Back in early 90s when I was in university, you couldn’t go anywhere without seeing ‘Creative Visualisation’ by Shakti Gawain. It was everywhere—sitting about in cafes, in bookshops, in student flats, in the libraries…It was one of the first in a long line of ‘new age’ books, promoting different types of supernatural self-help and wishful thinking. While I read and experimented with some of these books I never found them to be of practical use.
Now many years later, in William Irvine’s ‘A Guide to the Good Life’, I’ve encountered an altogether together type of visualisation — one that produces immediate and measurable effects. It’s called ‘negative visualisation’ and it’s a technique that was developed by the Roman Stoics.
The Stoics identified the idea of ‘Hedonic adaptation’ (the treadmill of desire where we constantly strive for the next new thing) and recommended ‘negative visualisation to deal with it.
Negative visualisation trains us to focus not on what we don’t have but what we do. The practise circumvents ‘hedonic adaptation’ by forcing us to focus on loosing the things we have and love. In doing this we remember to appreciate these things while we still have them, at the same time as developing an awareness of the transitory quality all things share.
Next time you find yourself taking people for granted for example, imagine them gone forever. For every single person in our lives, there will be a ‘last time’ we see them — just noticing this fact on occasion can be quite transformative. This works for anything really — that small apartment you have with that ridiculously tiny kitchen getting you down? Imagine, just for the moment, being destitute on the street. Miraculously, both the kitchen and apartment start to look pretty good!