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Negative Visualization for Personal Growth?
What the heck?! What am I talking about?! I’m talking about negative visualization!
Well, I have long been a fan of Michael Masterson, author of books like Seven Years to Seven Figures: The Fast-Track Plan to Becoming a Millionaire (Agora Series) and Automatic Wealth: The Six Steps to Financial Independence. He also produces a great newsletter called Early to Rise.
I first came across the concept of negative visualization in his Early to Rise Newsletter. I am quoting the introduction and the actual article from a past post I made at my other site, Personal Growth Development.
I hope you enjoy!
Norman Vincent Peale, years ago, wrote a classic called The Power of Positive Thinking. However, what many of us do not know is that he received a stack of rejection slips from publishers. He told his wife to throw out his manuscript.
However, she took the manuscript out the next day, took it to a publisher,who accepted it! The book became a national best seller, selling more than 20 million copies in 47 languages.
Some of his material may seem outdated today, but the truth of his writings are mirrored in what is today called the Law of Attraction. The problem is that most of us trap ourselves in a vicious cycle, working for more and more and more, discontent with what we have achieved, since human wants, unchecked, are unsatiable.
The Stoic philosophers of old had a technique that can help you regain some of the contentment you may have sensed lacking, as you strive for more and more in your life. This technique can also be helpful when you are disappointed over a failed goal, or when you are dealing with the ebbs and flows of a depression. In fact, psychologist Dr. Marcia Linehan, who has worked with a many challenging conditions, has employed this technique as a coping tool to help her clients deal with painful situations and emotions.
I am borrowing the rest of this article from the publication, Early to Rise:
“The technique is to spend some time each day imagining that you have lost the things you value most. Vividly imagine, for example, that your job has just been terminated, that your house – with all your possessions – has burned to the ground, that your partner has left you, or that you have lost your sight, your hearing, or the use of your limbs.
This sounds horribly bleak, I know. But the Stoics were onto something here. They understood that everything we enjoy in life is simply “on loan” to us from Fortune. Any of it – all of it – can be recalled without a moment’s notice.
Epictetus reminds us, for example, that our children have been given to us “for the present, not inseparably nor forever.” His advice: In the very act of kissing your child, silently reflect on the possibility that she could die tomorrow.
The Roman philosopher Seneca advises us to live each day as if it were our last, indeed as if this very moment were our last. He’s not suggesting that you drop your responsibilities and squander the day in frivolous or hedonistic activities. He’s encouraging you to change your state of mind.
Maybe you are already living the dream you once had for yourself.
Along the way, however, you became jaded, bored, numb to the blessings that surround you. The goal of the Stoics would be to wake you up, to make you appreciate what you have today.
Some will argue that negative visualization is fine for those who are happy, healthy, and prosperous – but how about the troubled, the less fortunate?
Negative visualization works for them, too. If you have lost your job, imagine losing your possessions. If you have lost your possessions, imagine losing the people you love. If you have lost the people you love, imagine losing your health. If you have lost your health, imagine losing your life.
There is hardly a person alive who could not be worse off. That makes it hard to imagine someone who wouldn’t benefit from this technique.
Adaptation diminishes our enjoyment of the world. Negative visualization brings it back.
It also prepares us for life’s inevitable setbacks. Survivors of tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters, for example, may suffer terribly. Yet afterward, they often tell us that they were just sleepwalking through life before. Now, they are joyously, thankfully alive.
No one should need a catastrophe to feel this way. You can attain the same realization through negative visualization. Moreover, it can be practiced regularly, so its beneficial effects, unlike a catastrophe, can last indefinitely.
Try it and you’ll see. I’ve found it’s perfect for when you’re standing in line or stuck in traffic, time that would be wasted otherwise.
By contemplating the impermanence of everything in your world, you can invest all your activities with more intensity, higher significance, greater awareness.
In sum, Norman Vincent Peale got it half-right. Positive visualization helps you get what you want. Negative visualization helps you want what you get.
[Ed. Note: Alex Green is Investment Director and Chairman of The Oxford Club, and is the bestselling author of The Secret of Shelter Island: Money and What Matters. His new book – described by Michael Masterson as “shockingly good” – explores money, meaning, and the pursuit of the good life.