Catchy title, isn’t it?
I just finished reading a wonderful Modern Stoic book called “A Guide to the Good Life”, by William B. Irvine. The book is a treasure trove of practical wisdom, from ancients, refurbished.
An insightful and useful practice Irvine brings up multiple times in his book is Negative Visualisation.
Negative Visualisation is an antidote to hedonic adaptation, the tendency to, rather sooner than later, take any good thing for granted, leaving one always wanting for more. The lack of gratitude takes away most of the joy that these good things could give you, and sends you to a never-ending quest for The Next Thing.
As you get more, you adapt, and…. Here we go again, wanting something else. This phenomenon is also called “hedonic treadmill”, which nicely illustrates the problem with it.
There are two very powerful ways to short-circuit this treadmill:
- Get yourself in an actual disaster; aviation accident, shipwreck, exile, death penalty, terminal illness, getting in trouble with the Mafia, etc.
- Practice Negative Visualisation: Lay on your sofa, with eyes closed, and imagine losing something that is of value to you. Your comfort, your property, your safety, even your loved ones.
Some would say that the latter method is preferable, if one can choose.
Both yield similar results.
You will renew your appreciation to the things you were about to lose (or thought about losing). You will realise that it is possible to lose them, and that you will lose them eventually. You will look at those things differently, and greet those people with new appreciation!
The actual disaster has several drawbacks:
- They happen when they happen.
- They can kill you, thus rendering you unable to further enjoy those things you re-learned to appreciate.
- They are difficult and dangerous to repeat. Repetition is needed, in order to stay off the hedonic treadmill. The effects will wear off.
Negative Visualisation has none of these downsides.
It can be practiced anywhere, anytime. It is safe, so go as crazy with is as you need.
The benefits of Negative Visualisation may be milder than those of a real catastrophe, but since it is easily repeatable, it will give better bang for the buck.
Have “fun” experiencing your worst setbacks (in the imagination, of course)!
Rehearse them in your mind: exile, torture, war, shipwreck. All the terms of our human lot should be before our eyes.” – Seneca
I used to always imagine bad stuff happening, especially stuff falling off of the back of trucks when following them in a car. Now I know why I’m such a stoic! Thanks for sharing