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The Seven Habits, A Practical Summary: Habit 2 - The End in Mind

Updated on September 3, 2012

Contemplate Death to Create Life


Facing Death - Choosing Life

Death denial is a recognized problem in our society, and most of us are afflicted with it. We will do anything to skirt around, avoid, or deny the simple fact that we only have so many days alive on this planet, and that we don't know how many we do have. And, in that denial, we waste a lot of time. As the late Stephen R. Covey said, “How many [people] on their deathbeds wished they’d spent more time at the office – or watching TV?” (7 Habits, p. 11) And we waste our lives in other ways, such as shortening our lives and limiting our vitality with unhealthy foods.

I first faced my own death - and began to make more of my life - when I was twenty years old. My grandmother went into the hospital, and no one thought she would live very long. I realized I had never let her know how much I loved her, and how much she had helped me. So I made sure to tell her. Shortly after that, I was introduced to Zen meditation and the Buddhist idea that life may end at any moment, and that makes it precious. From that moment on, I've done my best to make sure that I leave nothing unsaid or unfinished when I go to bed each night.

There are many sayings that reinforce this idea:

  • Never go to bed angry.
  • Every man dies. Not every man really lives. (William Wallace)
  • Do not fear death so much but rather the inadequate life. (Bertoldt Brecht)
  • Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree. (Martin Luther)
  • Make a bucket list - a list of things we will do before we kick the bucket.
  • What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal. (Albert Pike)

We've all heard these ideas. And, mostly, we give them lip service. In Habit 2: Begin With the End in Mind, Dr. Covey prescribes a much more serious look at our own mortality - imagining it just three years away, then discovering what we want to do before the end comes. And then we analyze our own discovery, to create a life vision and mission that, if followed, will be the most meaningful life we can create by being true to ourselves and sharing our gifts. Then in Habit 3: Put First Things First, we make a to-do list, and get to work to make it happen.

Imagination and Motivation

I have led many people through Stephen Covey's funeral exercise, as well as doing it three times myself. It is not an easy task. In fact, some clients have been afraid to do it, and I understand why.

I lead people through it because doing it well is a deep exercise of the imagination, of the non-verbal, experiential right brain. It is very hard to do alone. And most people are not familiar with the challenging work of doing a deep visualization, either.

Doing a full visualization, and not just thinking about your own funeral, though, is essential. The visualization literally takes us out of ourselves and into the hearts of those we love, those who love us, and those we admire. Through the visualization, we let go of our ego and our current list of shoulds and shouldn'ts, of do's and don'ts. Seeing ourselves in the future through the eyes of others, we hear the story of our own life, as best as it could be. And the story is full of contributions, achievements, and character traits that we want to make real before we die.

Yes, Every Day

I did my first funeral visualization in 1995, and built my first Vision, Mission, & Values statement back then. It's the core of what I still use today, 17 years later.

In the first two years, I didn't make much progress towards my life goals. I reviewed Habits 1 through 3, the Habits of Independence. And I realized that I was not following Dr. Covey's method. I was not reading my Vision, Mission, Values statement aloud every day. So I was not truly creating the mental and emotional habits of being committed to making them real.

I changed that. I began to read them every day. Since then, my life has been much more fulfilled and fulfilling. I've been making my dreams real now, steadily, for 15 years.

From Visualization to Vision & Mission

First we write the eulogies at our funeral - the story of the next three years of our lives, as seen by others, as imagined by our inner creative heart mind - as a story. Then we read the story to ourselves, and then we actually analyze it. At that point, we bring in the left brain analytic function and create charts. Creating these charts reveals a list of achievements, contributions, and character traits we want to make real by living into them month by month, week by week, day by day.

We form these ideas into a mission, vision, and values statement. We define the roles in our lives, and set goals that will really make a difference to us and our loved ones. And we read it aloud every day.

Why every day: Sow an action, reap a habit. Sow a habit, reap a character. Sow a character, reap a destiny. And the next step in doing that is to develop Habit 3: Put First Things First.

Contemplating Death

Have you ever contemplated your own death, or the death of a loved one, in a way that made a positive difference in your life?

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