Yin and Yang represent the complementary forces of light and dark, positive and negative. Last week I discussed the importance of maintaining a positive attitude. Pessimism can be combined with optimism to ensure you are ready for the pitfalls as you work towards your goals. In life, there must be balance; every Yin must have a Yang.
The idea of Yin and Yang lends itself to visualization meditations because they also form a complementary positive and negative relationship. By adding or removing aspects of your life in meditation, you can start to feel what your life would be like with or without these things, which can motivate you to change.
These can be good or bad; they are you visualize adding something to your life. The good comes when you imagine yourself successfully completing something. The route I have been running while training for my upcoming marathon against my brother is the same that I intend to run on race day. This is because I will have a vivid view of the entire route while running, which I can use to motivate myself.
While running, it can be disheartening to think of how much further you have to run. Regardless of how far I run, the last kilometre is always the hardest – because I know it’s the last one. During these runs, I motivate myself by visualizing being done.
Before I start running, I have already finished the race in my head. While running, I regularly pass “checkpoints,” giving me a boost of motivation by activating the Feedback loop of motivation.
A positive visualization’s other strength comes from visualizing your habits’ long-term effects. My weaknesses are ice cream and chips; I crave them ceaselessly – but I want to eat healthily. My goal is to eat something close to the longevity diet described by Valter Longo.
As I aim for a long and healthy life, I sometimes visualize what would happen to me if I regularly ate junk food. I don’t like the result: getting fat and sick. As a result, it becomes easier for me to generally avoid them. I still occasionally cave and destroy a bag of chips or go for an ice cream, but less than I used to.
The goal is to be good, not perfect. Letting go of perfection is the easiest way to stay on track with your goals. Seeking perfection will have you abandoning everything the first time these go wrong. When you aim for “good enough,” you will likely try again after failing. The key is to constantly challenge yourself.
Negative visualization meditation
The other aspect of visualization meditation is the negative side. In these, rather than imagining that you have succeeded or gained something, you visualize what your life would be like if something was removed. The removal can be done in three ways:
- Negative projection
- Stoic visualization
- Subtractive visualization
A negative projection can be your path to success. Imagine you failed – even after all the time and effort you put towards your goal, everything falls apart, leaving you with nothing. This is a heartbreaking approach but can save your project because the next natural question is: why?
For me, this failure comes as an inability to hike. I love hiking, the views, the fresh air and most importantly, the snacks. When I think of my life without hiking, it makes me very sad that I would not get to have those experiences any more. So, I have to ask myself: “why can’t I hike any more?”
If it is a financial reason – I can’t afford to go anywhere pretty – then I can tapper my expenses to ensure that doesn’t happen. If it’s a fitness reason – I am too out of shape to go the distance – then I can work on developing fitness habits.
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Regardless of the reason, I come up with on any given day, I can use them to understand that constant effort is required for a joyful and healthy life. To be optimistic, you must have good mental habits that make your life meaningful. To be fit, you must exercise regularly.
To identify which habits you should keep and eliminate, you can visualize yourself 5 years from now. Is the product of your current lifestyle the person you want to be? If not, then, like me, you need to find out “why.”
Another important use of negative visualizing is to mitigate stress. First, imagine the worst-case scenario: you fail the test, you are late for that necessary appointment, or you had an extra serving with lunch. Now that you can see yourself making that mistake, move another year into the future and see if it still matters.
If it does, then you know how important that thing is to you, and you will do everything in your power so that it goes well. Alternatively, if you have entirely forgotten about the event in the projected future, you can already assume that mindset. If it won’t matter then, then there is no reason to stress about it now. Obviously, this is limited in power to minor activities. Some things (especially if they become habits) will impact your life in a year, so it is crucial to keep them in mind.
Stoic visualizations give you a greater appreciation for your current blessings by making you visualize your life without them. There are two types of stoic visualizations: Last time and Prospective Retrospection.
Everything you do in life, you will eventually do for the last time. During a “Last time” visualization, you prematurely imagine that you will be doing something for the last time. This can be anything you enjoy: petting your cat, talking with your partner, watching your favourite episode of Friends, etc.
Think of an activity that you enjoy regularly doing, then imagine you are doing it for the last time. After this visualization, you will better appreciate doing that activity. Furthermore, you will have a more emotional response, leading to richer memories of the event. When you lose access to that activity, you will have richer memories to fall back on and remind you of all the good times you had while doing it.
Stoic meditations prepare you for the negative by getting you to appreciate the positive. In the second form of Stoic visualization – Prospective Retrospection – you visualize yourself as an older version of yourself when you have more responsibilities and restrictions.
As we age, we must abide more stringently by the longevity lifestyle if we wish to stay fit. In this meditation, you look back at your present self in jealousy at things such as a light hangover after a big night or effortlessly maintaining a well-toned body. You can better see your current blessings by projecting yourself forward in time and then looking backwards. You will appreciate them rather than simply take them for granted.
Subtractive visualizations can be a highly motivating way to change an ingrained habit. To do these, you simply imagine what your life would be like if you had already removed the thing from it. Examples of things you can visualize eliminating from your life are cigarettes, alcohol, ice cream, and social media.
Imagine what you would do with all the time, money, and energy from not having those bad habits. The more vivid your visualization, the more impactful it will be. Include as much detail as possible to truly see how great life is when you leave the fallacy of consumerism behind.
Chasing desires and happy experiences leaves you feeling empty. Meanwhile, using visualization, you can add meaning to your life and move past the things that are meaningless to you. By seeing how small changes can impact your life, you will be highly motivated to make those changes.