Not too long ago, we talked about Happy our Rooster. He wasn’t doing so well then and, I’m sorry to say, he didn’t make it. 🙏
We talked about Happy and his crowing in the context of remembering to practice alchemizing things that might (at least on occasion!) annoy us into reminders of just how precious the little things in life are.
As you may recall, I connected that wisdom to the master class I created for Emerson on Conquering Toilet Paper 101. 🚽 🤓
Today I want to continue the conversation and shine a brighter light on the ancient Stoic practice that the modern Stoic William B. Irvine describes as “negative visualization.”
Then I’ll tell you how I practiced that when we couldn’t find the kids for a few minutes yesterday.
He tells us that the Stoics “recommended that we spend time imagining that we have lost the things we value—that our wife has left us, our car was stolen, or we lost our job. Doing this, the Stoics thought, will make us value our wife, our car, and our job more than we otherwise would. This technique—let us refer to it as negative visualization—was employed by the Stoics at least as far back as Chrysippus. It is, I think, the single most valuable technique in the Stoics’ psychological tool kit.”
I pay attention when a guy I respect as much as I respect Professor Irvine tells me that something is THE SINGLE MOST VALUABLE TECHNIQUE practiced in my preferred philosophical tool kit.
Which is why I have practiced “negative visualization” since I learned of the technique years ago.
It’s why I practiced it yesterday.
Which leads us to the two Johnson kids.
As we’ve discussed, we live out in the country outside of Austin. We have a little bit of land and one of the first things we did when we moved in was carve out a little half-mile walking trail.
I absolutely love it and I target swipe hitting the Trail 2-3+ times a day.
Yesterday afternoon Alexandra came into my office and said she didn’t know where the kids were. They had been jumping around on the trampoline when she came inside for a few minutes and now she didn’t know where they were.
She had looked in the tiny house where her mom lives and they weren’t there. She called for them using our secret loud call and they didn’t respond.
She was more than a little nervous.
We split up to see if we could find them. I walked one way on our trail and she took a different path to see if we could find them.
As I walked in my direction, I took a deep breath and deliberately allowed myself to imagine the worst possible outcomes to feel the pain of losing our kids. What if they had somehow fallen into our little pond and BOTH of them somehow couldn’t get out? What if someone somehow came onto our property and abducted them or something terrible happened we couldn’t imagine?
That was my internal dialogue for about 15-30 seconds.
Then I took another deep breath as I told myself that, however unlikely, those WERE possibilities. And that any number of other tragic things could happen at ANY time to them.
Then I reminded myself that I would be wise to keep that wisdom in mind much more often as I shifted from catastrophizing to staying calm and grounded and GRATEFUL to have two beautiful, healthy, happy kids as I turned the corner on our trail.
Then who did I see?
Two beautiful kids walking toward me—one with his headphones on listening to an audiobook which explained why he didn’t respond to his mom’s call.
Safe and sound—oblivious to any potential issues. They knew they had to get some exercise in so they decided to go for a walk. And now they know to let us know when they go on a walk and not to walk with headphones on so they can hear a call.
That’s Today’s +1.
If you feel so inspired, consider adding a “negative visualization” practice to YOUR Heroic toolkit.
Not someday. But Today.
-1 to +1.
Day 1. Let’s go!