From a technical perspective, in Stoic Ethics, future events can be “preferred” (or “dispreferred”) but only our own current actions are judged truly “virtuous” or “vicious”, “good” or “bad”, “helpful” or “harmful”. In the premeditation of adversity, however, future “misfortunes” are to be imagined as if they’re happening right now, which actually means shifting them from the category of things “dispreferred” to that of things judged absolutely indifferent. In other words, for Stoics, this was a way of rehearsing total indifference and acceptance toward external “misfortunes”. Once they’ve already happened there’s no point wishing that they hadn’t. We can’t turn back the clock, and it would be irrational and unphilosophical to desire to do so.
By pretending things we’d naturally want to avoid have already happened we can prepare ourselves to cope with them if it turns out that we’re unlucky and they do, in reality, befall us. Psychologists sometimes call this process of accepting things in a matter-of-fact way and focusing on coping sensibly with their consequences: “decatastrophising”. It requires an ability to let go of our judgements of value about things that have already happened, our judgement about them being a “catastrophe” and deeply-distressing. If not that, it at least requires gaining “distance” from our distressing value-judgements, and focusing instead on problem-solving in light of the current situation.
Q: “What if I can’t think of any upsetting situations to imagine?”
When people are focusing on general resilience-building they sometimes work on a broad range of completely hypothetical situations, perhaps even ones they’ll never face in reality. If you’re doing this, you should try to work on a diverse variety of examples, if possible. People tend to brainstorm examples of situations that would make them anxious or uncomfortable if they were real, such as sky-diving, abseiling, being interviewed on television, speaking at a huge conference, being launched into space, or anything that might be a test of your ability to cope. The ancient Stoics typically rehearsed extreme life events such as bereavement, poverty, illness, exile, shipwreck, and ultimately facing their own death. Those examples are useful but we wouldn’t expect people to mentally-rehearse very extreme emotional situations during an online course like these, unless perhaps they’re completely confident in their ability to do so safely.
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