In ancient Greece and Rome, many prominent thinkers subscribed to a philosophy called Stoicism. As part of this philosophy, they practiced a thought exercise called premeditatio malorum, which means premeditation of evils.
It simply means taking a moment to think through everything that could go wrong with a particular plan. It means visualizing a bad future.
The idea behind premeditatio malorum is that by contemplating calamity, we rob future hardships of their bite and appreciate what we have now. In other words, anticipating adversity is likely to diminish its power on us when it actually strikes.
Now, meditating on the worst that may happen to us seems like a negative way to live life. On the contrary, this exercise is calming, because it leads us to prepare ourselves mentally and otherwise to deal with an uncertain future. Also, if we take time to think through the bad things that may fall upon us, what Charlie Munger calls the places where we may die, we may find ways to not go there in the first place.
Imagine getting hit by the corona virus, or losing your job, or the stock market tanking and your investments getting wiped out. Then, while letting the future be because you anyways don’t control it, try doing things that may keep you at safe distance from these possibilities as much as possible.
In particular, while practicing premeditatio malorum, the Stoics frequently reminded themselves that both they and their loved ones were mortal, and bound to die one day, and that life was inevitably transient. This is one of the best ways we can indulge in this thought practice, by meditating on mortality.
As the Stoic philosopher Seneca advised –
Let us prepare our minds as if we’d come to the very end of life. Let us postpone nothing. Let us balance life’s books each day … The one who puts the finishing touches on their life each day is never short of time.
A Few Stories You Shouldn’t Miss
- I Hope This Inspires You (Ian Cassel)
- Corrections Happen (Barry Ritholtz)
- Why You Should Save Like a Pessimist But Invest Like an Optimist (Masters in Business)
- The Honest Mistake Vs. the Intentional Act (Seth Godin)
- Notes on Grief (New Yorker)
Curiously enough, one cannot read a book: one can only reread it. When we read a book for the first time, the very process of laboriously moving our eyes from left to right, line after line, page after page, this complicated physical work upon the book, the very process of learning in terms of space and time what the book is about, this stands between us and artistic appreciation. Only on a third or fourth reading do we start behaving toward a book as we would toward a painting, holding it all in the mind at once.
~ Vladimir Nabokov
The key to pursuing excellence is to embrace an organic, long term learning process, and not to live in a shell of static, safe mediocrity.
~ Josh Waitzkin
A Question for You
What kind of negative future are you meditating on? What are you doing, that is in your control, to avoid that future?
That’s about it from me for today.
Have a great weekend.