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Using Mortality To Become More Conscious

Being Aware Life Is Limited Can Provide Motivation To Be Who We Most Want To Be.

Death and taking charge of thinking may seem like very different topics; however, realizing one’s mortality can be a great motivator to facilitate change. Training one’s thinking can be a powerful tool to bring about life change. Besides the reading that focuses on training the mind, there are quotes and TED videos that have supported being conscious in thought and creating oneself the way one wants to be.

Neuroscientists estimate our adaptive unconscious is responsible for approximately 95% of our brain activity. Humans, as a result of evolution and automatic responses, do not need to use their conscious mind for the majority of their daily tasks. Basically, we do most of our functioning on autopilot. This is beneficial for things such as walking or determining how far to turn the wheel when negotiating a turn in the car. For many, though, their autopilot is not creating who they’d like to be.

To exemplify how much automatic thinking is relied upon, consider the response to “Hello, how are you?” Automatically many reply “Good, and you?” or something similar. Often, the person replying may not be good. Sometimes, the reply is made despite having already asked how the person was doing in the previous exchange. The person has been asked how he or she is doing twice in a minute’s time. Or think of a time someone was wished a happy birthday and the reply was “You too.”

Two books about changing yourself and your reality are “As A Man Thinketh” by James Allen, and “The First And Last Freedom” by Jiddu Krishnamurti. The Allen book was published in 1903, but the idea that the way you think will manifest your reality has been around even longer than that. William James made similar assertions in the late 1800s. “Human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives.” He also said it more simply: “If you can change your mind, you can change your life.” And, according to Robert A. Swartz, Buddha purported the same idea millennia before that: “All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think, we become.” And in Buddha’s footsteps the Dalai Lama said “When you think everything is someone else´s fault, you will suffer a lot. When you realize that everything springs only from yourself, you will learn both peace and joy.”

The above books and the quotes that support them have a similar theme; if you train your thinking, you can change yourself and the world. This theme was popularized by the book “The Secret” several years ago, and is the theme in any book or article about manifesting reality. The manifestation of the reality desired begins with internal change; it begins with you. In a more recent and excellent TED Talk philosopher Julian Baggini suggests you can take control and create yourself.

Changing your thinking and creating yourself isn’t without its problems: First, you must weed out conflicting attitudes and beliefs to what you desire; second, the people around you have an idea of you, and will, in all likelihood, attempt to unconsciously force you back into the idea they have. These problems pose a great obstacle, but a surmountable one.

Thinking is not easily overcome. Everyone has been trained, and has trained him or herself, to think and behave in certain ways. This training has taken place throughout the entire lifespan. It makes life easier. Imagine if you had to think out every minuscule decision. It would slow your life down considerably. Thinking and behaving the way one does has been reinforced, and largely, it works for the individual. Even when it doesn’t work it has become habit, it is comfortable, and the mind will return to it when unmonitored or unchallenged.

Despite the difficulties, the obstacles are not insuperable. One needs to maintain motivation to monitor thinking, and to create oneself in the manner he or she wishes. This is where facing one’s mortality can add motivation.

Thinking of one’s mortality seems morbid at face value. For centuries however, it has been a mainstay of existential philosophy, and the psychology that arose from it. The goal of this line of thought is to realize one’s mortality makes life all the more sweet.

In regard to making changes, a good question to ask is if you were to die soon, how would you want to be remembered? What characteristics do you most want recognized and immortalized by your loved ones? Who do you want to be before you die? How do you perceive your ideal self? How can you begin to behave more in line with this self?

These questions aren’t simply about what you want to accomplish; they are about who you choose to be for the rest of your days. If one believes, as one should, that there can be tremendous change brought about through conscious effort, all one needs to do is focus the power of their mind and create the self they want. It sounds easy, but requires motivation and concerted effort. It is easier to fall back into daily routines and rote exchanges with those around us. It is easier to let your patterned thinking take charge. After all, this is nearly effortless. But if you can harness the idea that your mortality is inevitable, and create your thinking instead of letting it create you, you can be the person you choose to be. It is as simple as Carl Jung said, “I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become."


Allen, James; “As A Man Thinketh”, 2008, originally published 1903

Krishnamurti, Jiddu; “The First And Last Freedom”,

Swartz, Robert A. Me, Myself and Mind, 2011.

Baggini, Julian; “Is There A Real You”, TED Talks, Nov., 2011, Aired January 2012;

Szegedy-Maszak, Marianne; Mysteries of the Mind: Your unconscious is making your everyday decisions; Posted 2/20/05

Copyright Willim Berry, 2012

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