Stoic Wisdom to Help You Handle the Possibility of Disaster

Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash

“The man who has anticipated the coming of troubles takes away their power when they arrive.” — Seneca

The oldest tennis tournament in the world, Wimbledon, has been held at the All England Club in Wimbledon, London, since 1877. Just above the players’ entrance to the Centre Court, the tournament’s main arena, inscribed are two lines from Rudyard Kipling’s “If:”

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same

There are a lot of things that don’t work in our current society. Our obsession with instant gratification, our desire to fix ourselves by all sorts of means…

But there’s one aspect that is often promoted as a magical solution to all our problems, when in fact is a double-edged sword.

Visualization.

Believe you can, think about it, over and over again, and you’re halfway there. 

Visualizing triumph is easy.

But what about disaster?

What about visualizing the worst-case scenario? When everything that can go wrong does go wrong?

If You Plan for Disaster, There’s a Higher Probability of Triumph

“If an evil has been pondered beforehand, the blow is gentle when it comes. To the fool, however, and to him who trusts in fortune, each event as it arrives “comes in a new and sudden form,” and a large part of evil, to the inexperienced, consists in its novelty. This is proved by the fact that men endure with greater courage, when they have once become accustomed to them, the things which they had at first regarded as hardships.” — Seneca

What’s the worst that could happen?

We often ask this question when the worst possible outcome is not going to get us killed, broke, or worse.

But what if we were to ask ourselves this question before we set out to accomplish even the dreams we desperately want to make true?

I’m not talking about spiraling down a rabbit hole of disastrous possibilities until you don’t even want to step outside your house, I am talking about making a list of possible negative consequences that we can mitigate at least to some extent.

Self-fulfilling prophecies are real, so be careful not to create such a catastrophic vision of the future that you are forced to act as if the worst-case scenario has already happened.

Rather, make a valid plan of action. 

This reduces the emotional toll of a possible negative outcome.

What’s your plan B if plan A fails?

If you mentally prepare for a negative outcome, if you develop a contingency plan for it, then you mitigate the mental discomfort provoked by uncertainty.

One way to detach yourself emotionally from fear is to venture deep into the center of your fear, to analyze it, to understand its ramifications, its consequences. 

I used to do this with dogs. Yes. Dogs. I was so afraid of dogs that whenever I’d encounter one in their natural habitat (all around me, with their owners), I’d either freeze or do something stupid, like cross the street with no regard to the fact that there were a lot of cars passing by.

Not the smartest thing to do.

So I began to visualize the worst possible outcome. I’d get bitten. I wouldn’t be dead. Probably.

Having played this scenario in my head comforted me a great deal as I faced my irrational fear of dogs.

Recently, I have been using this strategy to imagine financial ruin, the loss of a loved one, or just about any other negative outcome that might destroy one emotionally. 

Whenever there’s the possibility of something bad happening, I reframe my predicament and develop a contingency plan.

Go for a Test Drive With Your Disaster

The stoics would not only visualize and plan for a worst-case scenario, but they’d also test it.

Cato, a Roman Senator, would walk around the ancient city of Rome barefoot, experiencing the possibility of someday experiencing poverty. 

Sometimes facing our worst fears within the confines of our minds is not enough, and thus we must go for a test drive with the possibility of disaster. 

A free trial, if you wish to call it that, of what disaster could look like.

What’s the worst that could happen? Spend 24 hours imagining that scenario, and then go out in the world and pretend it has already happened.

This might not be possible every single time, but when it’s possible, it’s worth doing. 

So What?

My favorite question to ask when faced with the real possibility of disaster is to ask, “So what?”

The pessimist is always asking, “what if this happens?” without thinking of any contingency plans. 

If you catastrophize with no other goal than to destroy yourself emotionally, you will become the prophet of your demise. 

If, on the other hand, you ask yourself, “so what?” you begin to free yourself from this fear of the worst possible outcome.

What’s the worst that could happen? Are you going to die? Are you going to be able to recover?

We often suffer when we visualize a negative outcome because we stop this imaginative act as soon as the negative outcome happens.

But there’s certainly life after failure.

What happens after you fail? What happens after everything that could go wrong goes wrong?

If it’s not the end of the journey, you can develop a contingency plan.


Originally published on medium.com

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