Negative Visualization

If you’ve come to know me in any capacity, you’d think I’m high on life. I like to think I come off as an optimistic and generally happy person. And it’s true: I love my life. So much so, that I kind of feel like the quantity in which I am content, comes off as annoying. Well, I’m writing this piece to share my “dark” side.

I indulge (definitely not the right word) in a practice called “negative visualization”. This practice stems from Stoic Philosophy. In its’ simplest form, Negative Visualization is the act of imagining you lose the thing(s) you value most.

Every so often, a terrible thought crosses my mind. The most vivid one I can share is my wife, Dia, passing away. This thought usually occurs when we’re driving and we have a close call. Or we’re watching a movie and the female protagonist’s life is at risk in a familiar scenario.

When it comes to the thought of a loved one dying, most people shy away or distract themselves. The immediate reaction is to change their train of thought to something less bleak.

Not me. I dive in. I lose myself in that thought. I begin to imagine not only the event, but the aftermath.

I have to call her mom to explain what happened. How I failed to protect her daughter, like I promise every time I see her. I have to face her dad, who is shaking me with what little strength he has left. I try to explain to our godchildren why they won’t be able to facetime with Dianita every night anymore.

Eventually, I leave my family behind because my parents still think it would be best if I “moved on”. I can’t face my friends. They can’t hide their sympathy for me any better than I can hide my pain.

At this point, I’m in tears. My world has been artificially shattered.  

When I finally allow myself to snap out of it, I realize how much I have to be grateful for.

In the moments after my reflection, material items lose all their importance. Accomplishments and accolades seem insignificant. I’ve identified the thing that truly matters: the people I love.

Negative Visualization 1
Negative Visualization 2

I’ll end with an excerpt from A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy

"To see how imagining the death of a child can make us appreciate her, consider two fathers. The first takes [this] advice to heart and periodically reflects on his child's mortality. The second refuses to entertain such gloomy thoughts. He instead assumes that his child will outlive him and that she will always be around for him to enjoy. The first father will almost certainly be more attentive and loving than the second. When he sees his daughter first thing in the morning, he will be glad that she is still a part of his life, and during the day he will take full advantage of opportunities to interact with her. The second father, in contrast, will be unlikely to experience a rush of delight on encountering his child in the morning. Indeed, he might not even look up from the newspaper to acknowledge her presence in the room."

Sunny Shakhawala

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My Thoughts on Happiness - Sunny Shakhawala - March 22, 2018 Reply

[…] I wrote about my negative visualization practice in detail here. The main premise is this: It can always be worse. Action: When you face a setback, consider the likelihood that things could be much worse. Example: a broken bone could have been a lost limb. A fender bender could have been a lost life. This practice isn’t mean to negate or diminish negative feelings towards everything. It’s an attempt to look at the glass half-full, instead of half-empty. […]

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