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Overcoming the most destructive mindset adopted by young people

This post is Part I of a series on how mental models can be utilized to discover your passions.  Refer to the introduction to this series for more.  Special thanks to Emma J. Mitchell for helping complete this piece.

In this post, I am going to be addressing a well-known mental model:

All of those unhealthy habits caught up with you, and now you've just been informed that you have one year left to live. How would you spend your final 365 days on Earth, and what does that reveal about your passions?

Even at a young age, it is easy to forget that life is fleeting.  Therefore, we often spend a lot of time committed to activities we're not passionate about, anticipating a later time when pursuing our passions will be more convenient.  By considering what you would do if you only had one year left to live, you determine what is most important to you.

Read my answer.

I found answering this question to be more difficult than I expected.  I thought the answers would simply come to me, but instead I had to take a more focused approach to analyzing my passions.  What would I really do?

After some thought, here's what I came up with.  If I were told today that I had a year left to live, this would be my plan on day one (I can't speak for day 364):

I would volunteer

Photo features the Midwest-based veteran volunteer group Mission Continues.  The group is aimed at helping veterans continue to be productive after coming back from combat.
I'm a strong believer in the idea that humans should strive to leave the world better than when they were born.  Us earthlings have a knack for ruin: littering, emitting fossil fuels into the atmosphere, destroying nature, going to war, etc.  Each and every one of us has contributed to at least one of these destructive habits at some point.  That doesn't mean we're bound by our past.  While we have the power to destroy, we also have the power to create, and improve.  One of the most effective ways to give back, to make a positive change, is through volunteering.  The world is brimming with problems and people in need, and finding opportunities to help out has never been easier.

In fact, I think I'm going to make it a point to visit the site linked above (it seriously took three seconds to find) and find volunteering opportunities in my college town.

I would strengthen my relationships

The state of my relationships is a stressor for me.  When I believe I am being a bad son, a bad friend, a bad boyfriend, I become anxious and feel the need to make amends.  Be it through verbal communication or a mental self-check, I am always striving to better my relationships with others and create positive connections with new people.  Over the course of the year, I would forget about any predispositions I have about people, forget about being self-conscious, and focus on being a better dude; someone others can look up to and find inspiration from.  You cannot be good friends with everyone, but it is possible minimize the amount of unnecessary problems and schisms you cause.

I would travel

Photo of one of many beautiful areas in Italy.

Clich√©, right?  After visiting England, Ireland, and Wales a couple of years ago, I realized that the globe is diverse.  I already assumed this, but it takes real experiences to understand it.  If those westernized European countries struck me as different, I cannot imagine the amount I could learn by traveling less-frequented regions of the world.  Traveling the beautiful wilderness of South America and experiencing the romantic European countries are two must-do's in my lifetime.

I'd stop putting things off

Putting things off is easy.  I'm young, and some people say I'm intelligent.  I know that I can eat all of the crap I want tonight and that it won't really push back my fitness pursuits drastically if I return to my routine tomorrow.  But this mindset is destructive, and stops people from ever reaching their potential.  I could be in the best shape of my life in six months.  I could probably have some rockin' six pack abs in that amount of time.  Will I?  Probably not, because I will continuously make excuses for myself as opposed to rigorously pursuing my goals.

But this goes beyond just physical fitness.  There would be no time to say "you know, mom, I'll spend time with you later" or time to simply watch TV instead of writing an article on mental models.  The clock would always be ticking in the back of my mind, and it would serve as a constant reminder that my time is limited.  If I'm going to achieve anything, I have to go all in, right now.

I'd continue to write

Writing is therapy.  When I'm foggy or frustrated, writing allows me to organize my thoughts and give me something to work with.  My 'brilliant' ideas don't just pour themselves onto the page, but are developed as I write.  They are then ironed out as I edit my work for the second, maybe third, time.  I also think that writing is another way to contribute.  Writing is permanent, and can inspire others long after the author is gone.  I may not have all the answers, or even any of them, but I know that by writing down my thoughts, my beliefs, my ideas, I am making an impact.  I am increasing the likelihood that someone will come along, read my work, and be better off because of it.  Maybe they'll commit to a new routine, decide to eat healthier, or decide to start a blog of their own.  Maybe they'll decide to hug their child a moment longer.  Maybe they'll decide to take a chance on something they had previously set aside.  Writing is a way to leave behind insight to help others even when you're not around.

It's quite possible that, should I actually have only a year left to live, I would proceed entirely differently.  I might go into a mental frenzy and spend my final year in an insane asylum.  But at present, my final year would be spent writing, spending time with friends and family, and connecting with people throughout the world. Then I could look back and see a world slightly better off because of my brief existence.  One additional smile--that's all I need to know I've made it.

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