It is human to want. We often want the things that give us a sense of comfort - money, fame, love, and purpose. A life without these sounds uncomfortable. We’re quick to imagine such a life to be one of poverty, loneliness and lack of purpose. But what if we were not so dramatic?
The good vibes only culture seems to ride the wave of Rhonda Byrne’s 2006 self-help book ‘The Secret’. The book talks about the ‘Law of Attraction’ as the secret to manifest your desires and control the Universe with your thoughts.
Does this mean we have to visualize and will away any temporary discomfort arising from negative thoughts? The Stoics don’t think so.
Stoic philosophers like Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus and Seneca believed in a powerful idea called premeditatio malorum (premeditation of evils). According to the Stoics, negative feeling or discomfort is a judgment we assign to things, and not an evergreen attribute of the thing itself.
What is the Law of Attraction?
The new thought philosophy believes that positive or negative thoughts bring positive or negative experiences into a person’s life. It posits that the good “energy” from positive thoughts manifests itself into positive outcomes. While there is no empirical scientific evidence supporting this law, the appeal is in its mystic yet intuitive nature. After all, the last time I had a negative thought, it wasn’t a fun experience. And a happy thought, well… give me more!
What is Stoic Negative Visualization?
The premise of premeditatio malorum is to perceive the ills beforehand. William B. Irvine, in his book on Stoicism ‘A Guide to the Good Life’ says: “To engage in negative visualization is to contemplate the bad things that happen to us”. This does not mean to live within a depressing imagined life. In fact, it helps us prepare better for when things don’t go according to plan.
The Stoics take this all the way to premeditating one’s own death. This can be a bit extreme if you’re starting off. Maybe thinking about messing up a presentation or not buying the house of your dreams is a more palatable negative visualization.
So, bad vibes only?
It does not have to be one or the other.
Law of attraction helps one articulate the “what” of one’s goals. This moves the thought from a dream to something more real. It allows more time-bound, specific, measurable, action and result oriented planning. There’s immense value in this.
In the journey towards our goals, there are going to be tough times. It is only practical to acknowledge this and rehearse handling the fears, apprehensions, and any other undesired outcomes. I think of negative visualization as the “how” to get through these hiccups on the path to achieve one’s goals.
Controlled exposure to negative sensations gives one the courage to face these fears and overcome it with calm confidence.
Negative visualization as a vaccine for better health
But of course, a vaccine example in the time of COVID-19!
A vaccine is a deliberate and controlled injection of the disease-causing agent into one’s body to stimulate antibodies. This strengthens one’s immunity. Willing for the virus to go away and visualizing a future where everything runs perfectly, without putting in the work NOW, leaves you living an unrealized dream. The controlled exposure to temporary discomfort helps us come out stronger in the long run.
Law of attraction is powerful, when you leverage it to articulate and break down your goals. Negative visualization can seem overwhelming, but you can harness its power by taking it slow.
- Be less dramatic about what you visualize and build up the practice gradually
- Make plans to handle the situations when things go wrong and rehearse this
- Repeated exposure in small doses over time is key
- Be mindful* of those moments you come out of a ‘negative’ situation
- Be realistic about your starting point and stay kind to yourself
- Track and progress in this continuous learning journey
*Pay attention to your thoughts and feelings, and defer any judgment
Small doses of the uncomfortable things can can better prepare and strengthen us. Most of all, it helps us find a deeper and greater appreciation of the comforts and blessings in the here & now.
References & More Reading
Enjoyed this post? Never miss out on future posts Subscribe to Anil George's BlogShare on