Stoicism and Sobriety

Having breakthroughs through Negative Visualization

have been conflicted lately. In being committed to my recovery, I have sought to learn more about a higher power that is greater than myself. I do think that it is something I need to do. However, I also loathe pretty much all forms of organized religion. When I hear the term “God”, I wince. Somebody whose opinion I respect steered me towards Stoic philosophy as it has practical advice and applications, and has nothing to do with religion.

And boy am I glad I started reading about it.

Of all the greats, my favorite Stoic has become Lucius Annaeus Seneca (4 BC — 65 AD).

Seneca was a stoic philosopher, and his ideas are not so much about intellectual theories, but instead, they are about practical application. I am sure this is why his writings have stood the test of time. Stoicism is extremely practical because it is generally only concerned with suppressing painful emotions.

Negative Visualization

The Stoics were big on something called “negative visualization”. These days we tend to hear a lot about positive thinking and visualizing our dreams over and over as we work towards our goals. Negative visualization is the opposite. Basically, it’s thinking about how much things could be worse.

Seneca believed that if you take the time to visualize yourself experiencing much greater misfortune you will bring gratitude to your life. The repetition will help you realize how thankful you are for what you have. As an addict, this is useful advice because I, and everybody, need to practice gratitude.

Negative visualization is based on something called “hedonic adaptation.” What hedonic adaptation? Well, we tend to place conditions on our happiness. We have all done it, thinking that we will be happy just as soon as we get that raise or lose that weight, and you know what? We will be satisfied.

For a while.

But then what?

We quickly adapt, and that initial glow of happiness eventually wears off because we go through this hedonic adaptation. The euphoria wears off because we can’t help but take our new situation for granted.

Stoicism argues that the best way to reset your hedonic adaptation is to use negative visualization. For me, it’s not too hard to think about all the bad times in my life. Believe me, I still think about the past constantly. It’s the hardest thing I face each and every day.

To me, negative visualization is a bit of a form of meditation. It helps me focus on gratitude daily, something that doesn’t come naturally to me. It’s also great because it doesn’t cost me anything or take too much time. Like I stated, it is incredibly practical.

We live in a world that teaches us about the “power of positive thinking” and how useful it is, and for many, it works. Yes, I don’t think positivity is a bad thing; however, I also don’t think the world is black and white. Stuck in a rut of hedonic adaptation? Try thinking about how much worse it could be.

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