When I was 16, I read The Power Of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peal.
I still have the exact copy in my library. For the next two decades or more, I read many other books and listened to many hours of lectures on having a positive outlook on life, and the power of optimism. I personally have nothing against most of these authors and thought leaders. But the “positive thinking” movement of the 1950s and through the next few decades were, if anything, lacking in fullness due to a shaky foundation. The foundation is weak because it’s missing a few bricks.
I don’t deny that optimism can be a powerful tool. Besides, I’d rather go through life with a generally positive outlook from day-to-day. It’s more enjoyable than the alternative. But let’s add another philosophical brick to the foundation.
Let’s think negatively, for just a moment.
Today, we’ll take a look at a technique the Stoics called “premeditatio malorum”, a premeditation of evils. The idea is to imagine the worst-case scenario. More than just considering the worst as a possibility, imagine yourself getting used to it. Sit with it for a while and attempt a genuine acceptance.
This can be difficult to do. We generally associate this type of thinking with negativity, worry, or fear. But this technique attempts to combat all of those things, by recognizing that we are in fact able to handle whatever comes. With practice, you can even get comfortable with the idea of death. I’m not advocating for a fatalistic or nihilistic mentality. On the contrary, this technique can have amazingly positive effects.
Acceptance of the worst-case-scenario is a great way to let go of worry.
Visualizing your own resilience can go far in building your self-empowerment.
Picturing the loss of possessions, station, or even loved-ones can really drive home a sense of gratitude for what you have in the present.
A few questions that the Stoics used to prompt this mindful practice are:
What would things look like if everything went wrong tomorrow?
How would I cope with that situation?
Should this change the way I live today?