Is Stoic Negative Visualization Good | Premeditatio Malorum

Many people believe that the Stoics are people who go through life without expressing their emotions. However, the truth is completely different.

The Stoics can experience the full range of emotions. They have the same ability to experience and express joy and pain as the rest of us.

What sets them apart is that they believe the best revenge against the unpredictability of the world is to feel each emotion in moderation.

To do this, the Stoics practiced a strangely effective meditative strategy. It helped them remain calm when things went unexpectedly wrong. It enabled them to maintain their composure even in the worst of calamities.

By the way, Stoicism was a Hellenistic school of philosophy founded in Athens by Zeno of Citium.

What Is Negative Visualization (Premeditatio Malorum) In Stoicism?

Premeditatio Malorum means to ‘pre-meditate on evils’ or ‘to ponder on misfortunes in advance.’ It ensures that a Stoic is always ready for the worst while being grateful for what they have. It involves imagining negative events that might occur in their life so that the agony is less intense if or when they do.

William Irvine was the first to call it Negative Visualization.

The Stoics thought they had an answer to this question. They recommended that we spend time imagining that we have lost the things we value— that our wife has left us, our car was stolen, or we lost our job. Doing this, the Stoics thought, will make us value our wife, our car, and our job more than we otherwise would. This technique— let us refer to it as negative visualization—was employed by the Stoics at least as far back as Chrysippus. It is, I think, the single most valuable technique in the Stoics’ psychological tool kit.

— William Irvine (A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy)

Premeditatio Malorum or Negative Visualization is the Stoic strategy for controlling emotional distress in reaction to life’s negative events. In simple words, it is voluntarily imagining what might go wrong in the future.

But it doesn’t end at merely imagining the dark future. It also involves planning for a way out of the possible dismal future.

So, negative visualization is foreseeing the worst-case scenarios and strategizing to rise above them if they occur. It is a way of mentally preparing for the hardships while also minimizing the fear of fear (phobophobia).

Premeditatio Malorum or Negative Visualization

How Good Is Negative Visualization (Premeditatio Malorum)?

Premeditatio Malorum is often misunderstood in modern times. Although it might sound like a pessimistic practice, it actually has the opposite effect.

Since negative visualization is an exercise in mental preparation for dealing with all the unexpected things that might happen, it can be a risk management tool to help you prepare yourself for difficult times ahead.

Negative visualization asks you to visualize what would happen if everything went wrong, rather than relying too much on what you believe is the perfect plan.

When we systematically think about the negative outcomes, we get to identify all the potential pitfalls. Then we can plan for them or perhaps prevent them from occurring.

Negative visualization is one of the most beneficial things that we can do for our emotional well-being. Practicing it can improve our overall happiness and health by decreasing stress and anxiety, as well as increasing self-control and contentment.

There is also an unpleasant side of negative visualization. This study shows that when people repetitively focus on their flaws, it can lead to feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety.

The same study also found that repeating thoughts can help in the recovery from upsetting and traumatic events, adaptive preparedness and anticipatory planning, depression recovery, and the adoption of health-promoting behaviors.

So, this Stoic strategy is now being gradually re-evaluated and accepted as a virtue among certain cultures. Its main benefit is making preparations for the worst outcomes in the future. This can help people build resilience to bounce back stronger after hard times pass.

Recent psychological research tends to show that people who are able to accept unpleasant thoughts and feelings, without being overwhelmed by them, are more resilient than people who try to distract themselves or avoid such experiences, through strategies such as positive thinking.

— Donald Robertson, author of How To Think Like A Roman Emperor
Premeditatio Malorum: “The Pre-Meditation of Evils” (Stoic Exercise)

1. Negative Visualization Can Help Give Up False Expectations.

Wishful thinking is the act of imagining that what you wish for will happen. This can be seen as a positive attribute if an individual is trying to find hope in difficult times.

Negative visualization, on the other hand, encourages people to imagine that their worst fears come true. It is more about facing reality than denying it.

This Stoic exercise helps us feel better when we succeed in our endeavors, but also not become dejected when our attempts fail. The idea is that by imagining the worst-case scenario, we are not just preparing for it, but also making it less likely to affect us seriously if it happens.

When you give up false expectations, this leads to happiness by motivating you to do your best and setting realistic goals.

2. Negative Visualization Is A Tool For Living Fulfilled Lives.

The idea of negative visualization is to think about and anticipate future misfortune so that when it affects someone, they will be prepared for what will happen and be mentally strong enough to handle the situation.

It teaches that people should not be anxious about things they cannot control, but instead focus on what they can control, such as their thoughts and actions.

Negative visualization can be seen as a technique to prepare oneself for the worst-case scenario, and as such is an important part of the Stoic tool.

The Stoic discipline of negative visualization has been used by successful people for centuries as a way to live fulfilled and happy lives.

How To Practice Negative Visualization (Premeditatio Malorum)?

The Stoic technique “premeditatio malorum” is essentially imaging the possible worst-case scenarios to help us manage our impressions, desires, and expectations.

The Stoics believed that by thinking ahead about the worst that could happen, they would be better prepared to handle the torrent of emotions arising when such things happen. To do this, they would regularly ask themselves what would happen if their house burned down, or if they were forced into exile, or if they had an early death?

Think of yourself as dead. You have lived your life. Now, take what’s left, and live it properly. Stop whatever you’re doing for a moment and ask yourself: ‘Am I afraid of death because I won’t be able to do this anymore?

— Marcus Aurelius

One modern way to practice negative visualization is to think about how your life would be if everything were to go wrong.

Suppose, your investments collapsed, your job was taken away, and you lost all of your friends. While imagining that scenario, make sure you really focus on the details of what this would feel like and what sorts of emotions it might evoke within you.

Another way to practice it is by imagining that something good happens, but only for a short time before turning into something bad. A positive event happening, then getting canceled, is an example of bad things happening after good events happen.

One other way could be to imagine losing your house, as a result of a natural calamity, and try to figure out what you would do next, even if it means living on the street. So you’ll know roughly what to do if such a situation comes.

Premeditatio Malorum Stoic Exercise

Is Amor Fati Stoicism?

Amor Fati is innately a Stoic mindset, though Friedrich Nietzsche coined the phrase in 1882. Translated as “love of fate,” it means embracing our fate with the realization that it may have significant negative consequences for us, and that our love for it will not change the path of events.

Amor fati can help you to cultivate a mindset of serenity and self-control. No matter how difficult or unexpected the situation, it prods you to work passionately and persistently on your targeted goals.

Final Words

People wrongly assume that negatively visualizing oneself can be an unhealthy mental habit that can cause problems as staying stuck, procrastination, indecision, and inaction.

However, negative visualization is usually more effective than positive imagery, since it can lead to more joy and happiness when the times turn better. This has a beneficial impact on other aspects of life, including work, relationships, and health.

So start using it if you want to improve your chances of success.

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Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy—a medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher. Founder and Chief Editor of The Happiness Blog. Writes on mental health, happiness, positive psychology, and philosophy (especially Stoicism)

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