Anticipating What Might Be Around the Bend

“The man who has anticipated the coming of troubles takes away their power when they arrive.” – Seneca

Soldiers know how to shoot to kill—so why do they train for being on the receiving end of gunfire? The same reason a company does “war gaming” against its competitors. The same reason football players practice fumble recovery and give reps to their backup quarterback. When you can study and learn from what has failed in the past, or prepare for what might fail in the future, you reduce your worry.

In the stoic tradition, this practice has a name: the premeditation of evils. What is the worst that can go wrong…the absolute worst? Study that. Feel it in your bones and skin. Understand what it will look and taste like. Good. Now you’ve removed the surprise and some of the fear. You’ve readied yourself for the worst.

Cato, one of our most preeminent stoics, would walk around barefoot and with minimal clothing, in heat and cold. Why? He was training himself for a life in which he might have to experience poverty. He was, of course, a Roman aristocrat; he’d probably never become penniless. But he didn’t want to fear it at all, so he lived, in brief increments, a penniless life. And that simple exercise gave him an uncommon strength—the ability to have experienced and prepared for and thought about a trouble robbed that trouble of all its power over him.