The power of expecting the worst

One of my mother’s favorite sayings was, “Expect the worst and you’ll never be disappointed.”  Over the years I’ve come to realize how powerful this saying is.  If you are mentally prepared for the worst, it won’t crush you when and if it comes.  And if the worst doesn’t come, you feel happy and grateful that it didn’t.

The Stoics said the same thing more than 2,000 years ago.

Any misfortune ‘that lies outside the sphere of choice’ should be considered an opportunity to strengthen our resolve, not an excuse to weaken it.

seneca.stoic8a8ddc1cc5c35a3327bf8b87fda787e6This is one of the truly great mind-hacks ever devised, this willingness to convert adversity to opportunity, and it’s part of what Seneca was extolling when he wrote what he would say to one whose spirit has never been tempered or tested by hardship: ‘You are unfortunate in my judgment, for you have never been unfortunate.  You have passed through life with no antagonist to face you; no one will know what you were capable of, not even you yourself.’

We do ourselves an immense favor when we consider adversity an opportunity to make this discovery – and, in the discovery, to enhance what we find there. 

Another shrewdly resourceful Stoic mind-hack is what William B Irvine – in his book A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy­ (2009) – has given the name ‘negative visualization’.

By keeping the very worst that can happen in our heads constantly, the Stoics tell us, we immunize ourselves from the dangers of too much so-called ‘positive thinking’, a product of the mind that believes a realistic accounting of the world can lead only to despair.

Only by envisioning the bad can we truly appreciate the good; gratitude does not arrive when we take things for granted.  It’s precisely this gratitude that leaves us content to cede control of what the world has already removed from our control anyway.

Source: Lary Wallace – Aeon

Stoicism won’t tell you what your duty is or what your goal in life should be.  The danger of Stoicism is that that it can tempt you into passivity or indifference as a way of avoiding unhappiness.

But if you have goals or duties, the ability to make yourself indifferent to what happens to you or what people do to you is a very great power to help you accomplish them.

While extreme Stoicism requires heroism, anyone can train themselves to be unhappy because of things that, in the long run, don’t really matter.


Why Stoicism is one of the best mind hacks ever by Lary Wallace for Aeon.

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