Is doom and gloom all you ever see when you look at your future? Do you constantly prevent yourself from doing things because of fear? In this lesson, I (Phil Svitek) give you action steps to overcome your anxieties about the future utilizing a technique called negative visualization. I’ll walk you through each step and explain how it can benefit your life to think through all the worse case scenarios in order to overcome them. On the surface, it might feel counterproductive, but negative visualization is actually a practice that many top companies utilize in order to avoid costly mistakes. And you can too! Let your worrying mind become an asset, not a liability! If you have questions or comments, please leave a comment.
HuffPost Article on How 85% of What We Worry About Doesn’t Happen: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/85-of-what-we-worry-about_n_8028368
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Today’s lesson focuses on negative visualization – a process in which you actively visualize all the horrible things that can happen to you.
What? Why? That sounds terrible. What about the power of thought? Focusing on negativity feels like it’ll bring about depressing thoughts. How can that help?
One would think, but actually, negative visualization is a way to overcome fears and allow you to take the action steps you’ve been avoiding but meaning to take. Most of us are so paralyzed by fear that we never venture to do the things that we most enjoy, the things that will alter our life for the better or just create excitement. Negative visualization aims to eradicate these fears.
How do fears have such a control over our lives? Because we let them run amok.
The truth is if we don’t define the worse case scenarios for ourselves, our brains will automatically fill that void. They default to the most outrageous outcome possible. Remember in episode 4 called “Working at the Speed of Thought,” I showcased how our brains are excellent at coming up with ideas? If you don’t remember, or you haven’t seen it, check it out. Anyways, what happens is our brains create a nightmare version of what will happen if we move forth with something. Now, I use the word will sarcastically. It’s highly unlikely that the nightmare envisioned in our brain is even close to reality. Often times our brains will make us think that if we do this we’ll end up homeless, friendless, our families will disown us, we’ll never work again and we’ll go down in history books as the world’s biggest losers. Sound familiar?
As an exercise, go ahead and write down any negative thoughts your inner critic is saying. It can be presently or stuff you used to tell yourself in the past. Write it on a piece of paper and write everything you can that comes to mind. If you’re comfortable sharing, feel free to comment below. If not, it’s okay. This can remain private. Often times though, what we realize is that all the negative thoughts that we thought were our own and only applied to us are actually universal. These thoughts are part of the collective unconsciousness. They’re no more your own than an Orca whale belongs to you.
Maybe you already feel better just by writing these down. That’s because your brain, the good side of it, metaphorically speaking, not literally, is already going to work and seeing these negative thoughts for what they are. Bullshit or silly. Implausible. If you’re not having that experience, no worries. It’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with you.
Let’s do the next step of this exercise. Either on the same paper or new one, write down all the tasks, dreams, actions and so on that you’ve been putting off because of fear. Anything and everything you can think of. If you need to, go ahead and pause this until you finish.
Alright, look at and examine that list. Don’t just glance over it. Really study it. How would it make you feel if you accomplished even one of those? Pretty good I imagine.
Well, now it’s time to do the last step in this exercise. No, I’m not just sending you off to go and try and get these done. Some, maybe many of you have trepidations still. That goes to show how important the final step is. Negative visualization.
With this step, you’ll write down all the real worse case things that could happen to you if you venture forth with your dream list. We’ll call this third list the realistic worse case list. Once done with the list, draw a dash and then present a solution if that outcome were to happen.
For many people an example could be “I lose my job”. Write that down if it’s a realistic outcome that could happen and then next to it write “get another job.”
See, negative visualization is all about defining the things that could actually happen and to make you realize they aren’t actually so bad. No I’m not saying losing a job isn’t bad or that it’s simple to get another job. What I am saying though is that it’s not the doom and gloom show that was playing in your head moments earlier.
And like most successful people, by doing this exercise, it forces you to be proactive. If you know a certain outcome could happen then you can also plan contingencies in case it does happen.
As a side note, there’s a great article on HuffPost that states 85% of what we worry about never actually comes to pass. I’ve linked to the article in the show description. By the title alone though, you can see how we as humans just overworry. At least now through this negative visualization exercise we can focus on more realistic outcomes instead of made up fantasies.
In the corporate world, some forward thinking companies are applying negative visualization as part of their pre-launch strategies. They just happen to call it a premortem instead. It generally happens where a meeting is called and everyone is asked to think of all the terrible things that could happen upon launch of a product or service. The reason for this is because too many ambitious undertakings fail for preventable reasons. They don’t have backup plans if something goes wrong.
Life’s funny that way. One – things will go wrong. But luckily, nothing is as bad as it ever seems.
To get really philosophical and deep, negative visualization comes from stoicism, an ancient Greek school of philosophy founded at Athens by Zeno. The school taught that virtue, the highest good, is based on knowledge, and that the wise live in harmony with the divine Reason that governs nature, and are indifferent to the vicissitudes of fortune and to pleasure and pain. All in all, it’s a way of saying they were open to the endurance of pain or hardship without complaining about it. The way Seneca and other stoics used negative visualization was to eliminate the pain of loss by ridding themselves of attachment to materials. If they lost a house, they visualized how much worse off they could be beyond not having a house and were therefore thankful for what they did currently have while also realizing that even if that was taken away it wasn’t so bad. This of course is an oversimplification of it.
However, the more you utilize negative visualization in your life, in the proper ways, the more aspects of your life it can actually enhance. Let me be 100% clear. Negative visualization is different than thinking negative thoughts or criticizing yourself nonstop. Negative visualization is a means to an end. A tool for progress. Negative criticism leads to depression. After all, we think, therefore we are. So don’t fall into the trap of bashing yourself ad nauseum. Ask yourself if those thoughts are truly valid. They probably aren’t. Define what are true bad outcomes and create solutions. That is negative visualization. That is how it can help your life.
Before I wrap out, here’s a few quotes to help reinforce the lesson.
“Confronting the worse-case scenario saps it of much of its anxiety-inducing power. Happiness reached via positive thinking can be fleeting and brittle, negative visualization generates a vastly more dependable calm.” – Oliver Burkeman
“Retrospective negative visualization: imagine never having had something that you have lost. By engaging in retrospective negative visualization, you can replace your feelings of regret at having lost something with feelings of thanks for once having had it.” – William B. Irvine
“Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.” – Marcus Aurelius
“Creative visualization is a spiritual exercise using your thoughts and imagination to change your life in a positive way.” – Meryl Hershey Beck
“There is a difference between contemplating something bad happening and worrying about it. Contemplation is an intellectual exercise. Conduct such exercises without affecting your emotions.” – William B. Irvine
Before you click away to another lesson, here’s a couple quick things. First, the transcript of this episode is in the description – that way you can review the lesson at your convenience. Be sure to leave a comment about how negative visualization has helped your life. We’re always excited to read what you share. If you enjoyed this lesson, please be sure to hit that like button and tell your friends and family about us. You can support this show on patreon.com/philsvitek, should you be so inclined. Every contribution is truly appreciated. To be notified when future episodes release, be sure to subscribe on either Apple Podcast or YouTube. Also, we just added the show to Google Play so check us out there if it’s more convenient to you. Lastly, if you’re a new host or college student seeking an internship in the LA area and would like to join AfterBuzz, visit AfterBuzz TV’s contact page. A direct link is provided. Or of course you can Tweet @PhilSvitek or Instagram me @BonjourJuliet. Thanks for watching. I’m Juliet Vibert, a producer on the show and we’ll see you next week with another one of Phil’s lessons.