"I'm getting older and people seem to be staying the same age ... so at any moment if someone says, 'It was really nice having you, just if you don't mind stepping this way?' I would go, 'Oh, I get it. I get it,'" he said.
This attitude is part of Mayer's new approach on becoming a changed man. He even checks himself when he sees moments of success, like when the music video of his first single, "Paper Doll," earned millions of views in its first days online.
"You think you're really crushing it and you look at Miley Cyrus' video and there's like 46 million," said Mayer, referring to Cyrus' edgy "We Can't Stop," which has racked up 148 million views.
In a recent interview, Mayer was as talkative as ever, but seemed to have a new sense of calmness as he discussed how his life has shifted in the last three years. He overcame a throat injury thanks to Botox injections last year, but the injury left him on voice rest for months and sidelined his performances "an intense amount of hyperfocus" is how he describes it.
"I don't drink really anymore. I warm up before I sing. I warm down," he said. "I do whatever I can. I don't want to lose that part of my life again."
His voice isn't fully recovered, but he was able to record "Paradise Valley," released Tuesday. The 11-track set, which features girlfriend Katy Perry (more on that later) and Frank Ocean, has a cool, light feel that merges pop, country and blues sounds. Mayer wrote some of it like "Dear Marie," about his first love last summer, and newer tracks were added months ago, like the confessional duet with Perry.
The new album comes one year after "Born and Raised," though he normally takes longer breaks between albums.
"Maybe all the crazy years, the noisy kind of years were just to get to a place where I could have tenure and put a record out," said Mayer, thinking to himself.
The "crazy years" have been well-documented: His famous girlfriends (Jennifer Aniston and Jessica Simpson among them) and infamous breakups; his overshares on Twitter that led him to shut down his account; and his attempts at humor that backfired, including an inflammatory Playboy interview that led him to bolt the spotlight that he once craved so badly.
Instead of being known for his Grammy-winning artistry Rolling Stone crowned him one of the contemporary guitar gods he was becoming known as an unsavory tabloid fixture.
But he knows he was the root of most of the drama that surrounded him, damaged his image and put his singing career in the back seat to his personal woes.
"My pulse beats a whole different way now. ... It's like there's no possible way I could stay the same human being that I was in 2010," said Mayer. "My worst day of overthinking was nowhere near the sort of C-4 I strapped to my own ankles and not knowing it. I think I was more interested in the idea that I was the one strapping the bomb on, so at least I got that man. Just don't forget who the bomber is! Yeah, but you're the one blowing up."
Some people might question how much he has changed given that he hasn't quit one habit having a celebrity girlfriend. Perry appears on "Who You Love," a raw, acoustic-based tune about innocently falling in love. He's open when talking about the pop star he says he loves her nearly a dozen times in this interview.
Mayer knows that recording a duet with a pop princess who is also his girlfriend would grab attention and make headlines much like his past relationships but he's OK with that. He just wants listeners to enjoy the song without its celebrity-singer prefixes.
"It's really the much larger, scaled-up version of small-town gossip. 'Well, I hear he dated so and so,' and you have to make these decisions when you get to know somebody," he said of the song.
"If the music is framed correctly and quality, and if it's right and the soul is there, it would be the highest compliment to the record if somebody said or people said, 'I don't even think about it being a relationship, I just hear it as a great song.'"
And while Perry and Mayer broke up a few times during their yearlong courtship, listening to Mayer, he hints that he's in for the long haul: "I remember handing a camera off to one of the guys in the studio, like, 'We need a picture of us at the board so when we get old and gray there's a picture of us looking cool making music in L.A.'"
Mayer, who grew up in Connecticut but now lives in Montana, is on a tour that wraps next month. He says he doesn't regret the bumps he's encountered because it has led him to the Zen place he appears to be in. Michael McDonald, the singer's longtime manager, says the best word to describe the 35-year-old today is "seasoned."
"He had a lot of downtime and I think for the first time in his career it offered him the opportunity to really, really, genuinely slow down and sit back," he said, "and really create the album and the mood he wanted to create."
Mayer is even empathetic when he sees other celebrities making similar mistakes: "I look and I see other people who either tripped over that same thought or in the process of being about to trip and I have a lot of understanding for it."
Despite that, he doesn't plan to be Dr. Phil.
"There's no advice. You couldn't have given me any advice," he said. "Those kind of people don't operate on advice. I didn't operate on advice."