I laughed out loud recently when a person, in my “like-minded circle”, brought up Stoic philosophy and the concept of negative visualization.
Memento mori – remembering death – makes us grateful for everything we have.
I wasn’t laughing at the concept. I laughed because for many years, my brother would jokingly call his style of thinking “the power of positive-negative thinking” – a term, that he will tell you, he coined. Little did I know, he was drawing on his knowledge of ancient Greek stoic philosophers.
The stoic art of negative visualization is a belief that nurturing the perspective of loss leads to strength, resilience and thus a good life.
I learned from my brother that this unusual attitude creates a brilliantly clever way of looking at life.
Negative visualization is an anticipatory way of thinking.
It is a strategic practice of “worst-case” scenario view.
This perspective allows us to foresee consequences. It helps us put everything in order of importance.
Foresight prevents surprises. Potential outcomes are identified and the paths to those outcomes are deconstructed.
Problems are illuminated. Risks are managed or mitigated with calm efficiency.
“The unexpected” does not happen because it has already been anticipated.
Being a person who can see “the negative”
is not the same as
being a person who thinks negatively.
Negative visualization is different than emotionally charged, unproductive, catastrophic thinking.
In fact, highly effective and boldly optimistic people use negative visualization as a strategy.
It is simply a way to shift perspective to see different possibilities and their pitfalls.
It’s a way to prepare for failure in order to succeed.
“Misfortune weighs most heavily on
those who expect nothing but good fortune.”
These days, we hear a constant stream of advice telling us we should visualize our dreams and maintain a positive attitude.
Indeed, positive thinking can lead to great things. However, that does not mean that we need to purge negative thoughts from our brains.
The Stoics believe that unrealistic expectations and a naively “positive attitude” will more likely lead to disappointment and cause problems with resilience.
In fact, we are wired to think negatively. It has been one of the keys to our human survival, thus far.
Buddhists advocate treating thoughts – negative or positive – as simply things that come and go in our awareness.
Thoughts are not inherently good or bad. Their utility is determined by the way we use them.
Negative thoughts are very powerful decision-making tools when used constructively.
Thoughts can indeed influence attitude – positive or negative.
However, a particular attitude has no value if it does nothing to enhance perspective.
“When you change the way you look at things,
the things you look at change.” (Wayne Dyer)
(the way we orient our minds)
(what we get to see)
Attitude of Gratitude and Memento Mori
Death is a unifying “worst-case-scenario”.
Remembering that we all die is of tremendous value.
When we employ negative visualization to include the outcome of death, most other outcomes are put into their proper perspectives.
Think with the endgame in mind. What does the next week, next year, 10 years or the end of life look like?
What are the various paths to get there?
When I imagine my own mortality or someone close to me, I am encouraged to say what needs to be said, do what needs to be done, be grateful and squeeze out every bit of life out of every day that I have.
I am sure that a lot of what I do is motivated by some subconscious pre-revenge toward Death.
Until it comes, I’ll be brilliantly clever and show Death how well I can live.