Premeditation of Evils: The Stoic’s Way of Expecting the Unexpected

The Stoic school of philosophy contains the phrase Premeditatio Malorum, literally translating to premeditation of evils. What this means is that the Stoics took time to imagine things that could go wrong in life and things taken away from us. They wanted to be as prepared as possible for things that could be unexpected so that they could behave with virtue when the time came.

In the modern day this still applies. Do you know what you would do if you suddenly lost your job? Or if your partner wanted to break up? Or if one of your loved ones received a terminal diagnosis? What if you became permanently disabled, or lost your speech, sight or hearing? What if you got sued for all of your money?

As painful as those scenarios are to imagine, the Stoics viewed this exercise as important. They believed that unlucky events fell heaviest on those who least expected them, those who were least prepared. In understanding the possibility for ill fortune, they experienced more gratitude for times of good fortune but also a readiness in the event that things changed.

The premeditation of evils can extend a little further too, for events that aren’t considered disastrous but could still be unexpected. If you are in a relationship, do you know what you would do if an attractive work colleague started seducing you? Do you know what you would do if you or your partner became pregnant? If you are single, do you know what you would do if the subject of your admiration started showing real interest? Do you know what you would do if the amount in your bank account suddenly contained a few extra zeroes in error? Do you know what you’d do if your best friend asked you to be their alibi in a criminal case?

Imagining these kind of scenarios gives us a chance to respond to these situations in line with our values, instead of being panicked or feeling reactive if and when these relatively unexpected, yet impactful events occur.

The World Owes You Nothing

The problem when we get something, is that we tend to assume that the world now owes it to us. This can apply to houses, cars, jobs, friends, partners, status and wealth. When we achieve or acquire these things, we start to get comfortable and start to take them for granted. We feel we deserve these things.

But in reality, the world owes you nothing.

Firstly, complacency can take away your job and relationships, because you stopped providing the same value as you did at the beginning. Or, causes outside your control can occur – your car could get stolen, a natural disaster could destroy your home, deaths of loved ones, someone tries to shatter your reputation, market forces turn your investments sour.

Understand that all the beautiful things you may have right at this moment will not be here forever. Do what you can to make important people feel loved. But also recognize that we can decide to loosen our attachment to things, so that if they desert us we can be grateful that we were lucky enough to have them in the first place.

The Three Biggest Decisions of Your Life

Entrepreneur and angel investor Naval Ravikant advises that young people should be spending more time making the big decisions: where you live, who you’re with, and what you do.

These three things will pretty much determine the quality and trajectory of our lives. Sometimes we find ourselves going with the flow, entering relationships that we aren’t 100% sure of, spending a lot of time doing a job but spending so little time deciding which job would be best for us. And usually the place we decide to live in will determine who we meet and which jobs are mostly available too.

Once we decide these three things we can be much more intentional with our lives instead of being taken whichever way the wind is blowing.

Variety is the Spice of Life: Why Time Seems to Be Passing By Quicker As We Age

According to Chip & Dan Heath in their book The Power of Moments, most people think that time passes quicker once we get past the age of 30. If this is true, why? The Heaths claim that it’s because the ages of 15-30 contain a lot of life milestones – we finish school, learn to drive a car, study for a degree, get our first job, enter our first romantic relationship, travel the world, get married, have children etc. After the age of 30, there are far fewer big milestones, and that can make it seem like time is flying by.

So how can we try to counteract this? The Heaths suggest that we should add a little variety by creating defining moments in our lives – memories that can can create by doing something novel. This could be a combination of moments of elevation, insight, pride, or connection. A moment of elevation is one that rises above the everyday; a moment of insight rewires our understanding of ourselves or the world; a moment of pride will capture us at our best; and a moment of connection is social.

As much as routines are designed to increase productivity, it allows time to fly by unnoticed. Adding the extra spice to life through variety will allow us to remember more prominent moments through our lives. So what kind of things can you do to add variety? Going to your favorite travel destination can provide a moment of elevation; doing a 10-day meditation course may provide you with moments of insight; entering an obstacle course race with a team of friends can create pride and connection.

If you think about it, life is made up of moments. So create photo-worthy moments, try new things, and lean into uncertainty. As the authors of the book Surprise put it, “We feel most comfortable when things are certain, but we feel most alive when they’re not.”

Chasing Daylight: Eugene O’Kelly’s Three Months to Live

In May 2005, Eugene O’Kelly was diagnosed with late-stage brain cancer, and given three months to live. Within two weeks, he quit his job as CEO of accounting giant KPMG and scrapped all the plans he had made with his wife and two daughters.

One night at the dinner table, O’Kelly drew a map of his relationships, and grouped them into five circles. His aim was to “beautifully resolve” his relationships, starting with the outer circles and working his way inwards.

In his outer circle he contacted them by phone or email, highlighting favorite memories and appreciation for the other person. He decided to meet his third and fourth circles in person – he would meet them for an exquisite meal, or in a beautiful park for a walk, to share memories and gratitude for what they had done for each other. O’Kelly called these encounters “perfect moments”, and it was his mission to create as many of these as possible in the little time he had left.

By August, he was focusing on his inner circle, and spent his time with his closest friends and family. A couple of weeks later, on September 10, 2005, O’Kelly died.

O’Kelly wrote a memoir, Chasing Daylight, where he began with, “I was blessed. I was told I had three months to live.” And he took it literally – he was told he had three months to live, not to die. O’Kelly “felt like [he] was living a week in a day, a month in a week, a year in a month – meaning he condensed his life by having more perfect moments in three months than he would have done in five or ten years of living his normal life.

So what if we could have more perfect moments too, without the news of a terminal diagnosis to motivate us to do so? In fact, not all of us will be as lucky as Eugene O’Kelly – some of us might not be given any warning at all when our time is up.

The World Treats You the Way You Expect to Be Treated

When I first started off as a door-to-door salesman, I was nervous. My perception was that no-one ever bought anything at their door, and I would have people being rude and telling me to go away, slamming their door in my face.

In my first few weeks and months, this happened just as I expected. But it seemed like the other more experienced salespeople hardly ever had this happen to them. Somewhere along the way, I learned to visualize positive reactions out of the people I was meeting door-to-door. I began to expect a different, more receptive response when I knocked on people’s doors. And, slowly the responses became more positive, and it became rare that I was met with a rude homeowner.

I started to see myself as a good salesman, and then people were treating me in such a way too – they started buying from me. I started expecting them to buy from me too – and more people did.

It’s likely that simply expecting more isn’t the only factor at play here. Obviously, with time my competencies as a salesman improved, and naturally I became less negatively affected by rude remarks, so I was less likely to take things personally if and when they happened. If interactions did go sour, I would have strong boundaries and remove myself from situations I deemed unacceptable.

This concept of being treated the way you expect can translate to general life too. Some people are constantly embroiled in drama and toxic relationships, while others seem to be able to avoid it all. It’s hard to imagine that this happens by chance – it’s more likely that people who attract drama expect and are willing to accept unnecessary conflict instead of having healthy boundaries and picking the right battles to fight.

The world treats you more or less the way you expect to be treated. So start expecting more.

Practice Going First

I always say that I’ll go first… That means if I am checking out at the store, I’ll say hello first. If I am coming across somebody and make eye contact, I’ll smile first. Be first, because – not all times, but most times – it comes in your favor.

Gabrielle Reece

Sometimes we need to have the courage to go first. Think of all the friends and relationships you have made in your life. Did you go first? If not, you’ll be grateful that the other person decided to take the courage to put themselves out there for you.

Now think of all the possible ways in which you could go first going forward. If you work in sales, it could be actively prospecting instead of waiting by the phone for prospects to call you. Be the first to ask someone how their day is. Be the first to smile at someone when you walk past them. Your courage can turn into encouragement for others to pay that smile forward to the next stranger they walk past. Compassion has the potential to spread in this way, and it can all start from you going first.

A Simple Method to Improve Relationships and Provide Value

It’s much easier said than done, but:

Treat every person you meet as if they are the most important person on Earth.

In today’s society, it feels like narcissism and inflated egos are on the rise. How do we stop that within ourselves? Follow the rule above.

There’s nothing in the world that people need more than self-esteem, the feeling that they’re important, that they’re needed, and that they’re respected. Once you’re able to give them this feeling, they will give back with love, support and loyalty.

Act toward others in the way you’d like them to act towards you.

Treat every person you meet as if they are the most important person on Earth.

The Five Love Languages: Which Do You Speak?

The Five Love Languages is a book by Gary Chapman outlining how the key to love that lasts is through identifying your partner’s primary love language and loving them in the way that they respond to.

Chapman writes that when we are in the initial “in love” phase for the first two years or so, we are experiencing a temporary emotional high, and when we come down from that we have to be ready to truly love. One of the main reasons our “emotional love-tank” will be so high in this initial phase is probably because we are using all five of the love languages frequently.

But it turns out that what makes us feel loved differs from person to person. Chapman identifies the five love languages as:

Words of Affirmation

These are verbal compliments and words of appreciation. This can come in the form of writing notes, messages or verbally on the phone and in-person. Tone of voice and eye-contact are also important – it not only matters what you say but how you say it.

Quality Time

This is expressed as going on dates together, quality conversation between the two of you, and times where there are no distractions and you can simply be together.

Receiving Gifts

Receiving a gift translates to the feeling that your partner was thinking of you.

Acts of Service

This is when you do a task such as cooking, taking the bins out, taking the car for an oil change for your partner. Acts of service can be easily identified by requests that your partner makes of you – those are the things you can therefore do to make your partner feel loved. Even if they’re things you don’t really enjoy doing, knowing that it’ll make your partner feel loved should give ample motivation.

Physical Touch

This not only includes sex, but also more subtle touches like a hand on the shoulder, an embrace or hand-holding.

So how do you know which one is your primary love language?

If you are in a relationship, you can ask yourself what it is that your partner fails to do that hurts you the most. You can also think of the way you express your love to your partner – this could be the way you want your partner to love you.

Although it is easy to think it would make sense to choose a partner with the same primary love language, it doesn’t necessarily indicate maximal compatibility. For example, a person who loves receiving gifts may not be very good at giving them. In another case, one person’s version of quality time could be dining out at a fancy restaurant, while for the other it could be going camping and fishing. Chapman describes that there are different dialects of the same love language that exist.

What’s most important is knowing each other’s primary (and secondary) love language, and loving your partner in the way they feel loved. By filling each other’s emotional love-tank, we feel significant, and energized to meet life’s other challenges.

For Tony Robbins’ tips on relationships, click here and here