I’ve been reading Atul Gawande’s “Being Mortal.” It’s an incredibly thought-provoking read and honestly I wish everyone in the medical profession had the opportunity to read it. There were quite a few fascinating points but I especially appreciated his thoughts on how people’s perspective and values change when they accept that they have a terminal illness and limited time. Specifically, he noted that once terminal cancer patients enroll into a hospice program (Palliative care only, no treatment), they actually live up to 25% longer. He states, “The lesson seems almost Zen: You live longer only when you stop trying to live longer.” He goes on to explain that when the focus becomes on quality of life rather than quantity of it, we actually live longer on average.
Why does it take being diagnosed with a terminal illness to bring on that change in perspective?
“You live longer only when you stop trying to live longer.” ~Atul Gawande
I think I have always had a good grasp on that concept – I have not always done the best job of actually applying it, but I’ve always realized how important it was. My experiences through my teenage years helped shaped my desire to value every minute of life because I spent a lot of time up until age 19 wishing I could do so many things that I wasn’t allowed to.
Growing up in my family, my parents didn’t believe in women working outside the home, so it was never an option for me to have even a part time job. Plus, my dad wanted to control all the interactions I had with other people, and he limited contact with others as much as possible. I wasn’t encouraged to even consider college and I wasn’t allowed to date. If I was ever going to be allowed to marry, my dad was going to select the man for me. Looking back now, I don’t think he ever would have let me go voluntarily.
So, when I did finally escape, I treasured the freedom of choosing how I spent my time. I still do. Even during my career in healthcare, I valued positions with a lot of autonomy.
Unfortunately, I think there are many people who don’t appreciate the opportunity they have in choosing how to spend their time and energy, and they waste it, causing themselves to regret things later. And, that brings us back to Atul Gawande’s point – when we accept that we are mortal (as earthy beings), we change the way we live.
It’s one of the concepts I talk about in my book, PRIME Time: The Power of Effective Planning. How to schedule your activities, time, and energy based on what you truly value. You see, we can have that shift in perspective to value based living BEFORE we reach the point of being told we only have 12 weeks to live. And, regardless of whether I have 30 years left or 30 days left, I want to live my life based on my values.
So, how do we make the shift? Ask yourself these questions and they will help you change your perspective:
- If time becomes short, what would be most important to me?
- If my funeral were tomorrow, what would people say was important to me?
- If I only had 6 months to live, what would I do differently?
Now, go do it.