The small things ain’t so small.—BJ Miller
At the end of our lives, what do we most wish for? And how can knowing this help you to live a better life now?
BJ Miller (@bjmillermd), MD, knows.
BJ is president of Mettle Health in Mill Valley, California, where he also counsels terminally ill patients and their caregivers on how to create a dignified, graceful end-of-life experience.
He is an expert in death, but he’s also learned how we can dramatically improve our own lives, often with very small changes. When you consider that he has guided or been involved with ~1,000 deaths, it’s not surprising that he’s spotted patterns we can all learn from. BJ shares these patterns and more as coauthor of the book, A Beginner’s Guide to the End: Practical Advice for Living Life and Facing Death, which you can learn more about at the book’s website.
BJ is also a triple amputee, and his 2015 TED Talk, “Not Whether But How,” is a moving reflection on his vision to make empathic end-of-life care available to all, ranked among the top-15 most viewed TED talks that year.
If you want to know what being around death can teach you about living, you’ll want to listen to this.
I LOVED this conversation, and I hope you do as well. Enjoy!
- Listen to it on iTunes.
- Stream by clicking here.
- Download as an MP3 by right-clicking here and choosing “save as.”
Want to hear another podcast that challenges conventional medical doctrine? Listen to my conversation with Adam Gazzaley. In this episode, we discuss building a video game to rewire the brain, the crossroads of hallucinogens, neuroscience, and more (stream below or right-click here to download):
This podcast is brought to you by Wealthfront. Wealthfront is a massively disruptive (in a good way) set-it-and-forget-it investing service, led by technologists from places like Apple. It has exploded in popularity in the last two years and now has more than $2.5B under management. Why? Because you can get services previously limited to the ultra-wealthy and only pay pennies on the dollar for them, and it’s all through smarter software instead of retail locations and bloated sales teams.
Check out wealthfront.com/tim, take their risk assessment quiz, which only takes 2–5 minutes, and they’ll show you—for free–exactly the portfolio they’d put you in. If you want to just take their advice and do it yourself, you can. Well worth a few minutes to explore: wealthfront.com/tim.
This podcast is also brought to you by Boll & Branch. There is a lot of nonsense in the bedding business. For instance, did you know thread count is not a good measurement of quality? It’s a total myth. The “Made in Italy” label? It isn’t something you should necessarily pay extra for because it generally means it’s just finished in Italy and woven in places like China.
The general industry markup for bedding is 700 to 800 percent at most retailers. Boll & Branch creates incredibly high quality bedding. They are the same sheets you’ll find at my home in San Francisco.
The best part? You can try anything you order at home for 30 days. If you don’t love it, send it back and get a full refund. Go to Boll & Branch and use promo code “TIM” for $50 off your entire order. Whether sheets, towels, blankets, duvet covers, or anything else. Shipping is always free.
QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What are some of the “small changes” you can make that will have a big impact on your life? Please let me know in the comments.
Scroll below for links and show notes…
Selected Links from the Episode
- Princeton Alumni Weekly on the work of BJ Miller
- The OpenIDEO project
- Listen to my conversation with Adam Gazzaley
- Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach
- Learn more about BJ’s close friend, Justin Burke
- Read The New Yorker article The Trip Treatment by Michael Pollan
- Learn more about the RiverstyxFoundation
- Learn more about the Heffter Research Institute, which is researching entheogen compounds
- Learn more about compasspathways.org, which is researching mental health
- Learn more about Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS)
- Read Vonnegut’s letter describing why he goes out to purchase envelopes
- Waiting for Guffman directed by Christopher Guest
- Kentucky Fried Movie directed by John Landis
- Grizzly Man by Werner Herzog
- In San Francisco? Visit Scuderia
- Learn more about Joseph Swan Winery
- Learn more about Symptom Management Service at the UCSF Cancer Management Center and Michael Rabow
- Learn more about the Hospice Action Network
- Connect with BJ Miller and Zen Hospice:
- How do you answer the questions, “What do you do?” [7:43]
- What does the first meeting look like for a new patient at the Zen Hospice Project? [9:22]
- Defining palliative care [11:14]
- What happens when a patient dies in Zen Hospice compared to a regular hospital? [15:24]
- How many deaths have you experienced? [20:07]
- What has observing hundreds of deaths taught you about living? [20:42]
- On keeping a mindfulness or meditation practice [28:51]
- About the Dinky (a terrifying story of electrocution) [31:06]
- The Snowball Story [41:49]
- BJ Miller’s experience as an undergraduate student at Princeton [45:27]
- On the idea of art [46:33]
- How BJ Miller would support someone who suffered injuries similar to his own [53:29]
- What helps people most in hospice care [56:30]
- Why cookies matter [1:01:11]
- Thoughts on the use of psychoactive compounds in end-of-life care and treating existential suffering [1:04:48]
- BJ Miller’s secret habit that might surprise most people [1:14:40]
- Suggested material for an introverted hospice patient [1:19:48]
- What do you think of when you think of the word “successful?” [1:26:55]
- Daily practices for seeing good in people [1:30:43]
- How to ride a motorcycle when missing three limbs [1:33:39]
- What purchase of $100 or less has most positively affected your life? [1:38:10]
- If you could have one billboard anywhere, what would it say and why? [1:40:06]
- Advice to your thirty-year-old-self [1:41:42]
- What have you changed your mind about in the last few years? [1:43:37]
- BJ Miller’s requests/asks/suggestions of the audience [1:45:23]
- Adam Gazzaley
- Mark Rothko
- Jackson Pollock
- Kurt Vonnegut
- Ludwig van Beethoven
- Oprah Winfrey
- Deepak Chopra
- Mert Lawwill
The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 800 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.