Looking Forward

What do you want to do before you die? Tips and tricks learned from Ben Nemtin

By Mahi Basra, OMS II; Makena Lewis, OMS II; Maria D. Jones, DO


What do you want to do before you die?

That’s a question motivational speaker Ben Nemtin has asked people almost every day since leaving his home on Vancouver Island in 2006 with the dream of helping strangers check items off their bucket lists.

The best-selling author and star of the MTV show The Buried Life, shared his inspirational story as a keynote speaker at OMED22. In addition to describing the high points of his journey (like playing basketball with President Obama), Nemtin discussed some of the lows, including the period of depression that inspired him to change his life and start pursuing his dreams.

Nemtin stressed the need for more awareness of mental health struggles, which are reported to impact one out of four people. It’s up to the three people who aren’t struggling to make that one person feel more comfortable, Nemtin said.

As a community of physicians and medical students, there is much we can do to help break the stigma, starting with having open, honest conversations about mental health challenges.

Your true self

“Who you truly are is exactly who you need to be.” – Ben Nemtin

This means be your true self and go after the things you’re passionate about. Don’t hide the things you’re struggling with. Embrace them because, chances are, someone else is going through them too.

In response to Nemtin’s keynote address, OMED22 BEL scholarship recipient Ben Berthet, DO, shared the following thoughts:

“Ben Nemtin’s keynote speech discussed the unselfish act of prioritizing personal goals to promote both personal joy and joy for our patients. It is undeniably inspiring to hear the contagious positivity that comes with someone who is making their seemingly impossible goals possible. While I was listening to him talk, I was hooked on how he was connecting his message to the osteopathic philosophy. He was saying it is part of our professional identity to serve our patients holistically in mind, body, and spirit. If we can optimize our own lives by prioritizing personal goals, our professional achievements will grow too. Our patients can pick up on that positivity and enthusiasm. This may encourage them to achieve their own personal goals which may also include health goals. Ben Nemtin’s message was truly heart-warming, and we can always use a good dose of personal satisfaction that comes with achieving a goal we’ve previously said was impossible. Why not go for it?”

Gratitude & resilience

In addition to encouraging OMED attendees to pursue their dreams, Nemtin stressed the importance of resilience. He recommended creating a resilience tookit that includes a list of personal habits for improving your mental health. Everyone is different, so your toolkit should include the tips and tricks that work for you. Nemtin developed a downloadable Mental Health Toolkit to help get you started. By doing what you love, you inspire others to do what they love, he said. Kindness is contagious because it causes a positive ripple effect – one kind act inspires others to perform kind acts.

In addition to a resilience toolkit, Nemtin recommended creating a bucket list. Areas you can focus on include: travel and adventure, giving, intellectual, material, financial, creative, professional, relationships, physical health and mental health. Think about what you want to achieve in each category. It might be helpful to picture your 90-year-old self and ask “Will I be happy with the time I’m spending living for me?”

We all need to take care of our mental health. If you ever need support, you can text Crisis Text Line at “HOME” to 741741 or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

Tips from Ben Nemtin’s Mental Health Toolkit:

  1. Talk with someone you love (or a therapist).
    Your struggles can be much scarier in your head. When you talk about them, you allow others to help you and you often feel better once you’ve shared.
    Tip: Remember, it might take a few tries to find a therapist that you connect with. It’s okay if it’s not a fit at first. Don’t get discouraged. You can ask friends for referrals or you can check out online solutions like Talkspace.
  2. Surround yourself with people who inspire you.
    These are people who give you energy vs drain your energy. They believe in your dreams, don’t cut you down, but also aren’t afraid to be honest.
  3. Help someone else.
    This gets you out of your head and creates a meaningful connection with someone else.
    Tip: This doesn’t have to be a life-changing gesture, small acts of kindness can create large positive ripples.
  4. Get 8 hours of sleep.
    Sleep is as important to our health as eating, drinking and breathing. It allows our bodies time to rest and repair. It also allows our brains to consolidate our memories and process information.
  5. Check an item off your list.
    This creates a sense of purpose and unlocks your creativity. It can help create a sense of momentum that helps you get more done.
    Tip: Increase your chances of success by sending weekly progress updates to an accountability buddy or by joining forces with someone to check it off together.
  6. Try meditation.
    Meditation quiets the mind and relieves stress and anxiety.
  7. Exercise.
    This releases the happy chemicals dopamine and serotonin and helps you shed negative emotion.
    Tip: Just like brushing your teeth in the morning, do 5-10 minutes of exercise (pushups, sit-ups, or a plank) in the morning. One of the best ways to build a new habit is to identify one you already do daily and then stack your new behavior on top. This practice is called habit stacking.
  8. Perform a 24-72 hour digital detox.
    Take a break from social media and/or the news. When you come back to social media, try to only focus on accounts that bring you joy and happiness. When you come back to the news, try to focus on issues that are important to you and a make plan to take action.
    Tip: Deactivate your most used social app (if you have one) for a week. See what life’s like without it. You can always bring it back.
  9. Spend time in nature.
    20 minutes in nature is proven to improve mental health. It’s called “forest bathing” in Japan, and doctors prescribe this to tackle stress and other mental health problems.
    Tip: Bring plants into your home.
  10. Embrace gratitude.
    Identifying something you’re thankful for changing the chemistry in your body. Typically we focus on what’s wrong and we overlook what’s going right. Take some time to reflect on all the good things in your life.
    Tip: Write down one thing that you’re grateful for before you go to bed and one thing you’re grateful for each morning.