Negative visualization and how to stop wasting your life

“An untroubled life [is] ‘a dead sea.’ To have nothing to stir you and rouse you to action, no attack by which to try the strength of your spirit, merely to lie in unshaken idleness—this is not to be tranquil; this is to be stranded in a windless calm.”

— Seneca, Epistles

If you’re “stranded in a windless calm,” glued like a zombie to your screen, negative visualization can help.

Read on for my custom guide to stop wasting your life.

Negative Visualization Pinterest Pin

What is negative visualization?

The Stoics’ praemeditatio malorum is an example of negative visualization. It’s where you imagine all the things that could go wrong, the things you could lose, or how people could treat you, The point is you blunt their impact when or if they happen because you’ve prepared how to act.

What most people don’t realize is it’s not meant to stress you out. It’s meant to help you cultivate gratitude.

This is similar to my technique.

I propose using negative visualization when you stop being motivated to kick a bad habit. When you get complacent or you think “just a little won’t hurt.” Especially when you know you’ll regret doing it later but don’t care in the moment.

(That’s how cravings go. So negative visualization is another urge surfing technique.)

Kick apathy to the curb

relaxed squirrel lying on deck rail

I struggle with apathy. One day I’m fired up, another I don’t care about anything that matters to me. And I don’t care that I don’t care. So I do things that make me depressed, like binge-watch or binge-game. When I’m apathetic, I have no self-control, and it wrecks my goals.

On days like that, positive motivation doesn’t work for me. And I guess I’m too weak for self-discipline.

I tried automatic habits like working out. Despite massive evidence of exercise against depression, it makes me more depressed. If I do it when I’m apathetic, I’ll stop during it and lie on the floor for half an hour.

This is a problem.

But I found one thing that works for me: negative visualization.

Negative visualization versus positive visualization

Bad motivates stronger than good.

Hence why fear- or outrage-inducing headlines grab, why positive thinking motivational speakers are less popular than angrily shouting ones on YouTube, and why Reddit posts like this get so many awards:

Reddit post with many awards: "Don't throw your life away. Don't throw your life away. Don't throw your life away. Don't throw your life away. Don't throw your life away."

Negative visualization is best for short-term goading, though: it can cause anxiety and tunnel vision if you extend it out.

Use it when you’re depressed, lazy, unmotivated, or you don’t care and you don’t care that you don’t care.

“People who are unable to motivate themselves must be content with mediocrity, no matter how impressive their other talents.”

– Andrew Carnegie

Negative visualization examples

  • Visualize a 🙁 face

Whether you slap it on an inanimate object or imagine someone you care about being sad, frowning, or crying, a 🙁 pushes you into action.

  • Never having your dream come true

Got an ultimate dream that means everything to you? Imagine it never happening because you’re just lying there swiping through social media again. Tick tock. (imagine a countdown timer if it helps, just sparingly because it’s stressful)

  • Someone takes it away

Got a cushy life in some way? (money, job, your location) It won’t last forever. Imagine some way in which it could end and your life becomes less secure. (If it helps, imagine some nefarious actor.)

  • Sensationalize it

Use negative visualization the same way you’d use positive: by incorporating all your senses.

If your goal is a Cancun vacation but you slack off on whatever instead of getting better for a promotion, use the negative things.

❌ Not the sight of the ocean, smell of salty air, sound of waves, feeling of the sand.
✅ But the sight of those same walls, smell of stale air, sound of traffic, feeling of disappointment in your heart. Or the lonely nothingness of the lack of those things you want.

Olympic athletes use it to visualize success. You can use it to see failure.

Olympic runners

Then, break it down

If the amount of work you have to do intimidates you and you’d rather scroll, watch, or game instead of deal with it, do this.

I go over this in detail and the science of hope in my ebook Quests: Habit Change for Addicted Warriors. But I’ll give you a snippet here.

Break down your goals, no matter how big they are, into steps so small you can take one now. You don’t have to commit to any more than one minute of walking closer to your goal. But if you feel like it after a minute, keep going.

See, hope is measurable. As is your belief in yourself (self-efficacy) and how things’ll turn out (a side benefit of frequent success). The more successes you have, the more you celebrate tiny wins, the more hope you have. And hopelessness causes inaction.

(That’s the gist, but I also suggest my supplementary Hope Worksheet, based on Dr. C.R. Snyder’s research.)

silhouette of woman raising hands to sky, hoding up word "hope"

This also works great against your Monsters (inner rough edges). That’s why I expand on it in my second ebook Monstercrafting. The bigger and more intimdiating your Monster, the more likely you are to be demotivated or give up. So don’t use negative visualization to make action seem harder.

See also:
Stop calling it addiction.

12 reasons to focus on your recovery

(Original, expanded list by counsellor Carrie Dejong.)

  1. The broken promises you’ve made: to yourself or those you love.
  2. The excuses you’ve given.
  3. How much money you’ve wasted.
  4. The lies you tell yourself. (that you can quit whenever you want, that you’ll start tomorrow, etc.)
  5. The secrets you keep. (compartmentalizing– having a clean conscience feels great!)
  6. Because needing a crutch hurts.
  7. The negative impacts. (emotional instability, brain fog, brain buzz, lack of self-control, time, relationship strain, social anxiety, hope, health, sleep, sense of identity)
  8. Guilt, self-loathing, and having to start from day one again.
  9. The thoughts you have when you’re craving that go against everything you stand for.
  10. To not see something you wish you didn’t. (I’ve seen RAPE OF A REAL DECAPITATED WOMAN on a porn site.)
  11. To stop being weak.
  12. To stop wasting your life. Tick-tock, mortal.
Painting of a skull, tulip in a watered vase, and hourglass

(Vanitas Still-Life with a Tulip, Skull, and Hour-Glass by Phillippe de Champaigne, 1671)

WHEN DONE: contact thinkvis with that email template saying you mentioned them whoo

Negative visualization and how to stop wasting your life

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