The Power of Negative Visualisation

To enjoy the present, we must accept its end

Meditations on living well

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Imagine that the the good times or people become absent in our lives. It is a surprisingly effective technique to improve well-being. This strategy of negative visualisation found support through Koo et al. (2008). They hypothesised that thinking about the absence of a positive event would improve our mood, feelings, and attitude more than thinking about the presence of a positive event.

In the first of the studies investigated, university students wrote about the ways in which a positive event might have never occurred and was surprising. Measures of their affective states were then taken and compared to the second of the studies examined. In this second study, the prompt was the same except that they had to write about how the absence of a positive event might be unsurprising. Those in the first study demonstrated more positive affective states; it gives credence to the positive power about thinking of serendipity.

They looked at another study where a group university staff and respondents from the internet. Those who wrote about they might have never met their romantic partner were more satisfied in their relationships than those who wrote about how they did meet their partner.

Negative visualisation is, therefore, shown to be an effective tool to invite positive frames of mind. It can help to build gratitude for what we have. For example, if you are unsatisfied with job, you can try negative visualisation. What would that visualisation entail? Working at a worse job, or perhaps even unemployment. It might not fix anything, but it can help to calibrate your perspective a little bit. At least enough to perhaps inspire a longer-term solution.


Koo et al. (2008). It’s a wonderful life: Mentally subtracting positive events improves people’s affective states, contrary to their affective forecasts. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95(5), 1217–1224.

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