Premeditatio malorum, a premeditation of evils, is the Stoic exercise of imagining what can go wrong. Think of it as the opposite of ‘positive thinking’ – the practice of negative thinking that allows us to imagine the worst, get all the emotion out of they way, and then begin preparations to either avoid or ameliorate the damage of the worst case scenario.
So how did this premeditatio malorum exercise work for me?
Because I had imagined the worst ‘evil’, I had already experienced the unpleasant emotions. My brain had already been flooded with adrenaline and cortisol. I had already played out a dozen scenarios about how best to deal with this situation. That meant that when the Sheriff arrived at my door, I was calm, could assess this as not my nightmare but just an unpleasant situation. I already had my paperwork and figures ready. And I could put my fears aside and be polite to another human being doing his job instead of being reactive and angry and embarrassed. That means that his response to my behaviour was better than anticipated. He coached me to a better outcome than if he had just delivered the papers and encountered the typical response that a person in that extreme situation would face. By imagining the worst case scenario and preparing for it, I created an event better scenario than predicted. This is the value of strategic foresight – not just making a business plan for ideal circumstances but also planning for non-ideal scenarios.