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It sucks to think about death, doesn’t it? You’re busy enjoying life, after all.
Or are you?
Admit it. It’s not always fun and games. Sometimes life really gets you down.
That’s where thinking about death can be strangely uplifting.
In fact, there are powerfully positive and empowering things that can happen when you put time into the notion that one day, you’re not going to be here anymore.
For example, by putting your affairs into order, you can live better now because you’re free from worrying about what will happen after you die. Not enough people put time into this, leaving chaos after their demise that tears families apart. And that can make the memory of your life a bitter pill to swallow for years to come.
But that’s not the direction I want to take us in. Rather, these three simple activities will make your life more memorable starting now. All you have to do is give them a try and you’ll be amazed by how they help.
1. Imagine Your Funeral
Sounds grim, I know. But once you get into it, seeing and hearing your friends, family and colleagues acknowledge your passing creates perspective and insight that can improve your happiness.
This brain game is best played with pen and paper. Make a list of two friends, two family members and two colleagues (or fellow students if you’re still in school).
Next, write down in their voices one positive memory each person will share about you at your funeral. It could be a story or just a description of an attribute.
Focus on the positive. Don’t invite haters to your funeral. Really feel the positive sentiments and enjoy the warmth they create.
I read this weird little exercise in Richard Wiseman’s 59 Seconds. It’s highly recommended if you’d like some of the scientific background behind this positivity technique.
2. All Life’s Profoundest Pleasures Are Found Here
You probably already know The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost:
TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
There’s Mathematical Truth To Frost’s Claim:
You’re much more likely to live a more interesting life simply by taking alternative paths.
And the sooner the better. As we age, many of us grow more conservative. Not because getting old switches on some kind of political gene. It’s because the more assets we gather, the more protective we become of them.
And the biological need to protect the status quo can be irrationally strong. So strong that people have refused to flee volcanic danger zones driven by conservative inertia (this problem relates to social inertia, which is well worth learning about).
Live Life Like It’s A Gameshow
The Road Not Taken principle relates to something called The Monty Hall Problem. It refers to situations of choice in which it is counterintuitively beneficial to change your mind.
The core issue isn’t the math, however. The real point of interest is that most people will stick with their original decision despite the benefits of traveling the road not taken. I’ve seen this play out hundreds of times as a magician with a simple question that leads over 90% of people to stick with their original decision.
Merely by asking people if they’d like to change their mind and even offering them handsome sums of money if they do, I create the illusion of complete and utter free will because I know that the vast majority will stick with their original decision.
When The Sane Choices In Life Are Actually Insane …
I’ve seen The Monty Hall principle play out in my personal life too. During a difficult time when I couldn’t find a university teaching gig, I applied to get high school teaching certification and did the necessary voluntary teaching in schools to qualify.
As a former university professor, this is not what I wanted to do in life, but I felt driven to teach. And it was taking action, which was far better than sitting around and biting my fingernails.
Then, out of the blue came the invitation to rejoin The Outside, record an album and go on tour. At that point in my career, doing something like that was insane. Nearly every person I talked with about the option agreed, and yet I knew the Monty Hall Problem and let it guide me.
And the reality is that the traditional path was truly the insane one. Plus …
The Sane Choice Would Have Been
Totally, 100% Forgettable!
Think about it:
Had I gone the traditional route, I would have taken on student debt and locked myself for years in classrooms with students unprepared for the kinds of thoughts I think. It would have been bad for everyone, and that’s not to mention all the teacher’s strikes and worries about a pension I’d go through.
But conservative forces in society were so strong that I almost went for the traditional career. Because I changed my mind, however, I’ve wound up still getting to teach, but in multiples I never would have imagined possible. I’ve been around the world and have over a million free downloads, a dozen bestselling books and tens of thousands of people studying and using the Magnetic Memory Method every single day.
I don’t say that to brag. It’s just the consequence of making a counterintuitive choice that was mathematically bound to create a better outcome. And I’m facing another in the near future that involves living in yet another country. This time I may decide for the conservative choice, but … Probably not.
3: This Simple Exercise Will Stop Your
Life From Being Boring
One way to instantly make your life more memorable is to document it. You can use writing, podcasting, video or various combinations of media. The point is to get it down. Even if it’s boring.
And quite frankly, it might just be boring at the start. If you’ve never done it before, talking about yourself might seem excruciating.
But the reality is that by going through the exercise on a consistent basis, you’ll develop a talent for spotting the memorable. And there are many things happening every day worth your attention.
For example, two days ago April and I heard a cellist playing Bach in an art gallery. The next day I noticed a store I’d never seen before. Just a few hours ago I observed a heavily tattooed man, including much of his face, playing with his kid in the park.
I wrote all of these things down. And the act of writing the observations down spawns more observation which in turn creates more things to write about.
All wealth comes from writing, so please be sure to take up this practice. Along with envisioning your funeral and taking the roads not taken, observing and writing will help you live a more memorable life.
The best part is that you can also journal with your friends. Jonathan Levi and I have done that recently in Israel just to talk about our memory improvement projects and memorize together in real time:
But whether you journal on paper or video, with other people or alone, put all of the exercises you’ve just learned together and you truly will have an amazing life.
One worth remembering.
Hello Anthony, an excellent topic for those old and young who wish to ponder life’s events both happy and less so. Robert Frost is one of my favourite poets. His style is simple and elegant yet so powerful and meaningful, and he has much to share with us about life.
You shared some interesting observations about preparing one’s demise; they are very well founded. People have enough on their minds when dealing with loss and emptiness after a loved one leaves. It is far more caring to arrange one’s affairs so those who are left may carry on.
Memory plays a large part after one leaves. We remember many whom we have not seen in years, and we recall much. The laugh he had. The perfume she wore. All of the emotions are present, even though the events occurred seasons ago.
Journaling is a gift that you can pass to your children’s children. You can share your memories through the ages. My grandfather left personal memoirs from before WWII, and it’s fascinating to read about life from his perspective.
Another fine poet of the English language is William Shakespeare, whose sonnet 18 is as follows:
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed,
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course untrimmed:
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,
Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st,
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
The sonnet, to me, alludes to the continuity of Life through Memory. The lines are beautiful, and the conclusion is truly powerful.
We are far wealthier for the memories and writings we leave and for those our ancestors leave us.
Well Anthony, thanks again for a splendid pod cast!
Thanks for these thoughts, Alex. I did not think of it, but journaling certainly is a gift for the next generation and could even be written in that style.
Thanks too for sharing this poem. It is a delight to read and gives me the opportunity to share the 1609 Quarto version, where the spellings remind us of where English has been:
Shall I compare thee to a Summers day?
Thou art more louely and more temperate:
Rough windes do ſhake the darling buds of Maie,
And Sommers leaſe hath all too ſhorte a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heauen ſhines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d,
And euery faire from faire ſome-time declines,
By chance,or natures changing courſe vntrim’d:
But thy eternall Sommer ſhall not fade,
Nor looſe poſſeſſion of that faire thou ow’ſt,
Nor ſhall death brag thou wandr’ſt in his ſhade,
When in eternall lines to time thou grow’ſt,
So long as men can breathe or eyes can ſee,
So long liues this,and this giues life to thee.
Let’s just hope Big Brother Google doesn’t penalize the Magnetic Memory Method site for sharing Shakespeare’s spelling! 😉
Is there an ASCII code or font for those Elizabethan s’s?
As to the Monty Hall problem, I’ve seen discussions on the matter, mostly from Marilyn Vos Savant’s column, and some very bright people, math professors even, considered it to be in effect a 50/50 situation once one of the doors was opened. Myself, I make it a policy never to disagree with beautiful women, so I believed Marilyn.
Do you know of any practical experiments that bear out the prediction that switching doors will get you the car, so to speak, two-thirds of the time?
And is there any evidence that the producers of “Let’s Make a Deal” understood the probabilities inherent in their own game? Is it basically a variation of the old pea under the shell game?
Thanks for this, Steve.
I don’t know if there’s a code for the Elizabethan font, but it would be cool if there were.
For the Monty Hall problem, I don’t think it’s likely that the show’s producers knew about this effect. The show certainly didn’t invent the term either, and magicians have been using this principle for a very long time.
The only material I found from Marilyn on the Monty Hall problem seems that she acknowledges the counterintuitive claim that it makes sense to change your mind. She seems to acknowledge this on her own website here. This is the part about the controversy on the Wikipedia page.
For our purposes, my point was to link it to Frost’s poetic principle and a life policy that doesn’t really require the mathematics in order to be valuable, even if not always valid. There’s no 100% in life and no guarantees. Still, the mathematics are interesting and do give compelling reason to believe that life will be more interesting and memorable if we go the other way.
Above all, it’s excellent that you mentioned Marilyn Vos Savant. I’d not looked into her story more deeply than the Wikipedia article and it’s quite fascinating. Thanks and looking forward to your next discussion post here on the Magnetic Memory Method site. 🙂
As usual, I wrote prematurely with questions that were nicely answered with the link to Wikipedia. Never mind.
Yes, the Wiki link is quite good.
Here’s a Derren Brown video where you can see the principle (more or less) in play.
As I mentioned in the podcast, I’ve done versions of this in my magic routines a lot over the years and people overwhelmingly tend not to change their minds. It’s a bizarre phenomenon, but interesting and useful to know about. 🙂
Hey Anthony.. interesting Podcast.
It’s not Shakepeare ( It’s from Brian Molko, Placebo ) but I like the lyrics:
Run away from all your boredom
Run away from all your whoredom and wave
Your worries, and cares, goodbye
All it takes is one decision
A lot of guts, a little vision to wave
Your worries, and cares goodbye
(Slave to the Wage, 2001 or so)
I’m actually moving to a new place.. Let’s see what Monty has next for me behind the doors…;-)
Song lyrics are great to memorize too.
Look forward to hearing how your new place serves as a Memory Palace and what life in it brings! 🙂
Definitely i´m going to start coming back more often to your website Anthony!
So much value!
Awesome – Glad to hear it and look forward to your next comment! 🙂