Live Like Your Life Depends On It
Life is like a bowl of soup (with apologies to Forrest Gump).
Featured Blog Post
These are lessons I either learned early (thankfully) or I wish I had learned earlier (regrettably).
1. The responsibility and service of leadership always outweigh the recognition and status.
2. Responsibility is rewarding, but it isn’t about rewards
3. Anyone can lead but not everyone should lead. If you don’t have your heart in it, you’ll be mediocre at best.
I do enjoy good soup and corn chowder is a favorite. I ordered a bowl at a new restaurant where I was dining. When it arrived, I was disappointed. It wasn’t very good for a simple: there wasn’t much corn in it. You can’t rave about corn chowder that doesn’t have enough corn in it.
That’s the way life is, too.You can’t rave about a life that doesn’t have much living in it. Just like corn chowder, the secret of successful living is to put more life into each day. Success is about putting more life in each minute, not putting more minutes into each day.
Many lead lives of monotony and dullness punctuated by brief periods of excitement and fulfillment. Bruno Gouvy died June 15, 1990 while attempting an extreme snowboard descent in Chamonix, France. His death was tragic, but the words he shared about risk and his philosophy of life live on:
“In western civilization we lead very structured lives. I think laws are good–they hold society together. But I also think that from time to time we need to touch a more primitive instinct. On the cliff face you are your own authority. There is no policeman, judge or lawyer to give you permission. You must decide for yourself.Sure, there is a chance I might be killed. But in exchange, I have such a powerful sense of being alive. It’s a bargain. I look at the risk, I take every step to minimize it, and in exchange for this little risk, I receive such a huge joy in living. Without risk, the sun is just the sun, grass is just grass. With risk, common things have incredible freshness.”
I, too, desire to lead a life of excitement and significance, interrupted only by the fewest possible moments of monotony. While the risks you and I view as acceptable vary, the point remains the same: It isn’t about what happens each day, but rather what you make happen–or make of what happens.
In the semi-classic movie Dead Poets Society, Robin Williamsplayed the role of a teacher who enriched the lives of his students by teaching them to understand the importance of Carpe Diem–seize the day. So Carpe Diem! Make a concerted effort to seize the day and fill it with big chunks of life.
The quality of your life is a choice! You can feel fully alive and joyful most of the time, not just some of the time. The key is to live like your life depends on it. But how?
To live fully, we need a personal philosophy. Philosophy is the pursuit of wisdom and answers the question, “How should we live?” Personal philosophy, therefore, answers the question, “How should I live?” Here are five principles to integrate into your personal philosophy.
Why do you get out of bed in the morning?
I’ve asked that question to dozens of audiences over the past decade. I usually get only two responses. The first is, “I have to.” That response suggests a vague sense of obligation or compulsion. Truth is, however, that most people don’t have to get out of bed in the morning. If they stayed there long enough, somebody would come to check up on them!
The second response is more basic: “I have to go to the bathroom.” Does this explain much about the motivational level of some of the people you work with? You: “Why did you come into work today?” Them: “Oh, I got up about 6:00 this morning to go to the bathroom and decided as long as I was up I would come to the office to see what was going on…..” Some people are more motivated by their bladder than in their beliefs.
So why do you get out of bed each morning? Dr. Charles Garfield has done important research on peak performance. He’s found of the six attributes that create it, mission is at the top of the list. Your mission is the reason why for what you do each day. Purposeful people have powerful reasons for getting out of bed in the morning.
Live With 60/60 Vision
My friend Brian O’Malley is an extremely interesting guy. Today he is a speaker who shares his experiences as a world traveler, mountain climber, and adventurer. Prior to that he spent eight years in emergency medicine. It’s sobering to learn that he’s been with over 250 people in the final minute of their lives. The important insight, Brian says, is that none of those people’s last words were, “I wish I had spent more time in the office!” The last 60 seconds of life, is a time of stunningly clear perspective
Roger Mellot is a therapist and speaker who authored an excellent tape entitled The Courage to See Clearly. He explains that when his father was given 60 days to live because of a serious illness, his dad’s perspective changed dramatically. He stopped doing things that he didn’t enjoy or felt were important and focused on making the most of what he thought were his final days.
Wouldn’t it be helpful, Roger suggests, if we could gain the same window on the world as someone with only 60 days left to live? Wouldn’t that enable us to live fuller, richer, and more honest lives?
These examples are hopeful, not morose–if we understand the lessons within. And the lessons aren’t about dying, they’re about living.
Combining these two concepts results in what I call 60/60 Vision. You can use this technique to see with clarity what is really important in your life.
In the final moments of your life, will you have regrets, or will you celebrate the fact that while you were alive you really lived? When it comes down to a few accomplishments that bring ultimate life significance, what will they be for you?
If you lived life with 60/60 vision:
- Would your communication with others be more honest?
- How would you approach your work?
- Who would you spend more time with?
- Who would you decide to spend less time with (or no time at all)?
- What would you stop worrying about?
- What would you strive to be remembered for?
- What would you do each day to maximize enjoyment?
- What contributions would you strive to make?
Then why not live your life that way now? Why wait for the final countdown? You and I may never get to know when we’re living our final sixty–days or seconds–and even if we do find out, it will be too late to change very much. The only time is the present.
Psalm 90:12 says, “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain heart of wisdom.” (NIV) To live fully and with significance, look at your life with 60/60 vision.
Live a High Performance Lifestyle
It is hard to live a high performance life in a low performance body. Creating a high performance lifestyle isn’t easy, but neither is it as hard as many assume.
To begin, make sure that you’re getting at least 30 minutes or more of moderate-intensity physical activity most days of the week. A panel convened by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American College of Sports Medicine made this recommendation in early 1994. The panel believes that adults who exercise at this level will receive significant health benefits.
The journal Nature also found that growth factors in the brain–compounds responsible for the brain’s health–can be controlled by exercise. Exercisers live longer, score higher on test of mental function and this indicates the importance of physical activity in the aging process. Building biceps may really boost brainpower, too, according to the somewhat controversial new research.
And yet despite these benefits, only one in every five Americans exercises regularly. Of those who don’t exercise, 51% say it is because they don’t have the time. If you fall into that excuse category, you owe it to yourself to make the time.
Next, minimize those substances that affect your energy negatively. Caffeine, alcohol, cigarettes, and sugar can confuse the body, especially when ingested close to bedtime. More than two to three cups of coffee per day can create an addiction that results in needing large quantities of coffee just to experience normal energy levels. The body actually stops producing its natural energy chemicals.
Some other ideas that both study and personal experience have found helpful for maintaining higher energy levels: Eat more frequently. Light healthy snacking–fruits, vegetables, not candy–provides the body with an ongoing source of fuel between meals. Healthy snacking between meals prevents over-eating at regular meal times.
And importantly, stay hydrated. Drink lots of water. Water plays a critical role in digestion and nutrition; you can think of it as the oil that keeps your metabolic engine lubricated. Instead of coffee, I keep a large glass of water on my desk. The urge to sip coffee has been replaced with water and my energy level and general well-being have improved.
Live With Disciplined Spontaneity
There is a Samurai maxim that says, “To know and to act are one and the same.” The Samurai believed that you and I don’t really know something until we use it, that if we have information and we’re not applying the information, true understanding hasn’t taken place.
It takes discipline to live fully. But spontaneity is important too. Here’s how to develop both.
Once each day for the rest of your life do something tough or challenging, not because you want to, but because it’s good for you and it proves to you that you can do what needs to be done.
My first job after college took me to a small town in Wisconsin. It was there that I took up distance running. I ran from nine to eleven miles every day. Friends sometimes said, “If you run nine to eleven miles a day, you must really enjoy running.” In actuality, I didn’t always enjoy it. When it was cold or raining, or when I was tired after a day at the office, I didn’t enjoy doing the roadwork.
Why did I do it? Running became my mechanism of proving to me that I was in control: that I could do what I needed to do; that I had control, not over just my mind, but over my body as well.
I’m not suggesting that running should be your primary mechanism for developing discipline (although it can be a pretty good one). I am advocating that you find a sport or other activity in your life that you can do each day as a means for developing discipline.
Secondly, every day for the rest of your life, do something just for the pure fun of it. I don’t believe that we should delay joy. The only thing that we’re sure of is today. I have a magnet on my refrigerator that says, “Eat dessert first. Life is too tentative.”
The key to a balanced life is discipline coupled with spontaneity. Too much, or too little of either can be detrimental to living like your life depends on it.
Live Beyond Self-Actualization
My friend Dr. Bob Beltz has written several books, but one of my favorites is The Solomon Syndrome (Revell). You may be familiar with Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (Motivation and Personality, 1954). Maslow believed that self-actualization was a person’s highest need. But Bob points out, “In his later years, Maslow recognized that self-actualization was not the highest objective of human development and motivation. He began to talk in terms of self-transcendence, by which he meant that the ultimate objective of life was to live for something greater than ourselves.” He was on target.
Bob believes, as I do, that we were designed to be what he calls “God-actualized.” I don’t know what your spiritual beliefs are (and you may be recoiling at my mention of this topic), but I do know that living only for self is a dead-end street.
Beyond self-actualization means living to be of service to others: family, friends, the community and faith. There is significance that can only be experienced when we go beyond ourselves to be of service to others.
Relationships count. Albert Einstein once said that if there is a reason we exist, it must be for each other. A friend who had lost everything in a hurricane wrote to me and shared, “I have lost every material thing I ever had in my life and found friends I never knew I had–friends are better…”
Checklist for a Successful Day
Our lives are the sum total of the choices we make and the things we do each day. That’s why I’ve developed my checklist for a successful day. I’ll share it with you in the hope, that this will become a check list that you will use for making every day, extraordinary.
- Did I tell or show someone that I loved them?
- Did I compliment or praise someone I live or work with today?
- Did I read a book or listen to a tape that stimulated my thinking?
- Did I increase my skill in my profession?
- Did I do something for good health?
- Am I closer to my goals than when I woke up this morning?
- Did I do anything tough or challenging to build discipline?
- Did I do something just for the pure joy of it?
- Have I taken time to reflect on the lessons of the day?
- Have I planned for another successful day tomorrow?
If you can answer yes to most of these questions, you have created a day of uncommon success.
George Santayana said, “There is no cure for birth and death save to enjoy the interval.” Live fully–your life depends on it.
Live Like Your Life Depended on It originally appeared in a collection of essays titled, Only the Best on Success (Win Publications)