Can negative thoughts be positive? 

To stand tall in a world of adversity, we must maintain a positive frame of mind at all times. Right? How does it feel when circumstances cause our plans to fall apart and we have to make adjustments? How does it feel to lose what you are so attached to? Shouting loudly that nothing is wrong and acting as if we are walking through a field of daisies usually has the opposite effect. You can only really fool yourself and the people around you to a certain extent, although it seems to be a fruitful strategy for some politicians.


Seneca's tactics

One of the most famous Roman philosophers, Seneca, lived about 2,000 years ago. He was advisor to Emperor Nero and one of the richest people in the Roman Empire. Once a month, he slept on a hard floor and abstained from food. He trained himself so that, if necessary, he could also live in poverty. He realized, wealth is preferable to poverty, but when you are preoccupied with the fear of losing your possessions, you can become deeply unhappy. Through this technique of negative visualization, you keep in mind that things will go wrong, and this imagination helps you stay emotionally stable and keep out fear when adversity befalls you. In Stoic philosophy, this concept is called 'Premeditation Malorum', or contemplating the bad. 


Dealing with Olympic pressure

As an athlete, I applied negative visualization just before my Olympics . I visualized how I would react if something happened over which I had no control. Ice machines breaking down (this actually happened in Vancouver at the 500m), someone falling and the race being stopped, I imagined it all in advance. When something like that actually happens, you can get upset which makes you prospectless for a medal. 

I frequently get asked, during presentations, how I would feel if I had not won gold in 2010. First, I told myself that I had done everything in my power to perform. I didn't have to fool myself. Indeed, the road I had to take required me to stay focused and calm under Olympic high stress. Second, I carried a notebook in which I wrote down all my ideas. One page I devoted to all the possible ways I could skate even harder in the future. This one was drawn on 17 February 2010, just three days before my golden race. This was an exercise to already have the plan ready, should the results be disappointing.


Visualize and write down

Positive thoughts are necessary to set goals and keep dreams alive. But as a good counterbalance, negative visualization is a useful tool. To train this, I recommend that you keep a notebook to note different scenarios. Think about what happens if you lose something you are attached to. For example, think about your job, a possession, or things that you fear should you lose them. By visualizing these themes, you are better prepared and less anxious when it actually happens. This gives peace of mind during difficult times.

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