Prepare for the Worst, When Times Are Good

“Here’s a lesson to test your mind’s mettle: take part of a week in which you have only the most meager and cheap food, dress scantly in shabby clothes, and ask yourself if this is really the worst that you feared. It is when times are good that you should gird yourself for tougher times ahead, for when Fortune is kind the soul can build defenses against her ravages. So it is that soldiers practice maneuvers in peacetime, erecting bunkers with no enemies in sight and exhausting themselves under no attack so that when it comes they won’t grow tired.”


Today, the book The Daily Stoic encourages us to take part in an exercise where we simulate the worst in order to prepare ourselves for how that feels.

Imagine certain hardships have come to pass — not enough food, money troubles, lack of security, health issues. The book’s author recommends that we go even further, and really experience these hardships as best you can, really “live” them.

In so doing, you will steel your mind against these “tougher times”, as Seneca calls them. You’ll prepare your soul for these challenges, in a “hard winter training” of sorts. You will ensure that you’re not fooled by the good fortune of your present situation. Instead, you will be fully ready for any sort of challenges that might arise. And as you ‘experience’ them, you might even find that these hardships aren’t quite as terrible as you imagine them to be!

At this point, you might be feeling that this exercise described above is at direct odds with the stoic principles of:

  1. Not worrying about things that are out of our control, and
  2. Not putting a down payment on misery.

And you’re right, we have to be careful! Moderation is the key here. There’s a balance to be struck. Imagine and prepare for the worst when times are good, sure. But then let it go. Be careful not to be overcome with worry about the future, that’s not the goal. The goal is to strengthen the soul and ultimately arrive at happiness and calm — so that when the misfortune arrives you aren’t caught off guard, and are able to weather the storm with resilience.

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