Don’t Fear The Worst

Feb 17 2014 @ 7:27pm

But, if you borrow a page from the Stoics’ playbook, you may want to anticipate it:

The Stoics, who inspired the pioneers of modern cognitive-behaviour therapies, recommended a practice called premeditatio malorum. This involved envisaging all the evils one could foresee – such as being sent into exile, tortured or shipwrecked. The idea behind this seemingly morbid exercise was that it would help them to react to bad news with equanimity. If such things actually happened, they’d be well prepared. The Stoic advice was to anticipate, not fear, the worst.

The second component of the practice – cultivating equanimity – is as important as the first. If we just focus our attention on all the things that are bound to go wrong and how awful it would be if they did, the exercise would be likely to cause depression rather than serenity.

Most of us are not Stoics but we could still benefit from reflecting on how we think of potential negative events. The first point is to remember that these things may, rather than definitely will, happen. The second is to ask what the most constructive reaction would be if they actually happened. Imagine you lost your job: what resources could you draw on to deal with the situation?