Here is a little secret that many people do not employ in their lives: Negative Visualization
I am not talking about dwelling on all the bad things in the world, or how things are not going well for you right now. I am offering to you a way of inoculating yourself against the common theme of delusion. The best way for you to reduce the power of your fears is to face them.
For most of my life I can remember how I was really afraid of the idea that someday my Dad would no longer be around. I know logically that this is how life works, that if things go according to natural order, he goes before I do. That is not tragic. A real tragedy would be that he has to bury his son. But even so, I was always really worried about not having him here. Like a guiding light in my life would be gone and I would be lost in the dark. It wasn’t until I started to use negative visualization that I learned to deal with this more effectively.
I don’t want to approach anything from a point of fear; I want to find a way to use that to my advantage. By using negative visualization, I confronted this fear of mine head on. As I played out the scenarios in my mind, I came to realize that as a man myself, I need to stand on my own two feet and not rely on the security blanket of my father. I am not sure when it is that others come to this realization, maybe far sooner in their life than I did. For me, this was a recent thing. I no longer fear my Dad not being around, I just know that I will miss him terribly when that time comes.
But here is the takeaway: I am aware of it. I know the end is coming, and because of this, I act accordingly. As I wrote in a previous blog post, there is only so much Quality Time Left, and I need to take advantage of that. So every fishing trip we take together, I treat it like it might be our last. The fact that I have faced this fear, and am cognizant of it, allowed me to take the fear and use it as a positive. The negative visualization of the day when he is no longer around has empowered me to not get lazy about seeing him, keeping plans and not breaking them, and enjoying the time together as much as possible. Through the practice of negative visualization I inoculate myself as best I can for when that time comes, and live differently because of it.
It is a Stoic Philosophy principal to use negative visualization to face the fears of life. If you are afraid of poverty, once a month you spend a night on the street. By choosing to face this fear, you experience it, and learn to see that it is not as bad as you think. Almost everything is worse in your mind versus reality. If you fear what others think of you, dress in a manner that invites ridicule, and inoculate yourself against the power the words of others have on you. These type of tactics are teaching you, in a very direct manner, to face your fears and reduce the anxiety you have in your life.
As an athlete or a business professional, I think the right direction to go with this is not the failure scenarios that may jump to mind. Don’t visualize the negative of not reaching your goal, but rather no longer being “in the game” altogether. When you look at what life would be like when you are no longer able to compete for one reason or another, you will have a much greater appreciation for what you are fortunate enough to be doing right here, right now. Another example would be the next time your spouse irritates you, don’t think how wonderful it would be if they never did that thing again, but rather visualize that they are no longer in your life. Imagine the impact that would have on you, feel the pain of that, the void that would create. NOW you will have the ability to laugh it off, acknowledge that you are not perfect either, and it is part of the package they bring to your life.
As a reminder, this tactic is meant to be an inoculation against fear. Don’t wait until you are looking back at something you no longer have to appreciate it. Employ some negative visualization from time to time, and understand that by doing this you will reduce your fears and your underlying anxieties, and gain a new perspective for something you are currently so close to that you have a one-sided view of. The clock is always ticking, and in some cases you will never get another chance to change your perspective and take more useful action in your life.
I wish you luck in your endeavors.