Prepare For The Worst Possible Outcome

In the book, How To Live: 27 Conflicting Answers and One Weird Conclusion, Derek Sivers maps out several ways to live a good life. These include everything from being independent, to doing nothing, and even pursuing pain. Another way to live a good life is by preparing for the worst. 

Of course, this isn’t a wholly unique thought. We can go back thousands of years and read Stoic text that speaks about preparing for the worst possible outcome, so in case that outcome happens, it doesn’t knock us off our feet too badly. 

In the same vein, Sivers draws our attention to the fact that our current moment might be as best as it’ll ever get for us, bringing our attention toward gratitude, acceptance, and deliberate action.

So far, you’ve lived in a time of prosperity. You haven’t experienced massive devastation, but you probably will. It’ll be harder to make money. It’ll be harder to be happy. Much of what you love now will be gone. You’ll look back at this year as one of the easiest you ever had.

Sivers adds that with time, we are likely to get sick or injured and lose our ability to see, hear, move, or think. 

Some may see this type of thinking and conclude that the person is too negative or pessimistic. That by dwelling on such things, we’re ruining our present state. However, the opposite is true. When we think about the worst possible outcome, we can be grateful for the things we have. For example, how much gratitude would you express toward a loved one if you knew it was the last time you’ll ever see them?

The art of gratitude can be difficult to practice when we are navigating through life. Life is often busy and chaotic and in order to show gratitude, it requires us to take a break, pause for a moment, reflect and be grateful. That’s why the simple fact that we are alive and participating in life can be overlooked by so many people. When in fact, that is something to be grateful for.

As Sivers points out, with time our body will let us down, but in this moment, where we have our senses and ability to move freely, and more importantly, our ability to strengthen our bodies, we should be grateful for it. 

There is a possibility that our dreams won’t come true. That we will fail to reach our goals. Reflecting on this possibility brings about gratitude for the time you have had to dedicate to your goals and dreams. Not everyone gets the time to do so. Plus, we can have a Plan B ready, if Plan A doesn’t work.

There is also gratitude in the struggle so far. The challenges and obstacles you have overcome in pursuit of your goals and dreams.

To appreciate something fully, picture losing it. Imagine losing your freedom, reputation, money, and home. Imagine losing your ability to see, hear, walk, or talk. Imagine the people you love dying tomorrow. Never take them for granted.

By reflecting on the worst-case scenario, we also develop a sense of acceptance along with gratitude. 

Life right now could be as good as it gets. Part of our health is under our control and we need to do everything in our power to stay healthy. Part of our health isn’t under our control. Bad genetics and accidents are part of life. We accept that.

When it comes to pursuing our goals, we can control our effort, consistency, and iterations, but the result will still be out of our control. We accept that.

With time, we have partial control over how we spend our time and on what. But we don’t know how much time we really have. We accept that.

Do you know what’s behind each mountain of a challenge?

More mountains.

We also have to accept the challenges of life. Behind one obstacle, there lies another.

As we meditate on the worst-case scenario, another thing becomes abundantly clear.

This is how we want to act.

If you think about how you’ve been spending your recent days or sit down and write how you’ve spent the past month of your life or past six months of your life and hold that up against the realistic possibility of the worst-case scenarios, it can but a lot of things in perspective.

Wasting time, wasting moments, wasting days, wasting relationships, and so on have become the norm. The reason is that we assume we will have more time, or another moment, or another day. But that’s not true. So, in the present moment, we need to act deliberately. 

We should act in a manner that shows love and appreciation for those who are close to us.

We should act in a manner to appreciate the little joys in life like grabbing coffee with a friend, reading our favourite book, listening to our favourite artist, and eating at our favourite restaurants. 

You never know when it’ll be the last time you’ll feel these little joys.

We should also be strict with ourselves. To be disciplined with our time, diet, exercise, and work, but be lenient and flexible with others, as we don’t know what they are going through in their lives and perhaps it will be the last time you’ll interact with that person.

Sivers would also say that we should act in a manner that pursues deeper forms of fulfilment, rather than shallow ones.

Shallow happy is having a donut.

Deep happy is having a fit body.

Shallow happy is what you want now.

Deep happy is what you want most.

Shallow happy serves the present.

Deep happy serves the future.

Shallow happy is trying to conquer the world.

Deep happy is conquering yourself.

Shallow happy is pursuing pleasure.

Deep happy is pursuing fulfillment.

Fulfillment is more fun than fun.

And finally, we should act with gratitude and acceptance. 

Grateful for our life. Acceptance of our fate. 

Amor fati. 

Stoic Lesson On Growing Old

Well, we should cherish old age and enjoy it. It is full of pleasure if you know how to use it. Fruit tastes most delicious just when its season is ending.

It is quite telling that Seneca dedicated an entire letter to aging. It shows how little we, as people, have changed or evolved from our ancestors. For the most part, the same daily concerns that circulated in the minds of Romans are the same ones that trouble us now. One of these concerns being the natural aspect of life: Aging.

In our current age perhaps this concern is more prevalent than before or at least it seems that way with social media. There are so many different surgeries that attempt to give you a youthful appearance, so many companies that sell products to keep you young and beautiful, or so they claim, and so many people who actively seek remedies to aging.

However, the Stoic advice on this matter is similar to their advice on many topics: Acceptance, emotional/attitudinal control and a change of perspective.

Aging is a natural part of life so by accepting it, it can change your perspective from viewing aging as negative to view it as positive. Another Stoic principle is to control one’s attitude. We always have a choice in how we react. Our attitude is one of the few things we control in this life. Once more it is a matter of perspective. We can either see aging as something terrible and sad or we can view it is a new experience, a chance to see the world from a different manner, a chance to transition into a different phase of our life and even live differently. With this perspective change, you can then see the benefits of aging.

As Seneca says:

In my opinion, even the age that stands on the brink has pleasures of its own.

Not only is there a need to accept the natural aging process but also to accept our lack of control over it. It’s easy to see the self harm some people cause through plastic surgeries as they attempt to stop what is natural. Aging can be used to practice a virtue like grace. To age gracefully instead of fighting and manipulating yourself to cling on to what is long past.

Of course, the biggest concern associated with aging is death. The fear of death whether consciously or unconsciously is at the root of a lot of people’s attitudes and actions. However, the Stoics don’t see death as something terrible. Just as with aging, death is also natural.

If God adds the morrow we should accept it joyfully. The man who looks for the morrow without worrying over it knows a peaceful independence and a happiness beyond all others. Whoever has said ‘I have lived’ receives a windfall every day he gets up in the morning.

The Stoics almost recommend a daily reminder of death in order to lessen its impact if it does appear. The reminder is also there in order for you to live the present moment to its fullest extent. In this way, as one ages and death becomes more of a concern, the Stoics could see that as a blessing. By confronting that possibility we can then prepare our attitude and action towards it and in the meantime, enjoy the time we have left for when you truly acknowledge death, then each moment becomes more precious. We soon come to see what matters, what we truly desire, what makes us happy and fulfilled and on what things and with whom we would like to spend our time. So, aging can be viewed as a blessing to clear away all that doesn’t matter so we can focus on what does.

For the Stoics, any hardship is an opportunity to exercise our wisdom and the strength of our character. For some, aging is a hardship and so, for those people, aging can be viewed as an opportunity to practice the right attitude, practice our control over our attitude and to practice the right mindset.

Book Referenced: Letters From A Stoic By Seneca