Executive business coach Marshall Goldsmith understands the power of a near-death experience. His life flashed before his eyes on his way to Santa Barbara when his pilot announced that the landing gear wasn’t working. You can imagine how he felt when he heard the pilot say, “We have a minor problem. The landing gear isn’t working. We are going to circle the airport until we run out of fuel so we can land more safely with the wheels up.” Landing with the wheels up is cold consolation when the airplane isn’t working. The plane ultimately did land safely, and the first thing Goldsmith did when he got to the hotel was write 50 thank-you notes to the people who had helped him in his life.
Have you ever been so close to death you could hear it breath? I haven’t, but the people who have all seem to have one thing in common: they come away from their near-death experience different than before. They didn’t suddenly age, they didn’t change jobs, they didn’t magically have new friends and family. The power of their transformation is the power of perspective. And what if we could tap that power using only the imaginative faculties of our minds?
Research has demonstrated that when we visualize the same part of our brain gets activated as when we experience something in the material world. The goal of the exercise that follows is to obtain the psychological benefits of a near-death experience minus the trauma. It is structured as a prompt followed by a series of 10 reflective questions. For more on the power of perspective, see the Top 5 Regrets of People on Their Deathbed.
A Near-Death Experience (Thought Experiment)
Imagine you are on that plane headed for Santa Barbara suspended 35,000 feet in the air. Now imagine it it is the engine that malfunctions instead of the landing gear. The pilot says he will do everything in his power to cushion the blow, but that an unnatural landing will take place within 20 minutes. The plane begins its slow decline, the clock starts ticking, and your life flashes before your eyes.
1. What do you love most about the life you’ve lived?
2. What people and experiences are you most grateful for?
3. What do you love least about it?
4. What are your top 3 regrets?
5. When your plane landed safely, what is the first thing you would do when you arrived at the hotel?
6. How is your life now different?
7. Did the experience change how you treat people?
8. Did the experience make you a more grateful person?
9. If you answered yes to at least one of the last two questions, why do you think it took a near-death experience to produce this change?
10. How can any of your answers to the above questions inspire you to live your life to the fullest today?