’d be too pooped for the next. Really who the hell knows/ My last day could be blissful out in the woods or it could be intense. Most likely it would be around those I love but they couldn’t take me every day, nor I them.

    I stumbled this because I want others to read it.

    Tom Volkar / Delightful Works last blog post..Seize the Freedom of Self-Employment

  26. Oh dang it! I came by to read this post – again – and, as I just blogged on my “Reader’s Choice Question” of my 10 faorite books, I realize that I left a critical one off of the list! It’s called “Tuck Everlasting.”

    Though it is billed as an adolescent book, my older daughter and I read it together years ago for a book club. And though I’ve already left a comment on this post, I’m certainly glad I came back, as that book deserves mention on THIS blog, and the issues you discuss above.

    Please, take a few hours and read the book (or re-read it, if you’ve already read it). I think it will give you an EXCELLENT perspective to some of the answers you seek.

    Rita

    Ritas last blog post..Second “Reader’s Choice” Blog – My 10 Favorite Books

  27. @Simon – yes – there are more healthy way of finding true, deep, real motivation for our daily lives. I believe.
    @Wayne – thanks to you Mr Keeper! I like what you say about change – and it IS interesting that we ask questions like these, I think.
    @Tom – hi there and thankyou! Yes I think many people would be simply not intuitively attracted to motivating themselves by thinking it might be their last day all the time.
    @Rita – Hi there – I had a look at Tuck Everlasting just now in Wikipedia – it’s about how immortality is a curse! This blog is entirely devoted to debunking the kind of thinking in this book, so I’m sorry but I’m not really ineterested in reading it!

  28. Wow. Quite the post and quite the responses. I love Power of Now. I know some critics say that Tolle is simply repackaging others’ ideas, but I find his way of presenting that approach to life to be incredibly powerful.

    I’ll take that over imagining death any day. In fact this would be a good time to reread it.

    Bill K.s last blog post..Meet the future: Your blog goes here

  29. @Bill – hiya and thanks Bill! I actually haven’t read ‘The Power of Now’ even though we have it in the house because Frank has read it (and he loves it). Because I read those ideas in other books – but if people are saying he is repackaging other people’s ideas, I reckon they are being silly – the truth is the truth, isn’t it? – and if someone helps spread helpful ideas, then it’s wonderful! (maybe I’ll read it!)

  30. barbara Sue Terry says:

    The ideas sound good but when you live alone with work or home
    it is awful. IF I had someone in my life to live like today is last
    would be wonderful and not hard to do. My brother lived that
    way and last Nov. 3rd he was killed on his job in NewBerry, Mich.
    in the UP. I would love to have that kind of relationship.

    Thanks,
    Sue

  31. Hi Barbara Sue – thanks for visiting. I don’t quite know what you mean – my post is saying I think it is a bad idea to live like today might be our last day – I think it is a dangerous thing to do, because we create the things we think about, and for various other reasons. All the best – Robin

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