The Stoics (Marcus Aurelius and the gang) practiced a number of mental techniques to foster resilience and find tranquility in life.
Two techniques they are most famous for are:
- Negative Visualization: when you imagine losing something you take for granted (e.g. your health), you will appreciate it more, and
- The Last Time Meditation: when you imagine doing something for the last time (e.g. going kayaking), you will be more mindful and grateful in that moment.
Another practice the Stoics were fond of is called Storytelling Reframe.
No matter what you're going through in life, as difficult as it may be, there is always one silver lining: you will have a great story to tell afterwards.
Or, stated differently: “A good day’s a good day. A bad day’s a good story.”
I first came across this idea in William B. Irvine's book A Guide To The Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy. What struck me was that I've used this technique a few times in my writing. And maybe you have too.
- In Ripples of Resilience, I opened up about my frustration, when I was younger, with under-performing at swimming galas and the lessons I learned from working with a sports psychologist. It was the first time I shared this story.
- In Creators' Corner #23, I detailed my struggles with job hunting this year. At the time I had interviewed for 25 roles and not landed one of them. I wanted to share this because I felt like a fraud, only sharing the wins from my life and not being honest about the setbacks.
Storytelling Reframe is powerful because it can help us:
- Foster resilience. Think of it as a gift our rational brain has given us for reframing our more primitive brain’s emotional reactions. Better yet, by opening up you might feel a weight come off your shoulders. Sharing a true reflection of my career struggles propelled me onto other wins.
- Generate ideas. When you reflect on your own setbacks in life, you will quickly realize you have more ideas for writing than you thought you had. Whether that was being locked inside for a year during the pandemic or the details of your worst first date or how your car broke down in the middle of the desert. These are all compelling stories.
- Help others. Stories of coping are powerful, not only to you as the storyteller, but to others who can learn from how you overcame the odds. Our stories connect us and make us human.
One last story to close... Cape Town had a city-wide power outage during my mentor session where I was planning on sharing this writing strategy. The irony! I sulked for a couple of minutes (why is this happening to me?!) and then realised this was a good opportunity to practice Storytelling Reframe. My two co-mentors, Melissa Menke and Matt Tillotson, took over and ran an incredible show.
Lesson: things are never as serious as you think they may be. Also - surround yourself with good people.