Life sucks sometimes.
You get fired. Your parents pass away unexpectedly. Your dog dies. You get dumped by your partner.
Everyone experiences these sucky things in their life. There’s just no way around them because they are beyond our control.
However, we do have some control over how much damage we take from these events.
As Ryan Holiday puts it:
“Devastation — that feeling that we’re absolutely crushed and shocked by an event — is a factor of how unlikely we considered that event in the first place.”
Your car got stolen. Your wife died. Your cat ran away.
Then you become devastated because you’ve never prepared yourself to deal with such losses.
We take those things for granted. We think we own them and finally realise we don’t after they’re gone. It’s difficult to deal with such losses because, as Seneca says, we’re not aware of the possibility to lose those things in the first place.
Why do we never think about bad things happening to us and keep getting caught by surprise?
That’s because of our ignorance.
We often see many people getting fired in the news, but we think it will never happen to us. We see countless murders and accidents in the newspaper, but we’re convinced we live 100 years.
The reason why we don’t think of misfortune happening to us is that we ignore it. Consequently, we get absolutely devastated when it actually happened to us.
So, how can we prepare ourselves for such losses?
Negative visualisation is arguably the most powerful Stoic exercise that allows you to remain calm instead of panicking and devastated.
It’s simple yet very effective: it’s an imagination exercise where you visualise possible bad scenarios in your mind. By considering challenging situations, you prepare yourself for adversity so that you won’t feel crushed if it happens.
Take 5 minutes every day and imagine that you have lost the things you value (e.g. your wife/husband, pets, laptops, cars, phones, jobs)
Another form of negative visualisation is proposed by Epictetus and Seneca.
They recommend we should think of everything as borrowed from nature.
You don’t own anything, and everything you think you have now has been only loaned to you temporarily. That means you’ll have to return them when the lender wants them back.
Those things include your friends, partners, pets, children, cars, money, status, and health. They are merely borrowed from nature. You should be expecting the lenders might want them back anytime. This mindset doesn’t only make you value your friends, partners and other things more than you otherwise would, but also help you cope with misfortune when it actually hits you.