There is an idea in stoic thought called “negative visualization”. I have come across it in a few books, articles, and podcasts recently. The idea is that you play out worst-case situations in your mind for everything.
The idea is not completely new to me. In business, the concept of worst-case situations modeling is pretty common. You want to see what happens to an investment if the s**t hits the fan so that you can understand your risk and perhaps hedge against it.
I didn’t think much about applying this concept to other areas of my life. I have been doing just that over the past two months, and I am pretty happy with the results. Here are some ways in which I have found negative visualization to be positive.
- When I play out the worst cast scenarios, it removes some of the emotional fear of the outcome and allows me to think more clearly about how I would cope with such a situation. So for example, you might have a fear of losing your job. But if you think through exactly what would happen if you lost your job, what you would do to cut costs, and how you would get back on your feet then you might realize that it is not so scary. Once I can think clearly about an action, I can then assess the risks with a clear mind.
- I am also better prepared for whatever might happen. I am not taken by surprise when something does not work out well, because I have thought about it working out poorly. And because I am less emotional, I can better deal with the situation.
- I wrote in a previous post that I was dealing with the repercussion of stress as a product of not meeting my own high expectations. How do you have big goals and low expectations at the same time? That was my dilemma. I think negative visualization helps. You can still have goals that you are striving for, but by playing out the worst-case situation in your mind regularly you lower the expectation and allow the goal itself to be a fun. I have found that lower expectations = less negative stress = a greater likelihood of actually hitting your goals.
- It helps me appreciate what I have. Thinking about the worst case is a tool to make the current situation seem great in comparison. The process makes me pay more attention to what is most important in my life, and be attentive when those important things are happening. Spending time with my daughter is top of the list right now, and I make it a point to make sure that I am able to spend time with her on a daily basis.
Negative visualization is not all unicorns and butterflies though. Sometimes my thoughts get pretty dark when I am thinking about my own personal life and often I end up in tears. But I think that is part of the process to better appreciate, prepare, and enjoy life.