September 12

Using Mortality to Become More Conscious:

Posted by William Berry | Filed under Articles, Blog | No Comments

First, if you haven’t read the final edit on Psychology Today, please do so here.

Recently a student commented that she has read some of my Psychology Today articles, and she sees my personal life creeping in. I’m not sure what she believes she sees, or if that is accurate, but much of my writing comes from my personal experiences. To show some of the process of my thinking, and how the article goes from my mind to its final edit on Psychology Today, I’m putting the original rough draft below this meandering.

I write the vast majority of my posts for Psychology Today weeks before the are posted. This allows time to add, edit, and rework the idea before the post. This also verifies that my state of mind may have changed by the time it makes it live. Prior to writing the post below, I had written an article, and a story, about suicide. I sent the potential post to my editor for approval, and she hasn’t gotten back (I’m not taking that as a good sign). I generally don’t get approval, but this post was somewhat controversial, so I felt it best. Anyhow, my fixation on death and dying correctly were more evident in those posts, and came both from my aging, recent reading on philosophers and their death, and likely a bout of sadness that I was dealing with. Everyone deals with difficult emotions, and I am no exception (although it seems many of my clients do not believe so). I have a tendency to get depressed (in the layman’s sense of the word, not in the clinical diagnosis sense) and sometimes struggle to change my perspective.

I convey this because the post below was written as I pulled away from the state of mind, feeling I needed to take control of myself, my action, and my thinking, and create a different “story” if you will. I firmly believe sometimes we get caught up in our stories, and ignore other evidence that would alter our perception of our reality. Anyhow, I hope this serves a positive purpose, and again, if you haven’t read the post on Psychology Today, please do so (it is actually doing fairly well, and I appreciate those of you who have read and shared it).

The reading I’ve been doing lately has either focused on death or taking charge of your thinking. People may believe these two topics very different, but that is not the case. Realizing one’s mortality can be a great motivator to facilitate change. And, according to the reading, training one’s thinking can be a powerful tool to bring about life change.

I have noted in recent posts on my personal webpage that I have been focused on the Buddhist principle of “Right Speech.” Part of this focus is my realization that much of what we say is completely unnecessary and really just feeds our egos. We spend much of our time in idle chatter, either with others or, as I have noticed in spending more time alone, with ourselves (I caught myself having a conversation with myself about cheese in the supermarket just the other day…out loud!).

Besides the reading I’ve been doing which focuses on training the mind, I have come across quotes and TED videos that have in one way or another, also contributed to motivation to be more conscious in thought and creating oneself the way one wants to be.

Two of the books I’ve been reading 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 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 his 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.”

Both of the above books and the quotes that support them have a similar theme; (as do all that imply a manifestation in reality of what one believes) if you train your thinking, you can change yourself and the world. In an excellent TED Talk philosopher Julian Baggini suggests you can take control and create yourself. Of course 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.

Thinking is not easily overcome. Everyone has been trained, and has trained themself, to think and behave in certain ways. This training has taken place throughout the entire lifespan. It makes life easier. Imagine of you had to think out every minuscule decision. It would slow your life down considerably. Thinking and behaving 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.

Despite the difficulties, it can be done. 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 now it has been a mainstay of existential philosophy, and the psychology that arose from that line of thought. To realize one’s mortality makes life all the more sweet.

In regard to making changes, a good question to ask yourself 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?

These questions aren’t simply about what you want to accomplish; they are about who you are 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;

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, September 12th, 2012 at 2:10 PM and is filed under Articles, Blog. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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