- What if you lost your job?
- What if your home burned down?
- What if your spouse, your parent, your child were taken?
- When you sit down in your work chair
- When you take your first step into your home
- When you hug or handshake or fist-bump ‘your people’
My Dad and a Duck
[The Stoics] recommended that we spend time imagining that we have lost the things we value—that our wife has left us, our car was stolen, or we lost our job. Doing this, the Stoics thought, will make us value our wife, our car, and our job more than we otherwise would. This technique—let us refer to it as negative visualization—was employed by the Stoics at least as far back as Chrysippus. It is, I think, the single most valuable technique in the Stoics’ psychological toolkit.Seneca describes the negative visualization technique in the consolation he wrote to Marcia, a woman who, three years after the death of her son, was as grief-stricken as on the day she buried him. In this consolation, besides telling Marcia how to overcome her current grief, Seneca offers advice on how she can avoid falling victim to such grief in the future: What she needs to do is anticipate the events that can cause her to grieve. In particular, he says, she should remember that all we have is “on loan” from Fortune, which can reclaim it without our permission—indeed, without even advance notice. Thus, “we should love all our dear ones . . ., but always with the thought that we have no promise that we may keep them forever—nay, no promise even that we may keep them for long.” . . .To see how imagining the death of a child can make us appreciate her, consider two fathers. The first takes [this] advice to heart and periodically reflects on his child’s mortality. The second refuses to entertain such gloomy thoughts. He instead assumes that his child will outlive him and that she will always be around for him to enjoy. The first father will almost certainly be more attentive and loving than the second. When he sees his daughter first thing in the morning, he will be glad that she is still a part of his life, and during the day he will take full advantage of opportunities to interact with her. The second father, in contrast, will be unlikely to experience a rush of delight on encountering his child in the morning. Indeed, he might not even look up from the newspaper to acknowledge her presence in the room.
These resources are arranged roughly in order from the least to the most time required. I’d scan the descriptions to see what’s most applicable to you.
Tail End Post
Read Tim Urban’s Tail-End post with memorable visuals of your remaining lifespan and a simple reminder to appreciate time with people you love.
Unhappy Gen-Y Yuppies Post
Read Why Generation Y Yuppies are Unhappy also from Tim Urban to dig a bit deeper into the psychology of why negative visualization works. If you dabble the depths of unhappiness from overachievement or high expectations, learning that “Reality = Expectations – Happiness” and assessing whether your expectations are realistic is a powerful way to increase happiness or at least reduce misery. “Bad” things will happen. If ten “bad” things each have a low probability chance of happening in one year, you might think you’re safe. But if low probability means a ten percent chance of each “bad” thing happening in one year, then it’s highly likely at least one “bad” thing will happen. That’s not the universe conspiring against you. That’s probability. Over time you might even relabel the “bad” events to just events.
There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. – Hamlet by Shakespeare
Learn the premortem technique for anticipating project issues before they happen.
Mindful Mark Speech
Watch my speech The Mindful Mark of Stoicism to learn three more stoic techniques (Practice Misfortune, Turn Obstacles into Opportunities, See More Clearly).
Practice the Fear-Setting technique from Tim Ferriss(exercise details are in Q&A section or use the tables below) to channel your fear and anxiety with a pen, paper, and your mind. To learn more about this technique check out Ferriss negative visualization audio description from his podcast or watch his TED talk on suicide and the Fear-Setting technique.
Use the first table to define your fears, options, and benefits of acting now.
Use the second table to describe your future using the questions below and weigh the tradeoff of not acting versus acting.
- What are the physical, emotional, financial impacts of not acting to mitigate the impact of your fears OR pursuing your goals despite your fears?
- What does your future look like in 6 months, 1 year, 3 years if you don’t act? What does the future look like if you act?
|6 Months||1 Year||3 Years|
There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long range risks of comfortable inaction. – John F. Kennedy
If you’re undecided about which book to pick, you can search for book summaries or decide if you want an introductory or deep source. If you want an easier to digest introduction to Stoicism, read the William Irvine book or Ryan Holiday’s the Obstacle is the Way. If you want to choose from the core written sources for Stoicism, read about the classics below.