The latest guest blog from my friend and colleague, Steve Burns. Read more about Steve and what he gets up to at Scottish Centre of NLP…
You’re sitting in your bedroom during the last moments of your life.You’re waiting tentatively for the impending apocalypse that is the end of the world as we know it and you allow your mind to wander…Not randomly, you choose your thoughts carefully…you don’t have many left after all. You gaze on your past with a sudden sharpness. Realizing you probably sweated the small stuff way too much and didn’t spend anywhere near enough time on the things you really wanted to. One thing you notice is that you’ve suddenly become acutely aware of the things that are most valuable to you. The things that really matter. Perhaps it’s love, connection, passion, self growth, learning, fun, excitement, significance or something else. With the little time you have left you find it amazing how their importance hits you like a freight train. ‘It’s so obvious!’ you say…’How did I not see it before?’
Your last thoughts…your last acts…the last person or people you speak to…well that’s really up to you but i’ll bet one thing’s for sure…there will be a serious sense of clarity and urgency about it.
You may have heard that the world is to end on December the 21st, 2012. The Mayan calendar ends and there are numerous theories about the terrible fate that awaits us. Some say a planet named ‘Planet X’ will collide into Earth causing us to spin hopelessly out of orbit. Others say a colony of aliens have secretly set up a base on the moon and have a full out assault planned for the morning of the 21st and a final theory is that some kind of strange planetary alignment is set to cause Earth to be suddenly sucked into a black hole of nothingness.
I don’t believe the world’s going to end although it is a good excuse to leave the Christmas shopping to the last minute. It is an interesting idea though. What if you genuinely knew the world was going to end? Imagine you had a date and you knew with absolute certainty that it was going to happen? How would that change your behavior, your mind set, your priorities Would you still complain to your loved ones for leaving that dirty dish in the sink? Or would you suddenly see what’s really important and quit sweating the small stuff?
About 10 years ago I was on a training course and I was asked to do something I found really uncomfortable. I had to answer something they called ‘The final question’. It was a very simple question. It was – If you had a month to live how would you live it? What would you do, who would you do it with and where?
I hated answering it. Not just because it made me feel a bit sad (I was about to die after all) but also because it highlighted so many area of my life where I was ‘flaking out’. So many areas where I wasn’t really participating because I was too scared. I found it really uncomfortable and had to push myself a bit to even consider the question. When I opened up to it though I was hit by an amazing sense of clarity about what was important to me. I also started to see ‘the little things’ that used to really bother me in a completely different light. It felt just about impossible to get worked up about them.
One of my friends was last year diagnosed with cancer. A fairly rare condition called ‘Non-hodgkins’ disease. He was told that the cancer would never go away but they could manage it fairly effectively with treatment. They predicted he could have at least 5 years left possibly more depending on his lifestyle and attitude. Most people around him were understandably sad but his reaction surprised me. He said he had never felt so clear about how he wanted to spend the rest of his time. Something clicked, he was acutely aware of what was important to him and he couldn’t remember having as much energy as he suddenly had.
(Actually his real first response was to say that he now wouldn’t be buying that Kia Pride with the 7 year guarantee!…)
Two things happen when you look at your whole life in it’s entirety. When you go right to the end and look back…when you realize you don’t have a lot of time left. You create huge amounts of clarity and urgency. You visit that wonderful place where the illusive suddenly becomes the obvious. You suddenly become aware what your REAL priorities are. A lot of people wonder what they’ll be when the grow up whereas it often happens in reverse. When we grow up we wonder what we could have been.
The great thing is you don’t have to wait till it’s too late…you can give yourself the power of this perspective right now.
So i’d like to offer you a slightly refined version of ‘The Final Question’. The problem with only having a month left to live is that you tend to bias your decisions towards the ‘short term gain’ stuff. (one person told me they would ‘go on a mad 30 day drug and drink bender’!)
So instead, what if you had 5 years left to live…If you absolutely knew that you only had 5 years left, perhaps you even had a date…what would you do? How would you spend it, where and with whom?
And please…don’t just think of this question logically. Don’t flake out on me. Actually imagine what it would be like if it were true. Perhaps even go to the very end of the 5 years and look back. How does it change you priorities, your perspective, your feelings, your behaviors?
You might think this is a morbid thing to do but trust me it’s not…It can be tremendously empowering and dramatically change your perspective on life for the better. It’ll help you see things clearer, cut out the bullshit and plant the seeds for a brighter and more meaningful future.
Because the world’s not really about to end. For anyone who’s done a bit of research into Mayan history you’ll know that the end of their calendar doesn’t actually signify mass destruction, death and eternal abyss. It signifies re-birth. It’s a time for rejuvenation, new beginnings and hope. Perhaps it’s time to start yours.