In this blog, I am asking for some initial participation on your end. I think this will be more impactful if you play along.
Close your eyes, take a deep breath. Now, I want you to think of someone very close to you. Someone you love and care about immensely. Someone you would do anything for. I imagine you have a tremendous sense of attachment and a warm feeling thinking of them. Losing them would be unbearable and unimaginable yet this is exactly what I want you to contemplate. Briefly, I want you to consider a world without them. How would you feel if that person you care so much about was no longer here? If you knew, in advance, that this person was going away, never to be seen again, how would you treat the next experience you had with them prior to them leaving? What would you say if you could have a few precious moments to speak to the dead?
The great Stoic philosopher Seneca practiced this concept of “negative visualization” or the idea of preparing for disruption and always working those disruptions into his plans. Being ready for life’s “ups and downs'', preparing for the inevitable pain and the suffering that often follows was a way for them to “win each day.” It’s important to distinguish that negative visualization is not the same thing as having a negative attitude.
I often think of trauma and addiction and if there is a cause and effect relationship. It is believed, or proposed, that trauma causes addiction and the subsequent substance abuse to follow. A stoic would think this was nonsense. Trauma may have presented you an opportunity, a reason to drink but certainly can’t be the cause can it? Even biological addictions demand conscious activation on some level.
Without trauma we don’t have life. If trauma causes addiction then we are all addicts because at some point we ALL face trauma. So why isn’t everyone an addict then? I have plenty of “reasons” to drink, be depressed or to be angry. Losing a son to heroin gave me a great reason to drink but it also gave me a better reason not too. Epictetus so eloquently stated, “in the very act of kissing your child, silently reflect on the possibility that they could die tomorrow.” A reason seems much different than a cause.
As I write in my book, “This One’s For You” about the last moments I had with Seth a short time prior to his death;
“I would like to say my last words to him were, “I love you,” but they weren’t. My last words to him, as we were standing in our garage a few weeks prior to his death, were, “You need to quit drinking.” Not very inspiring or eloquent, but at that moment, upset and angry, that is what I said. In a way, I was saying, “I Love you.”
I have no regrets that my last words to Seth were what I said. Obviously, if I knew I was to never see him again I would have said something completely different. Isn’t that the real lesson here? There will always be the last time for everything. There will be the last time you pet your dog, the last time you tell someone you love them, the last time you walk out of your house or office, the last time you taste your favorite meal. Tomorrow may very well be your last day, heck it may OUR last day as a species.
“We say that nothing happens to the wise man against his expectation.” -Seneca
“Misfortune weighs most heavily on those who expect nothing but good fortune.” -Seneca
I am certainly not suggesting every day you run around thinking of a car crash, not getting that job, or flunking the test in advance. I am suggesting negative thoughts, briefly presented as opportunities for reflection, can provide great insight into truly “living in the moment.” To appreciate the special gifts we are presented with daily and to be aware of life all around us. Finding meaning in your life is the most real thing there is. It’s very possible finding meaning is a journey with no ending yet the key is trying to be “aware” as you navigate through good times and bad.
The great Zig Ziglar was quoted as saying, “ Expect the best, prepare for the worst, capitalize on what becomes.” If you are keenly aware that someone, somewhere has it worse than you then you ought to feel so much more grateful about your own situation. During the time I was wallowing in anger, sadness, and guilt after we lost Seth, I fortunately crossed paths with Steven Grant, author of, “Don’t Forget Me.” Mr Grant’s only two sons, Chris and Kelly died from overdose a few years apart. I have two of my three sons still with me, he lost his only two. People wonder what motivates me and keeps me focused on living an inspired life? Most pro athletes, social media influencers, actors and actresses don’t motivate me. Steve Grant motivates me. There will always be someone that has it worse than me. Steve Grant has raised over $1,000,000 through the Chris and Kelly Hope Foundation. Bravo my friend!
Being too positive has a term coined to explain those who only see the good in everything. It’s referred to as “toxic positivity.” I used to think it was impossible to be too positive. I have evolved my thinking now to think maybe there are strategic times in your life to consider the negative outcomes and the implications if they were to occur. To be honest, there is no shortage of daily motivation tips, positive affirmations and “you can do it” proclamations. I often wonder if somehow we are building up an immunity and many of these helpful hints fall on deaf ears and blind eyes? Then again with the numbers of depressed, anxious and addicted people in society we really can’t have too many options. Positive living with negative thinking? Why not give it a try!