The Importance of Negative Visualization

Aly Juma
Aly Juma
Nov 30, 2017 · 4 min read
Image for post
Image for post

The great stoic philosophers have left behind heaps of wisdom for us to explore, but one of the most powerful techniques they have gifted us is the practice of negative visualization.

Negative visualization is a technique that dates back many thousands of years, used by philosophers like Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, and Seneca. The core of the idea is to visualize negative outcomes in your life.

You contemplate what you have and visualize your life without them. Imagine life without your significant other or without your job or without your health, so on and so forth.

It’s like asking yourself the question what if in all facets of your life: your creative pursuits, your startup, your life decisions. What this isn’t is an exercise in torturing yourself just for fun. There is actually tremendous value in using this technique. Here are three reasons why you should start using negative visualization.

1. Appreciate what you have

Realizing that you are blessed and have a lot to be thankful for, can easily put things in perspective.

2. Understand the possible outcomes

This practice is called a pre-mortem in the business world, but the idea is the same. When you prepare for the worst, you are in a better place to deal with disaster if and when it does arise.

3. Realize it’s not so bad

We build up our fears to the point that they are larger than life. Confronting them and even temporarily experiencing them, can help you overcome such barriers.

“Nothing happens to the wise man against his expectation,” he wrote to a friend. “. . . nor do all things turn out for him as he wished but as he reckoned — and above all he reckoned that something could block his plans.”

Seneca in Letters to Lucilius

Negative visualization is a powerful technique that we could all benefit from now and again. So how do you do it?

Whenever you start a new endeavor or start to get overly attached to something or are afraid of doing something, use negative visualization to ground yourself and understand what you are facing.

Play through the different scenarios or outcomes you may face, the fears that are in the back of your mind, and come to terms with them.

Epictetus describes the practice in this way:

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. Thusly 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.

Do this for every act, so that if any hindrance does emerge, you can think: I did not prepare myself only to undertake the act, but also for this hindrance that has occurred, and also to handle this hindrance virtuously & keep my will conformed to nature — and this will be impossible if I become vexed.

The key is to mentally prepare not only for what you expect, but also for what can go wrong, the unexpected.

Furthermore, it is best to engage with this technique in a place of comfort. After all, you want to mentally prepare for the worse, but you don’t want to ruin your mood or state of mind. Being in your home or office, allows you to come back to your current life and not linger too long on the possible negatives you envisioned.

The practice of negative visualization is a useful one, but something we hardly ever do. Give it a try yourself and see how thinking of the worst case scenarios can actually empower you.

Enjoy the post? Want more? Subscribe to my newsletter to get the best of the web in your inbox every Sunday!

Image for post
Image for post

This story is published in The Startup, where 266,600+ people come together to read Medium’s leading stories on entrepreneurship.

Subscribe to receive our top stories here.

Image for post
Image for post

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +718K people. Follow to join our community.

Aly Juma

Written by

Aly Juma

Writer that designs — or is it the other way around? VP of eCommerce at function of beauty, creator of t-shirts, and self-recognized generalist.

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +718K people. Follow to join our community.

Aly Juma

Written by

Aly Juma

Writer that designs — or is it the other way around? VP of eCommerce at function of beauty, creator of t-shirts, and self-recognized generalist.

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +718K people. Follow to join our community.

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store