Podcast: Using Death as Motivation to Live

How often do you think about death? If you’re like most people, you probably try to keep it in the back corners of your mind. But according to today’s guest, Kate Manser, remembering you might die tomorrow is the best inspiration to live today. Kate asserts that when we incorporate a certain level of mortality awareness into our daily lives, it motivates us to value life so much more and to live each day with intention. We start to find joy in the small things and live in a way that makes a positive outward ripple for all of humanity.

So how do we manage to think about death without falling into fear? Tune into today’s Psych Central podcast to hear Kate’s journey and how we can all live life to the fullest.


Guest information for ‘Kate Manser- Death as Motivation’ Podcast Episode

At 30 years old, Kate Manser realized an important truth: Remembering that you might die tomorrow is the best inspiration to live today. After experiencing this radical shift in perspective, Kate quit her job at Google to build YOU MIGHT DIE TOMORROW, her movement to inspire people at every age to really live before they die. 

If you remember only one thing about Kate, let it be this: she is just so happy to be alive. Find more of her work at www.youmightdietomorrow.com

About The Psych Central Podcast Host

Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, Mental Illness is an Asshole and other Observations, available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from the author. To learn more about Gabe, please visit his website, gabehoward.com.

Computer Generated Transcript for ‘Kate Manser- Death as Motivation’ Episode

Editor’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.

Announcer: You’re listening to the Psych Central Podcast, where guest experts in the field of psychology and mental health share thought-provoking information using plain, everyday language. Here’s your host, Gabe Howard.

Gabe Howard: Welcome to this week’s episode of the Psych Central Podcast. Calling into the show today we have Kate Manser. At 30 years old, Kate realized an important truth, remembering that you might die tomorrow is the best inspiration to live today. After experiencing this radical shift in perspective, Kate quit her job at Google to build YOU MIGHT DIE TOMORROW, her movement to inspire people at every age to really live before they die. Kate, welcome to the show.

Kate Manser: Gabe, happy today.

Gabe Howard: Oh, thank you so much for being here. Now, today we’re going to discuss death or are we going to discuss life? How do you see it?

Kate Manser: Absolutely, yeah. I mean, it’s all kind of intertwined. You can’t have a conversation about death without also having a conversation about life. And also usually at that table is a conversation about fear and/or anxiety as well as meaning.

Gabe Howard: In the preparation for the show, I kept seeing, you know, death over and over and over again. And at first it was a little overwhelming, like, why couldn’t it be called “You might live tomorrow?” You know, death just has such a negative connotation to it. And in fact, I think most of us would agree that death is negative. How do you wrap your mind around you actually being an incredibly positive person?

Kate Manser: Yes, absolutely. I am an extremely positive person, and it’s a couple of different things. Number one, which is facing your fears, it’s a version of exposure therapy. So I actually went through a year of really intense death anxiety where I was afraid of death all the time. Every time I got in the car, every time I laid down to go to sleep, I would have movies playing in my head that my mom died or how I died. And so, what broke that for me was realizing I have one life, I’m going to die no matter what. I can either embrace that truth and use it as my motivation to live, or I can just waste my life continuing in fear.

Gabe Howard: This does beg the question; how do you face your fear of death?

Kate Manser: Very carefully and every single day. And the thing is, that again, if we’re thinking about fear, life, death and meaning again, they’re all kind of sitting at this dinner table. No one’s ever going to get up from that table, right? Like fear is always gonna be associated with death. Death is always going to be associated with life. And we’re always trying to find some meaning amongst all of it. And so, I have not overcome my fear of death. I am afraid of death. And I will always continue to be. But what I have done is accepted the reality of my mortality to a point where I am no longer actively in fear of it every day. And what has happened is that I have found that it is my best motivation to live, because I don’t know about you, Gabe, but I work best on deadlines. And so, I’m a procrastinator and I will procrastinate on life for forever and till I’m 80, 90 years old, if hopefully I get there. And then all of a sudden, I look back and I’m like, shoot. I lackadaisically lived my life. And so living as if the deadline is tomorrow for me is the best medicine for a procrastinator.

Gabe Howard: One of the things that you said is finding meaning in life, and the first thing that kind of popped into my head is we have a real problem finding meaning because it’s sort of subjective, right? Some people find meaning in taking care of their dog. But other people are like, well, no, unless I cure cancer, my life has no meaning. How do you find meaning in your life, especially the big things versus the everyday things?

Kate Manser: So I’ll answer that question. But just backing up a little bit to kind of get towards that, which is if you study the psychology of mortality awareness and the psychology of fear in general, the two best ways to mitigate or minimize your fear of death are, number one, exposure therapy. So gently invite mortality into your life by reclassifying death as no longer morbid, but a natural part of life. There’s all these Instagram accounts that you can follow, books you can read. And even just observing death and endings in your life can help you recondition that response from fear and this like connotation of morbidity to again, that everyday fact of life. And the second-best way to mitigate your fear of death is to live meaningfully because, OK, sure, dying is scary. It’s mysterious. We don’t know. But a perhaps bigger fear is dying having not lived. Right? Dying, having not lived, having wasted our life. And so, by living in alignment with our meaning, whatever that subjective meaning is, like you said, we can minimize our fear of death. Well, how do you live meaningfully? I don’t know. Nobody really knows. And I think it’s really stressful to try to, like, live your greater purpose in life. So what I do is I just try to enjoy my life every single day. And I believe that at the end of my life, if I have enjoyed my life, I will not only not regret my life, but I will have created a positive impact which is also meaningful to me.

Gabe Howard: I love everything that you said, but there’s also this part of me that just immediately was like, well, in order to love my life, I want to quit my job, I want to sell my house. I want to basically in order to find joy in my life, I think I need to be independently wealthy. And of course, I’m not independently wealthy. And I noticed even while you were talking, I was getting stuck in this feedback loop where I was like, oh, well, I can’t do that because I have to work. 

Kate Manser: Yeah.

Gabe Howard: I can’t do that because I have to take care of my wife. Oh, I have family responsibilities. And I imagine that a lot of our listeners are thinking, well, this is nonsense. You just can’t have joy all the time. What do you say to that?

Kate Manser: Well, what I can tell you is that, I had what I consider, I guess, a spiritual awakening, which is when I realized and totally changed my perspective on death, that opened me up and made me care less about what other people think, made me value time more, made me want to prioritize enjoying my life. And the other thing that I did once I had that spiritual awakening was I did quit my job. I did travel around the world for two years. And you know what happened at the end when I after the two years I was traveling and everything was great was I ran out of money and I had to come back to regular life. I had to get a regular job, get a regular apartment. And what I realized in that whole experience is that big, meaningful things, like you said, becoming independently wealthy, quitting your job, starting a business, having kids, whatever that is for you. Those are important. And you will remember those at the end of your life. And I can almost guarantee that you will likely regret not having tried those big meaningful things. But what I realized when the dust settled after my spiritual awakening and quitting the job and traveling around the world is that that experience fades and exhilaration fades. But what I found is that my new path in life and my new idea of what living like you might die tomorrow is, is finding those small, meaningful things that bring joy to our everyday life. Like looking up at a blue sky and just smiling and feeling your aliveness, hearing the sound of your spouse or your kids laugh, like really literally stopping to smell the flowers, enjoying the taste of your coffee. Like these are the small, meaningful things that will make up, both in quantity and quality, the greater enjoyment of your life.

Gabe Howard: Much of what you said, they just sound like really difficult and tough decisions that people have to make in their lives, and you have something called the death bed gut check. I’m very interested to hear what that is.

Kate Manser: So the death bed gut check is something that I just started naturally doing when I realized how clear your perspective on life is when you look at it from the perspective of your death. So there’s something about being at the end of your life. Again, you don’t really care what people think. You have this sense of authenticity. You have a clear perspective on what is and is not important to you. But I don’t want to wait until I’m dead or on my deathbed to be able to have that clear perspective on my life. So what I do is when I’m faced with a decision in life, and this could be something as simple as what should I do today to something as big as should I quit my job or should I have kids or should I go skydiving? And we can kind of do this together, which is you think of a tough decision that you’re facing in your life and you close your eyes and you imagine yourself from the perspective of being on your deathbed and you’re looking back on the present moment. So you have your decision you mentioned. How would I feel looking back on this decision at the end of my life if I chose option A? And you observe how you feel in your gut. Maybe you feel a sinking feeling that you have taken the wrong path. Maybe you feel a lightness of being and like a happiness that you did something that you felt was in alignment with your sense of meaning. And maybe you repeat that looking at having chosen option B or however many options you have. But again, this perspective of being at the end of your life, all of the judgment, fear, worry just slides away and we’re left with this clear perspective. And so the deathbed gut check allows you to access that clear perspective while you’re alive.

Gabe Howard: In a way, it sounds a lot like you’re saying that you have to live with intention. I think many of us just kind of pinball from from one crisis or one vacation or one work day or one moment to the next. And there’s no intention. When you’re considering how this decision is going to feel when you’re on your deathbed, that seems very, very intentional to me.

Kate Manser: Oh, absolutely. And I think about it in terms of supply and demand. Right? When we have an overabundance of a commodity, whatever it is, the price goes down and we care less about it. Right? When the price of gas is low, you go to any old gas station that’s anywhere. But when the price of gas is high, you value it more and you’re gonna seek out the highest value that you can find for that. And that’s what living like you might die tomorrow does, it puts life in the perspective of a limited supply, which then raises the perceived value which causes you to live more intentionally. Because if you think you’re going to live to all eighty seven years of American life expectancy, like the supply is great and therefore the value is lower. But if you look at your life as a very, very limited time offer, the value skyrockets and suddenly every moment is this high value gift.

Gabe Howard: I’m still very hung up on this concept of how can death be motivation to live? I’m starting to understand it. And of course, you know, death is something that we all pretend that we’re not going to do. 

Kate Manser: Mm-hmm.

Gabe Howard: For whatever reason, we all think that we’re going to live forever, even though that’s statistically impossible. But you have turned death into a motivation which is incredibly intriguing. But can you drill down even farther on how death can be motivation to live? 

Kate Manser: I think it’s different for everyone, like so for me, thinking about death again puts life in that limited supply, which thereby raises the value. It also gives me a sense of clarity on my life. Like I said, so that again raises the value and again, just thinking the fact that death is something that is going to happen to every single one of us. Right? You can come to terms with it or you cannot. I prefer a life in which I do come to terms with it. And it causes you to think about your life in a very different way and thinking that your life will go on and on and on forever with, you know, this immortal kind of mindset, like you just said, again, that value goes down. And I want a life that I feel alive. I want a life that I enjoy moments and remember doing things that I feel good about. I’m also like a selfish and egotistical person, like everybody else. And like, when I do die, I want butts in seats at that funeral. I want people to feel a space where I have gone. Part of living like you might die tomorrow is realizing that we create our legacy every single day. And so, if you want to be remembered as great, you have to live as great. If you want people to miss you when you’re gone, you have to live in a way today that makes them miss you when you are gone. And so, for me, that’s kind of a selfish and egotistical thing. But I don’t really care the motivation, whatever it takes to motivate me to live a good life. I embrace.

Gabe Howard: Kate, the sentiment you might die tomorrow, it seems really kind of harsh. How do you soften that?

Kate Manser: Typically, my brand is you might die tomorrow in big letters and then below that, but much smaller, it says so live today. And for most people who have this kind of ingrained fear of death, which the fear of death is universal. So there’s always going to be fear. But that “so live today” at the bottom just really helps people embrace the message of you might die tomorrow. There are so many people that think about death and there’s so many people that either had a near-death experience or have had a traumatic loss in their life. And it’s caused them to look at life differently. People will talk to me about how they had lost someone in their lives. You know, their mom had died and they had been living differently ever since. And now they’ve finally seen a saying that helps them put a framework to their new outlook on life. I’ve gotten comments like this is the most motivating sticker I’ve ever seen on one of my runs. Finally, someone is talking about death in a motivating way. I have thousands and thousands of followers that they are desperate for someone to finally bring death out of the darkness and into the light and be reminded that we all need to wake up and realize that our life is a limited time offer.  

Gabe Howard: We will be right back after these messages.

Sponsor Message: Hey folks, Gabe here. I host another podcast for Psych Central. It’s called Not Crazy. He hosts Not Crazy with me, Jackie Zimmerman, and it is all about navigating our lives with mental illness and mental health concerns. Listen now at Psych Central.com/NotCrazy or on your favorite podcast player.

Sponsor Message: This episode is sponsored by BetterHelp.com. Secure, convenient, and affordable online counseling. Our counselors are licensed, accredited professionals. Anything you share is confidential. Schedule secure video or phone sessions, plus chat and text with your therapist whenever you feel it’s needed. A month of online therapy often costs less than a single traditional face to face session. Go to BetterHelp.com/PsychCentral and experience seven days of free therapy to see if online counseling is right for you. BetterHelp.com/PsychCentral.

Gabe Howard: We are back discussing how you might die tomorrow with Kate Manser. Let’s talk about your story for a moment. You’ve kind of described it as you woke up one day and you realized that you could die, so that ended positively. What’s the long version?

Kate Manser: Yes. I mean, the long version is that I was just like everybody else. I never really thought about death at all. I just assumed that I would live forever, live to be 90 and. But what happened was in 2014, in the span of six months, I had three of my friends die who were around my same age just from random, unexpected tragedies. My boss at Google, he was on vacation and died when he was jumping into the water. A friend of mine from college died walking across the street. She was hit by a drunk driver. And a family member of mine died from aggressive renal cancer at 35. So that was what sent me into that year of death anxiety. And I think a lot of people go through a period in our life where we are sort of consumed by the fear of death and the mysteriousness of it. And it was to the point that it took over my life and I was no longer enjoying my life because I was constantly preoccupied with death. And what finally snapped me out of that unexpectedly was a fourth friend of mine died. He was climbing Mount Everest, my friend Dan Fredinburg, and he died when the Nepal earthquake struck in the spring of 2015, which triggered an avalanche on the mountain.

Kate Manser: And his death caused me to look at my life and be like, Kate, you’re afraid of driving through an intersection. You have allowed the fear of death to take over your life. And here’s your amazing brave friend living out his most authentic life. You know, I could die climbing Everest. I could die in the intersection that I’m afraid of, or I could die climbing the stairs. And I just realized I didn’t want to expend my precious life, time and energy in fear. And I would rather spend my life energy living my best possible most vibrant life. And usually, after someone dies, it’s like, oh, hug your kids tighter, call your mom. But that always fades. But why can’t we have that perspective for our entire life? And so that’s really what shifted for me. And then soon after that, I had a realization where I was like, I don’t have to follow the blueprint. I can live the life that I want. I could go live on a boat; I could move to Japan. I realized that I have autonomy over my life. And all of this took place around the age of thirty for me. And so now I think about death every day. And I don’t want to die. I always will have fear. But I see death as my greatest motivation to live while I’m still kickin.

Gabe Howard: That’s just an absolutely incredible story. And I am so sorry for your loss. I don’t think anybody can listen to your story and also not feel bad in addition to feeling positive that you had like a spiritual awakening. That’s a lot of death to overcome and in a relatively short period of time. Did you have any negative effects from that?

Kate Manser: Oh, yeah, absolutely. So, I mean, I went through that year of intense death anxiety where that was not a way to live, but in my research of all of this afterwards. You know, we’ve all heard of PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder.

Gabe Howard: Mm-hmm. Yes.

Kate Manser: We’re very familiar with what that looks like. What are some of the things that cause that? Certainly, loss and grief is absolutely a trigger for PTSD. But what I learned in my research is that there’s another aspect of that called PTG, post-traumatic growth. And it’s not an either-or. It’s not like, oh, you have a traumatic experience and either you get PTSD or you have this PTG, post-traumatic growth. They can both occur. And again, psychology is rarely linear. And so what I think happened to me was that I experienced these deaths, I went through some PTSD, I guess, and then through that, I was able to kind of flow into post-traumatic growth. What happens in PTG is your life gets jumbled up by an experience. Typically, a very negative traumatic experience and then assimilate and readjust your new life and potentially change your perspectives and grow. And I think it’s a common thing. Right? This idea of going through a hard time and coming out better and stronger after a period of really difficult grief or hard times. And so what happened to me was that I was able to again, reframe death from being this terrifying thing that was taking over my life to death is the non-negotiable. Right? That thing is stationary. It’s going to happen. I don’t know when. What’s malleable is my response to it. And so I decided to make my response one of productivity. And I think when we look at death, you can either respond with apathy, right? We’re going to die. Life is meaningless. Or you can respond with anxiety, which is what I did, which is to live in fear of death. Or you can respond with action. And I’m happy that I finally got to that point of productive action. I am not special. I believe that everyone can get to that point.

Gabe Howard: And how does one get to that point, how do we break out of that apathy?

Kate Manser: Well, I think a message like you might die tomorrow and realizing that death is going to happen and that we have the ability and the power to choose our response to that is, I think, a great start. And back from the beginning of the show when we were talking about the two ways to mitigate the fear of death. The first is just generally incorporating that mortality awareness into your life and trying to change your perspective on it is the first way to mitigate that fear, that exposure therapy. And then the second way is to just live your best life. Have fun. Take moments to really appreciate being alive and enjoy yourself. And collectively, those moments will add up to a life that you will be happy to have led whenever the time comes for you to die.

Gabe Howard: Why do you think this has resonated with so many people?  How do people usually respond?

Kate Manser: I don’t know what it is, Gabe, because when I first started it, I said this radically changed my life for the better. I want to share this with other people. And I had no idea. I just started this as a blog. I had no idea that it would turn into the movement or revolution or whatever you want to call it today. And I’m sure some people just give it the. That’s morbid or I wish I didn’t see that. But there’s also so many people that message me every single day and say, this has changed my life and I’m finally awake.

Gabe Howard: Kate, thank you so much for being here, what are your final words for our listeners? Because we covered a lot and even as I’m sitting here, I’m like, oh, that’s very positive. And then I think, oh, that’s scary and that’s death. And I certainly don’t know what our listeners are thinking, but I can tell you, I just, every time death comes up, there’s this feeling in my chest. And while I’m hearing your words and intellectually, I was like, that is an excellent point. That is amazing. I still have this, like, gut check. That’s like, ohh bad, ohh bad.

Kate Manser: Yeah.

Gabe Howard: What are your thoughts on that?

Kate Manser: So psychologist Dr. Irvin D. Yalom wrote this wonderful book that I recommend that’s geared toward both the layman as well as the psychologist. It’s called Staring at the Sun. And he is an existential psychologist. He’s I mean, I think he’s in his 90s now. He’s still doing wonderful work. And in his book, he says that in his whole career of talking with patients that have problems in their life and/or fear of death, the greatest way that he has found to be an antidote to the fear of death is the concept of rippling. The idea of rippling is that what we do in our lives, in particular, good things, they create ripples or the butterfly effect, as many of us might be familiar with, that will continue to ripple out far beyond not only our, the people in our life, but far beyond even our existence in our own life. So the good that we do in our life, the positive life that we choose to lead, will create your legacy and that positive legacy of ripples that will continue to go out long after you’re gone. And again, that is a beautiful way that we can remember that how we live matters, how we approach our day matters, how we talk to the clerk at the corner store matters. We create positive ripples every single day. And that creates that legacy of goodness that I think we all, at our core, really want. And so just enjoy your life, have fun, feel alive. And that is the best way to create a positive legacy for yourself in the world.

Gabe Howard: Kate, thank you so much for being here. Where can folks find you online and where can they get your book?

Kate Manser: Yes, absolutely, I’m so excited to finally bring this book into the world, the title of the book is the same as the brand and the movement. YOU MIGHT DIE TOMORROW, SO LIVE TODAY. You can find it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble. You can find the audio book on Audible and I have my hub on YouMightDieTomorrow.com where I do writings and interviews. And I’d love to get you a sticker and you can get T-shirts and all that good stuff to remind you to have fun every single day.

Gabe Howard: Kate, thank you again for being here and thank you all for listening. Do you like this show? Please subscribe, rank, review. If you share us on social media, use your words. Tell people why you liked it and why they should listen. And remember, you can get one week of free, convenient, affordable, private online counseling anytime, anywhere, simply by visiting BetterHelp.com/PsychCentral. We will see everybody next week.

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