How to Overcome the Fear of Death & Live to the Fullest

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The 50th Law" by 50 Cent and Robert Greene. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Want to learn how to overcome the fear of death? How can accepting mortality help you to live to the fullest?

While it’s our natural instinct to fear death, in The 50th Law, Curtis Jackson and Robert Greene argue that learning how to overcome the fear of death will lead us to take more action, achieve more, and live to the fullest. Embracing our mortality, they argue, requires developing a sense of transcendence.

Read on to learn how to overcome the fear of death and live a fuller life, according to Jackson and Greene.

Learn How to Overcome the Fear of Death

According to Curtis Jackson and Robert Greene’s book The 50th Law, the possibly most important rule of living fearlessly is to overcome the fear of death. Most people struggle to follow this rule because it’s our natural instinct to fear death—this is what keeps us alive. However, if we don’t learn how to overcome the fear of death, we repress thoughts about our mortality and embrace the more desirable but unrealistic fantasy that we have infinite time—not just to live, but to accomplish our goals. This ultimately leads to inaction—when we don’t take our finite lifespan seriously, we lack the sense of urgency needed to follow the previous five rules and succeed.

To overcome the fear of death, Jackson and Greene argue that you must reach a state of transcendence—a higher level of awareness in which you accept and appreciate the universal process of life and death. You’ll learn to accept that death is a natural part of life—it’s neither good nor bad. Once you do so, you can connect to a deeper life purpose and develop a sense of urgency to achieve power and success before your time is up.

How to Accept Mortality and Succeed in Life

In The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, Mark Manson reiterates that people naturally fear death and that accepting your mortality is crucial to living a successful and fulfilling life. However, his perspective on what it means to fear mortality and how to overcome this fear differs from Jackson and Greene’s.

First, while Jackson, Greene, and Manson agree that fearing death makes your life less meaningful because you’ll fail to truly succeed, their ideas of what it means to reach “true success” and accept mortality differ. Jackson and Greene argue that accepting mortality means appreciating the universal process of life and death—this acceptance leads to true success by creating a sense of urgency to gain power (as discussed earlier). Meanwhile, Manson believes that accepting mortality means considering how you’ve impacted the world during your lifespan. He believes that accepting mortality leads to success by encouraging you to get rid of selfish goals and values—like gaining power.

Further, while Jackson and Greene recommend learning how to overcome the fear of death by reaching a state of transcendence where you accept the universal process of life and death, Manson takes a more personal approach. Rather than focusing on the vastness of existence in general, he argues that you should focus on your personal identity and whether or not your values make your life feel meaningful. Aim to do the most good with your time while you’re alive.

To develop a sense of transcendence so you can learn how to overcome the fear of death and the inaction it causes, Jackson and Greene recommend the following two principles.

#1: Experience Awe

According to Jackson and Greene, if you want to learn how to overcome the fear of death, you have to reach a state of transcendence, which requires experiencing feelings of awe. They explain that people often have a mundane, standard life—they never do awe-inspiring things that open their eyes to the true nature of life, death, and the universe. Consequently, they lack passion and develop a myopic perspective that prevents them from seeing the big picture, developing a sense of urgency, and achieving power and success. 

(Shortform note: Researchers reiterate that experiencing awe is important, but their findings seem to contradict Jackson’s and Greene’s argument in a few ways. First, they say that awe actually makes people feel like they have more time, which would decrease their sense of urgency according to Jackson and Greene’s argument. Further, they argue that awe makes people less self-focused and materialistic—so, possibly less likely to strive for individual power and success, as Jackson and Greene suggest.)

To develop a sense of awe that will help you break this pattern, Jackson and Greene make two main recommendations:

First, regularly step out of your comfort zone. Leaving your comfort zone forces you to break your mundane patterns and realize that you can accomplish more in life. This will reignite your sense of awe and passion, helping you reach a state of transcendence.

(Shortform note: While Jackson and Greene recommend stepping out of your comfort zone specifically to experience awe, experts explain that this practice has numerous other benefits that will also increase your chances of being successful. For example, leaving your comfort zone boosts your creativity, increases your self-confidence, gives you more opportunities to grow, and teaches you more about yourself, which can improve your mental health.)

The authors’ next step in overcoming the fear of death through a sense of awe is to experience things that are vast and make you feel small—for example, expose yourself to the vastness and beauty of nature or think about the numerous species of life on earth. This will remind you of the expansive nature of life, death, and the universe. You’ll recognize that there’s so much more to life than your mundane routines, which will reignite your sense of transcendence and passion.

(Shortform note: There are arguably more important benefits to larger-than-life experiences than just developing a sense of transcendence and urgency. Experts explain experiencing the vastness of life and feeling awe can improve your physical and mental health—awe decreases inflammation, and it also protects the body from chronic diseases and health problems like Alzheimer’s disease, depression, and heart disease.)

#2: Put Things Into Perspective

Jackson and Greene argue that putting things into perspective—acknowledging the natural and infinite cycle of life, death, and the universe—will help you overcome the fear of death, reach a state of transcendence, and develop a sense of urgency in life. 

Putting things into perspective means acknowledging that life and death are natural and neutral—neither good nor bad. Remember that life has existed for millions of years before you and the universe will exist for billions more after you. Trillions of people have lived, died, and been forgotten, and this will eventually happen to you too—it’s nature. However, right now, you’re alive, so you must use your time wisely while you have it.

The more you think about the natural cycle of life and death for all things and the infinite nature of the universe, the more you’ll be able to overcome the fear of death and be comfortable with the idea of it, learning how to value the limited time you have while living.

The Role of Religion in Overcoming the Fear of Death

Jackson and Greene argue that you can learn how to overcome the fear of death by putting your life into perspective and accepting that your mortality is part of an ancient, natural, and universal order. This is a primary role of many religions—to help people understand and accept death and the natural order. However, different religions espouse different levels of acceptance when it comes to death

For example, in Buddhism and Hinduism, death is viewed as a natural part of life and is accepted rather than fought near the end of one’s life. These religions recommend avoiding heavy medication and treatments near death—in other words, not delaying death. Thus, they seem to preach total acceptance of death as a natural, universal process, as Jackson and Greene encourage.

On the other hand, Christianity and Islam have a different view of life and death. While they also teach that death is part of the natural order and should be accepted, their followers generally try to extend life for as long as possible through treatment and medication. As these religions generally fight death when it approaches, it seems that they don’t accept death as wholeheartedly as Jackson and Greene recommend. Therefore, people of these beliefs may struggle more than usual to truly accept death as a neutral, natural process.
How to Overcome the Fear of Death & Live to the Fullest

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Emily Kitazawa

Emily found her love of reading and writing at a young age, learning to enjoy these activities thanks to being taught them by her mom—Goodnight Moon will forever be a favorite. As a young adult, Emily graduated with her English degree, specializing in Creative Writing and TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language), from the University of Central Florida. She later earned her master’s degree in Higher Education from Pennsylvania State University. Emily loves reading fiction, especially modern Japanese, historical, crime, and philosophical fiction. Her personal writing is inspired by observations of people and nature.

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