People today live like kings but are unhappy. I once witnessed two guys complaining about their lives. They seemed to live in another reality. According to them everything was bad. Their jobs, their children, society, food, politics and so on. I should mention, I witnessed this conversation in Germany in a train heading towards a commercial area. They wore suits and I would guess were about 20 something years old. It doesn’t sound like a terrible live for me. People are unhappy because they don’t appreciate what they have. It doesn’t matter if they have much or nothing. The Stoics knew that thousands of years ago. They used negative visualization to appreciate even the modest things.
“Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.” – Epictetus
Think about the last time you fulfilled one of your dreams. Maybe you treated yourself with a new car or you reached a goal or you found the right person to be with. It felt great at moment and for a little while afterwards. You were happy. But after some time it becomes ordinary. You reached the same level of happiness as before you fulfilled your dream. This process is known as Hedonic Treadmill. It affects every aspect of life including relationships. It is possible to stop and reverse it. One way to do it is negative visualization.
The best way to describe negative visualization is by examples. Let’s take Bob for the examples. Bob is 30 years old. He is together with Jenny and works as a software developer.
1# example: Relationship with Jenny
Bob and Jenny had a fight the night before. The next morning Bob is leaving the house. Bob uses negative visualization for his relationship with Jenny. He imagined how dull his life would be without Jenny. He imagined losing her and how painful it would be. With this exercise he revived his appreciation for Jenny. As he leaves the house he gives Jenny a kiss. He could have gone to work without saying a word. But he appreciates Jenny even while they fight. He uses the power of negative visualization to keep his relationship worth having.
2# example: Technology
Bob changed into a new project. In his past project he used the best development environment on the market. In his new project, he must use an inferior one. As he tries to get things done he gets frustrated. He has to do things by hand that the best environment could do for him. Bob uses negative visualization again. He imagines how it would be without a development environment. How it would be working with a text editor and without any help. This exercise showed him the value of the new development environment. It relieves his frustration. If it isn’t enough, he can try to work without a development environment. Living it is better than imagining it. But, that’s another topic.
3# example: Health
Bob goes to the gym every third day. This time he doesn’t feel that well but he also feels the urge to train. Bob uses negative visualization again. He imagines how it would be to be sick. How he would have to stay in bed and couldn’t train for at least 2 or 3 weeks. He realizes that health is most important. Health is wealth! Instead of training he takes time to recover.
“The things you own end up owning you. ” – Tyler Durden
What is Negative visualization?
A mind trick, an exercise, a psychological effect: All those worlds describe negative visualization. It is a simple psychological technique used to fight the effects of the Hedonic Treadmill. The Stoics used it two thousand years ago and it is still useful today.
It could be worse
Negative visualization is a simple technique. Close your eyes. Imagine losing what you value. Imagine how it would feel, how it would affect your life. Imagine your girlfriend leaving you. Imagine your car gets stolen. Imagine your hard drive breaking. You can use it in every situation.
I use it when I start to feel frustrated about something or somebody. I also use it every night before I go to bed. You can do it whenever you want. But, it is important to make it a habit. When it becomes a habit and you use it all the time, your outlook on the world will change. You will appreciate the simplest things in life. You will develop resilience.
Negative visualization is so simple yet so powerful. Don’t underestimate it! Try it out!