Has anyone ever suggested that you think about death to get you motivated to achieve your goals? Did you suddenly imagine someone pointing a gun to your head and saying, “Write the first line of your book, or you die!”? Sadly, this only works for very short-term actions, like opening a safe or handing over the code to your Netflix account. By the way, I don’t know this from experience!

At the recent Speakers Association of Spain TalksX event 2022, where I gave a talk, I met Sébastien Roger de Nuñez (Thought Leadership Academy) who says he challenges potential coaching clients with this question, “You’re dying next week, but you have one last chance to do a talk in public; what would you talk about? Think about that one. Is it useful for you?

One of my favourite TED Talks of all time is Tim Urban’s Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator (for some reason!).

Have you seen that one? I apologise for the spoiler, but he suggests that if you put your whole life (up to 90 years old) in a grid he calls a “Life Calendar”, with each box representing a week of your life you can see how few weeks we actually have left, especially as we get older. And that might cure procrastination. Try it, it’s quite sobering!

In English-speaking countries, we have something called the Bucket List, that is, a list of things we’d like to do before we die, or “kick the bucket”, an idiom meaning to die. Typical things include visiting an amazing place, jumping out of aeroplanes or joining the mile-high club perhaps before you do that, completing a qualification, or … speaking another language fluently!!!

The truth is that for certain goals, the thought of “doing them before I die” is a popular technique used to get you motivated.

It can certainly get you thinking, and is indeed effective to get you started, but you won’t achieve anything without actually putting the action in a calendar and working towards it creating habits and routines and adding a large dose of resilience or “Grit” to quote Angela Duckworth’s book. It’s the same whether you want to complete an MBA, do a TEDx Talk, retire at 60, play the piano or learn a language. No-one can do it for you, but with the right techniques and a coach all of those things become more achievable.

A near-death experience (NBD) can be the eureka moment for many people. Sadly, for me it didn’t work!!

At the end of your life, how do you want to feel when you look back? A quote which helped me do potentially difficult and scary things like jumping out of a plane, getting married, starting Idiomas Advantage and eating snails in Lleida (among other things) ….   is and has been, “You often regret things you haven’t done more than the things that you have.” Or as Mark Twain, the 19th century American author put it,

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines!

Below, you can read the poem Instantes, attributed to José Lluis Borges in both Spanish and English. How will you look back on your life at 85?!

So, what do you use to motivate yourself?

 I’m dying to know…

Si pudiera vivir nuevamente mi vida,
en la próxima trataría de cometer más errores.
No intentaría ser tan perfecto, me relajaría más.
Sería más tonto de lo que he sido,
de hecho tomaría muy pocas cosas con seriedad.
Sería menos higiénico.
Correría más riesgos,
haría más viajes,
contemplaría más atardeceres,
subiría más montañas, nadaría más ríos.
Iría a más lugares adonde nunca he ido,
comería más helados y menos habas,
tendría más problemas reales y menos imaginarios.

Yo fui una de esas personas que vivió sensata
y prolíficamente cada minuto de su vida;
claro que tuve momentos de alegría.
Pero si pudiera volver atrás trataría
de tener solamente buenos momentos.

Por si no lo saben, de eso está hecha la vida,
sólo de momentos; no te pierdas el ahora.

Yo era uno de esos que nunca
iban a ninguna parte sin un termómetro,
una bolsa de agua caliente,
un paraguas y un paracaídas;
si pudiera volver a vivir, viajaría más liviano.

Si pudiera volver a vivir
comenzaría a andar descalzo a principios
de la primavera
y seguiría descalzo hasta concluir el otoño.
Daría más vueltas en calesita,
contemplaría más amaneceres,
y jugaría con más niños,
si tuviera otra vez vida por delante.

Pero ya ven, tengo 85 años…
y sé que me estoy muriendo.

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