Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles In his Meditations, Marcus Aurelius talks about mornings twice. Once at the beginning of book 2 and once at the beginning of book 5. Here are the quotes. Pause the video if you really wanna read them. But essentially, Marcus tells himself to do one thing each morning and that is: negative visualization. Negative visualization is when you set a goal, imagine all of the obstacles that can get in your way, and then come up with a plan to deal with those obstacles. For example, let's say you start the day with the goal of finishing a big homework assignment. At the beginning of the day, you imagine all of the obstacles that can come in your way: you might get distracted by your phone, you might feel tired, you may have other assignments to work on, so on and so forth. And then you come up with a plan to overcome all of the obstacles: you might put your phone on do not disturb and put it away so that you're not distracted. You might take a nap or have a cup of coffee so you won't be tired. And you create a schedule for when you'll complete all your other homework, so that way you can free your mind to focus on the current one. But let's even take it a step further by looking at a new example. So your goal is to ace your calculus class, but you doubt you'll be able to finish your upcoming assignment. You simply have too many other classes and more important assignments to do. So the first obstacle is finishing the assignment. But if you can't finish the assignment, you're probably going to feel guilty, and this will be your second obstacle. And the third obstacle will be your lingering fear that your grades are slipping in the class. Now let's come up with a plan for dealing with these obstacles. For the first obstacle, we decide that we'll finish the assignment if we have extra time after completing our other ones. We give it a place in our todo list. We might not get to it, but we'll try. For the second obstacle, we just need to remind ourselves of the reality of things. We have too many classes and assignments to do, and so we have to prioritize them in order of importance. This calculus assignment is not as important as the other ones we're doing, so it's okay to let it fall to the wayside. On top of that, we make a commitment to take a review and study the solutions the teacher will upload later in the week, that way we're not missing the information for the test. Then to deal with the third obstacle, we make a commitment to get ahead on the next assignment. That way we know we'll pick up the slack in the future and prevent our grades from slipping too much. But let's take it another step forward with another example. Your goal is to make a living for yourself, and right now you're flunking your college courses. So you're first major obstacle is getting good grades. Your plan is to get a tutor and spend more time in the library studying, instead of studying at home. The second major obstacle is the fact that you might actually flunk out of school. If that happens, your plan is to go to trade school instead, to have a back up career. In the event that trade school doesn't work out, you come up with a list of the highest paying careers that don't require any education past high school and keep that aside as a back up plan. There are at least three major benefits to doing negative visualization. The first major benefit is that it helps you see how bad things can get. If you imagine the worst possible scenario, that might motivate you to keep working to avoid it. And the second reason to use negative visualization is that it allows you to be proactive by anticipating obstacles, and getting ready to act in a productive and useful way. If things go wrong, you're ready to deal with them instead of being taken by surprise. If things go right, then you're still good to go. But I think the biggest benefit by far is this: it allows you to leverage human psychology to your benefit. So imagine a vertical line with a dot in the centre. Let's mark off the centre axis with a dashed line: this represents your normal state, not happy or sad, just neutral. Let's say you make $70 000 a year, that's your normal financial state. And suddenly, you get a raise to $80 000 a year. So now your current state, represented by the dot, moves above your normal state. This will make you really happy for a bit, but soon you'll adjust and get used to it. $80 000 will become your new normal, and will be the point at which you feel neutral. Now let's say you get a new job that pays $70 000 again, now you move below your new normal of $80 000 and feel sad, but your feelings will adjust again and $70 000 will once again become your new normal. The same thing will happen if you get a new car. You'll feel happy for a bit, but your feelings will once again adjust and it won't make you as happy anymore. This process is referred to as hedonic adaptation, and we often talking about it in negative terms. We talk about how the same amount of money, things, likes, views, etc don't make us happy anymore, and that we always need more and more. But there's actually a positive aspect to hedonic adaptation, and that's what negative visualization allows you to do. With this animation, I showed that the feeling of happiness is actually the gap between your expectations, the dashed line, and your current reality, the dot. The goal with negative visualization is to keep your expectations as low as possible, to keep the dashed line as low as possible, that way the gap between your reality and your expectations is as big as you can possibly make it, in a positive way. This is what minimalists do. If you can learn to live and make peace with only a few number of items in your life, all of the extra stuff you get is just a benefit. If you can learn to live and make peace with a limited salary, all of the extra raises you get are just bonus upside. If you can learn to live with and make peace with the worst possible scenarios in your life, everything beyond that is upside and benefit. In other words, learn to keep your expectations low, but try to let your reality exceed that. So the negative visualization cycle looks like this: set a goal, anticipate the obstacles, and come up with a plan for how you'll deal with them. So what was Marcus' goal? In essence, it was to live with justice and piety, but to understand this, you have to understand his worldview. He believed that we were all parts of a whole, in the same way a finger is a part of the body or a tree is a part of a forest. What's good for the part is good for the whole and vice verse, or what's good for the finger is good for the hand and what's good for the tree is good for the forest. He sees everything as interdependent and that what's truly good is good for all the parts and wholes equally. He believes that every individual has a duty to fulfill, and the best thing anyone can do is fulfill that duty. And practically speaking, Marcus was the emperor of Rome and he had a duty to fulfil to the people, and he kept this in mind on a daily basis. So now that we know his goal, let's take a look at how he utilized negative visualization. At the beginning of book 2, Marcus reminds himself in the morning that he will meet people who are going to bug him. He says they are, “meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and surly.” He fears that these people will make him neglect his duty, and he worries that he'll become angry towards them. And so here we see the obstacles in Marcus' way: annoying people, neglecting his duty, and becoming angry or resentful. So what's Marcus' plan for dealing with these obstacles? He uses a series of reminders. He reminds himself that these people act this way out of ignorance: they don't know any better. He reminds himself that they're doing more harm to themselves than they are to him by acting like that. He also reminds himself that the actions of these individuals can't stop him from acting however he wants and still fulfilling his duty. His own duty is always in his control to fulfill. And lastly he reminds himself, “Nor can I be angry with my kinsman or hate him. We were born for cooperation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of upper and lower teeth.” So he tells himself that even though they will annoy him, it's because they don't know any better and that he still needs to cooperate and love them instead of being resentful. What's best for everyone is cooperation. Marcus routinely uses reminders to overcome the obstacles. He's another example. At the beginning of book 5, Marcus tells himself that he'll have trouble waking up in the mornings. He identifies a few obstacles that he'll encounter: the bed will feel really nice, he'll be really lazy, and he'll have excuses for himself to stay in bed. And again, Marcus uses some reminders to overcome these obstacles. He reminds himself that he's not meant to “feel nice”. He has a duty to fulfil to the world—a duty only he can fulfill. He reminds himself that every other animal has gotten up to do their duty this morning, including the bees, the birds, and the plants. They are all contributing to the community that they are apart of. So Marcus scolds himself for his laziness. He asks himself why he should lie around and neglect his duty when all of the other animals have gotten up and started doing theirs? So I'll leave you with this: every day is the beginning of a new journey. It's a chance to go in a new direction or destination, to move further ahead than we are today. And with negative visualization, we can prepare for and make peace with the worst possible scenario, while still reaping the upside of the best possible scenario. And negative visualization isn't just a simple tactic, it's more of a way of life. You have to actually become the kind of person who can make peace with the worst possible scenarios. And the steps are simple, set a goal, anticipate the obstacles, come up with a plan. They are simple but not easy. So good luck!