How many times have you heard self-help gurus telling you to: Think positively! You just have to envision everything going as planned and the law of attraction will give you the keys to the kingdom. This article will talk about the polar opposite to that, which is negative visualization, and the augmented version of it, which is anti-positive thinking.
The Dark Side of Positive Thinking
There’s nothing bad about positive thinking. It’s actually the default mindset we should all be having because it’s definitely better to see things from an optimistic perspective.
Our subconscious mind clings onto everything we think about and begins to re-create that same narrative inside our head. If you focus on the bad and what’s wrong, then you’ll prime your brain to be seeing the worse in every situation. Think positively and you’ll do the opposite. The idea is that when you compare the two, then positive thinking will always be more useful because it conditions you to be happier, whereas negativity won’t give you any significant advantage.
The problem is that the universe doesn’t give a damn about how many positive vibrations you think you’re emanating. There are still some inevitable parts of life that are going to happen. You can’t visualize away the fact that you will eventually going to fail, get hurt, lose some of your most valuable possessions, see the death of your loved ones etc. Change is a constant, an esoteric almost law-like law, that influences how the world functions.
If you were to think only positively, then you would expect only the good because that’s how you think the world works. Anything less than ideal will be a dreadful decrease of what you’re used to. Once sh*t hits the fan(SHTF), the ground you’ll be standing on will be swept beneath your feet and you’ll face plant to the floor. Solid pavement.
Define Negative Visualization
Now, if you were to keep the fact that everything won’t go according to plan in the back of your head, you’re conditioning yourself to be more grounded to reality. Trust me, it’s going to be a struggle in the future. Herein comes into play the mental technique of negative visualization.
Negative visualization definition, which I’ve conjured up: The use of worst case scenario, or at least negative, less than ideal, type visualizations and expectations, in which you’re envisioning yourself encountering adverse, unexpected and volatile conditions, situations and events, and seeing yourself reacting, behaving and overcoming them, to bulletproof yourself against “once sh*t hits the fan” circumstances.
I’m not trying to shy you away from positive thinking. Instead, I don’t want you to neglect the polar opposite as well, which is negative by nature but beneficial in the grand scheme of things.
Negative Visualization Stoicism
It’s based on the Ancient Greek school of philosophy stoicism, which is the most antifragile mental operating system.
In principal, you’re trying to understand the nature of the world better, accepting the fact that you’re going to be encountering resistance of all kind and making the best of this. It also teaches you to not base your happiness on external objects, people or phenomenon. Instead, you follow the pursuit of virtue and can thus always be happy by finding it in yourself at all times.
This is the truth. When you think about it more deeply, then our default state of mind is happiness. The crocodile brain wants to seek out food and reproduce, but the motivation underneath the drive of natural selection is the pursuit towards happiness. Laid an egg – my job here is done.
Stoicism and negative visualization are like hacks to happiness. If your expectations are lower, then anything better than absolute chaos is already an improvement. You’ll step up to a higher state of well-being, whereas if you were to already be at the top of the ladder all the time, you’ll experience a decrease and will thus suffer.
Negative Visualization Techniques
There are many stoic techniques that include this negative aspect. The purpose is to not expect bad things to happen but to immunize yourself against too much positivity. It’s anti-positive thinking that ought to prevent you from taking things for granted and thus becoming fragile, as opposed to antifragile.
Negative Visualization Examples:
- Memento Mori – One of the biggest fears people have in life is the fear of death. This is a stoic meditative exercise that’s supposed to remind the person that everything in the world – the body, career, reputation, even family – should not be the primary focus of our minds, nor the source of our happiness, because these things can be swept away by death at an instant.
Reminding ourselves that one day we’re going to die is almost enlightening and will definitely benefit our happiness. It prevents us from getting distracted by things that don’t serve us nor contribute to our existence. We attain a new perspective and desire to follow our calling and pursue becoming more conscious.
- Premortem – A technique designed by the psychologist Gary Klein. Before beginning a project or an endeavor, you envision what could go wrong (guaranteed to happen)? Stoics called it premeditatio malorum (pre-meditation of evils). This way you’ll always prepare for disruptions and works those obstacles into your game-plan.
Instead of constantly trying to expect positivity, occasionally envision experiencing negativity. Come to terms with the fact that it’s going to happen, some day. Adversity may be hiding around the next corner or it might happen in 20 years.
Remember that wherever you’re at in your life currently is incredibly fortunate. Don’t take anything for granted and keep yourself grounded to reality. This will make you more mindful and helps to realize how lucky you really are.
- Expecting Sh*t to Happen – Whenever you’re preparing for an upcoming event or situation, envision what the worst case scenario would be. Instead of wanting it to happen, simply see everything going the opposite to your way. Like, you fail completely and face plant on the pavement, figuratively speaking.
- Family troubles – a loved one gets sick or needs a lot of support.
- You lose your job – no financial independence any more.
- Relationship problems – your spouse becomes hard to deal with.
- Organizing an event – some people or other companies jump out on you.
- Taking an exam – the questions are the complete opposite to what you prepared for.
- Creating a business – first product launch fails.
- Crossing the street – get hit by a speeding bus.
The effect of it doesn’t lie in seeing things turning out bad. Instead, it’s about them going worse than you expected thus having a distorted space between your hopes and what could be. To get any benefits from this, you would also have to envision yourself behaving in these adverse situations.
How to Prevent the Negative Effects of Visualization
Use these guidelines to enhance your negative visualization:
- How are you going to react in response to a specific negative event? If you were to in some distant future scenario to host a public event and the catering jumps out on you in the last minute (any moment now), what are you going to do? Will you quit, or will you already have a back-up plan.
- What are you going to do when you’ve lost the doc.file of your essay and the deadline is within an hour?
- How are you going to deal with your spouse or family members? Are you going to work it out or run away from the problems?
- What are you going to do once you lose your job? Declare individual bankruptcy, become homeless or take massive action towards starting your own business.
- What are you going to do to prevent your first product launch from failing? If it does fail, how are you going to address the issue? Will you do everything in your power to fix it or will you flop again?
- Still want things to go well. Don’t become pessimistic. Optimism is still a much more appealing and effective mode of thinking. Simply use anti-positivity to keep your expectations in congruence with reality. Expect to succeed in everything you do, but don’t blindfold yourself to the resistance you’ll inevitably encounter.
- Don’t feed your subconscious mind the wrong signals. The danger to this lies in how your thoughts can begin to influence your overall mindset. Don’t think negatively because that’s what your subconscious mind will begin to see as the real thing. The dark side can begin to poison you if you fail to notice its effect on you. Still see yourself as an awesome human being (all the while phrasing: I’m amazing) who goes out to accomplish extraordinary success (but isn’t attached to the results). The notion of anti-positivity is about accepting adversity as the omnipresent antagonistic force that can fall down upon you any moment.
Anti-positive thinking isn’t about becoming pessimistic. In fact, it’s more optimistic than anything else, because you’ll be wanting to get the best results, but at the same time, are grounded to reality.
This is an extremely effective mental operating system to have, as you’re prepared for anything that might happen. You’re default state is happiness and achieve positive results, which will make you work towards your goals more enthusiastically. On the other end of the spectrum, you practice negative visualizations to keep the worst case scenario imprinted in the back of your head. This will prevent you from taking things for granted and teaches your brain to start thinking about how you’re going to behave once SHTF. When it does, you’re already prepared for it and will thus not be negatively affected by it.
Positive thinking is great, but it can create a distorted image between your expectations and reality. Anti-positivity takes that into account and keeps you from becoming an over-optimistic ball of joy that lives inside a false bubble of beliefs that’s about to burst. Someone who is anti-positive is like a wise sage who understands how the world works, acknowledges the truth and adapts to it.
The choice is yours – you can either be pessimistic, seeing the worse in everything, a positive thinker, only expecting the good, or incorporate the best aspects of both ends of the spectrum and use anti-positive thinking.