Remember what is important.

Most of us are craving the return to normal life right now. The same life that we used to complain about before it all changed. This reveals an interesting phenomenon of the human experience. We quickly adapt to any context in which we find ourselves. No doubt, this has served us exceptionally well over the millennia of our evolution. We have been taken from the savannah to complex nation states fueled by economies and governed by layers of bureaucracy. For the most part, we are unaware of our individual adaptation as it occurs. It is usually only when we consider the stark differences between our lives a decade ago and now that it partially sinks in. However, when we are confronted with a significant change to our lifestyle, en masse, it reallysinks in.

The default manifestation of our adaptation to the present context is taking things for granted. Many of us enjoy going to the gym or stopping by the coffee shop. These activities become a part of our routines, so much so, that they may start to seem mundane. You can easily skip a day and not think much of it. But when the ability to do these things is literally taken away, we realize how important it really was. We also realize how much of a privilege it was. 

This is where the Stoic principle of negative visualization can be useful. The Stoics suggest that we should frequently consider that we could lose anything we care about in an instant. Tragedy could befall us or those we care about at any time. This exercise isn’t meant to invoke fear or anxiety, rather acting as a reminder to be fully engaged in what we are experiencing right now.

Any time you go to the gym, sip your coffee, hug your child, or connect with a friend, could be the last time you have that opportunity. Remember this, and you will act as though these things are as important as they truly are. 

Be well.

2 Comments

  1. Munsif Bhimani on April 13, 2020 at 10:20 am

    This is a Buddhist philosophy, perhaps Stoicism as well. In my head I feel like enjoying the moment no matter what it contains for you is a Buddhist idea whereas Stoicism is more the concept of whatever shall be will be and not to feel anything either way.
    Thanks
    Munsif Bhimani

    • Andrew Appleton on April 13, 2020 at 10:29 am

      Thanks Munsif. There is a lot of crossover between Buddhism and Stoicism. The Stoics discussed several principles. Negative visualization is one, which is similar to the ‘everything is temporary’ in Buddhism. You bring up fatalism, which is another important concept, one the Stoics professed. However, they did not support not feeling anything. They were realistic about human emotion and believed that we should experience them. But then we should go another step and recognize when our emotions are not serving us, and go about changing our thinking. William Irvine has a great book called “A Guide to the Good Life” which helps to describe the nuances of the philosophy. I highly recommend!

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