In a recent post I asked you to consider what happens when you make no changes in your life – negative visualizations. What happens when you wake up on December 31st a year from now and you’re exactly who you are today? Or worse.
Another New Year, same you.
I guess nothing really “happens”… But if your goal, your intention, was to improve over the past 365 days and you managed not to? That’s a pretty terrible realization and feeling.
Yet this exact scenario plays out in many people’s lives, myself included, year after year.
It’s easy to beat yourself up over this. I have myself.
What if I told you we could fix this by thinking negatively?
It sounds backwards but you’ll see what I mean shortly…
All this talk of goal setting always reminds me of this topic. It’s really more life-related than it is money-related. I know this is a money-related blog, but I can’t help but to talk about this because it will affect your finances. If you can’t make the changes necessary to get on the path then you may be in debt for a lot longer than anticipated.
Let’s dig into this a bit and see how we can work around it. Let’s see how we can prepare for the
worst, overcome fears, and get to the places we want to be, all by thinking negatively.
This was an exercise I called ‘negative visualizations’. I didn’t come up with the name or technique. I found out about this through the ancient Stoic philosophers, Epictetus and Seneca. In their times it would’ve been called ‘Premeditatio Malorum’, which to me sounds like, pre-think-bad. Yep… checks out.
Here’s what Epicetus had to say about it:
“When you are going to perform an act, remind yourself what kind of things the act may involve. When going to the swimming pool, reflect on what may happen at the pool: some will splash the water, some will push against one another, others will abuse one another, and others will steal. Thus you have mentally prepared yourself to undertake the act, and you can say to yourself: I now intend to bathe, and am prepared to maintain my will in a virtuous manner, having warned myself of what may occur.”
That is one long quote with some archaic language.
To me this means to think ahead about all potential outcomes. Specifically though make sure you don’t skip over the potential negative outcomes.
I love the fact that these were legitimate techniques over 2,000 years ago. This tells me that these people had figured out something important to the human condition and it survived this long for a reason.
When I first began doing negative visualizations, I would think through my plans, making sure to think on all possible outcomes, both good and bad. But, especially the bad.
When I began doing this I noticed that I started taking action more often than not. For one, because usually it was action that needed to be taken because I was avoiding something difficult.
I am able to break down a potential scenario into such a negative outcome that I literally scare myself into action.
I don’t know if this is because I’ve been to some low places in life or if I just have a good imagination. But it works and it works really, really well for me.
When my son was born, I frequently had a lot of negative visualizations. I didn’t even know about them then. This wasn’t just your run of the mill pessimistic thinking. These were visions I would have come over me, that would sometimes haunt me.
You’ll end up stuck at an entry-level position forever if you slack off at work… you won’t be able to provide for your family like you want to…. You’ll never retire, much less travel like you want to… You will die young because of your poor lifestyle habits!
Like I said, these cut deep… but these realizations didn’t cause me to double down on my current lifestyle, no, they spurred me into action. And sometimes that’s all it takes: a realization that if you don’t improve, you will regress and arrive at the end of your life with many regrets that you know you could’ve changed.
This is an unintended side effect of this practice of negative visualizations. You begin to realize over time that you have it quite good… And most times the worst doesn’t even happen anyway!
Thankfully, this practice builds gratitude and optimism. Not naïve optimism, but realistic optimism with a natural hopefulness.
It’s quite common to take things for granted because of a lack of awareness. Thinking of the loss of a friend or family member (and I mean seriously thinking about this), you’ll take your time with them a lot more seriously.
I used to visit my grandparents quite often. At first, I’d visit a bit, then they’d watch a little TV and I’d chill on my phone or something. The hour or two I was there would pass quickly and I wouldn’t think much of it… But, eventually, I started thinking that there is a clear, finite amount of time left with these precious people (my negative visualizations revolved around the clear fact they would not be here with us within the next 3-4 years most likely).
Because of this, when I went there, I engaged with them differently. I asked more questions I knew I’d never get the answer to again once they were gone. I gained some patience I hadn’t had before. My visits began to be more frequent and even longer.
Because of this, I grew closer to them and improved my relationship with them until the end of their days. Looking back, I’m grateful for my perspective shift then.
Speaking from experience today, I still struggle to apply that same urgency and care with others who are not so obviously close to death, but I notice I am more aware of it than I ever have been.
In the end, all I hoped for was to do the right thing. Little did I know that perspective shift would change me as a person and turn me into someone who tries to appreciate the little things in life, no matter what they are.
“Rehearse them in your mind: exile, torture, war, shipwreck. All the terms of our human lot should be before our eyes.”Seneca
Seneca here is describing some really, really terrible things. Fortunately, our struggles are a lot easier than exile, torture, war, and shipwreck most likely (see, appreciation kicking in again).
The outcome reminds me of the idiom, “hope for the best, prepare for the worst”.
I like that mindset a lot and I think it’s a practical outlook to have.
When you think of the possible negative outcomes you can come up with a plan for how to counteract them.
“What is quite unlooked for is more crushing in its effect, and unexpectedness adds to the weight of a disaster. This is a reason for ensuring that nothing ever takes us by surprise. We should project our thoughts ahead of us at every turn and have in mind every possible eventuality instead of only the usual course of events…”Seneca
Whether or not you decide to act on those… well, that just depends on how scary the negative outcomes are to you.
And hey, the Boy Scouts’ motto isn’t “Always Be Prepared” for nothing.
Having an idea of what you’d do if something bad did arise will help you deal with that scenario immensely.
I first heard this quote when I was reading the Magic of Thinking Big. It didn’t really stick with me at first, but I wrote it in my journal. Right at the beginning I have a spot where I keep my notable quotes and re-read them when I need a little help in life.
“Action cures fear. Isolate your fear and then take constructive action. Inaction— doing nothing about a situation—strengthens fear and destroys confidence.”David Schwartz, The Magic of Thinking Big
The more I meditated on this simple quote, the more applicable I realized it was to nearly all of my fears.
When I am afraid of something, there is typically something I can do to help ease the fears.
And if there’s not, then I must realize it’s out of my control and any efforts and mental energy spent on this henceforth is futile.
Many times at work when I am fearing something like a difficult project or presentation, I remember that if I start taking some sort of action now, it’ll start to get easier.
Just doing something in general can break you through a lot of that anxiety that comes along with doing hard things that have a lot of unknown.
Even thinking of starting this business, there was a lot of fear for me. Fear of failure mostly. But I’ve decided to just do whatever I can to not fail. So far, it’s working!
Have you tried negative visualizations? If so, I’d be curious to see if you’ve had similar experiences with them as I have.
Thanks for reading everyone and I hope you all have a great holiday season. On that note, I plan to take a little time off from blogging here on the site. But that doesn’t mean I’ll be idle. No, in fact, we’ll have a nice feature in a new magazine early next year – I’m excited to announce that when the time comes. In addition to that, be on the look out for a podcast coming very soon!
Here are ways to support, stay in touch, and work together:
I look forward to speaking with you and helping guide you down this life changing path.
In health and in wealth,