However, when I googled the term, I came across a really interesting journal article all about how mortality can be an unconscious or conscious motivating factor in one's life. The authors of this article basically say that people need self-esteem and faith in order to provide protection against a "deeply rooted fear" of death, which is an essential and ingrained characteristic of humans. These two needs motivate all forms of behavior.
There are two different types of defenses, proximal and distal. Proximal defense is when people are consciously aware of death lurking around the corner for them, so they find different ways to push it to the unconscious. This includes thinking one is indestructible or invincible, or exaggerating one's own health, and making the promises of eating healthier, working out more, quitting smoking, etcetera. Proximal defense addresses the problem not of death, but of being aware of death, and is characterized by a person denying his or her own vulnerability, or purposely removing the thought of death from his or her consciousness.
Distal defense is the category in which people who strongly believe in the cultural worldview fall under. Basically, adults understand that death is inevitable, but if they live up to all of the standards of their world view, their self-esteem is increased and there is a certain sense of safety from this. Striving to be a valuable member to a meaningful universe is what helps these believers cope with thoughts of death and dying. The article claims that thoughts of death are "on the fringes of consciousness...This implies that the pursuit of self-esteem and faith in the cultural worldview are driven by unconscious death-related thoughts."
In conclusion, I guess I am not sure if I should feel optimistic, or pessimistic after reading this article. It does not make me feel great to think that death is a motivating factor for me, and the avoidance thereof is what pushes me to do the things that I do, and make the decisions that I make. On the other hand, the authors of the article do claim that their reasoning for bringing these defenses to light is to help people find meaning in life and in themselves, and who wouldn't want that? Bottom line, however, I still need to find something to help motivate me to work-out and study productively.