Inversion — Be Like “Opposite” Costanza [Mental Model]

I was watching Seinfeld the other day…

I turned on the TV and the episode where George decides to do “the opposite” was on. It’s a work of comedic genius, but then I got to thinking…

What if George stumbled upon something actually genius? What if doing “the opposite” more often was the secret to solving problems?

That brings us to the topic of today’s “Mental Monday” podcast:

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Charlie Munger, philosopher investor and Warren Buffett’s right-hand man, is famous for saying, “invert, always invert.” To make this more clear, ask yourself this question:

“If I want something in my life, how would I go about NOT getting it?”

Do you ever try to solve a problem in your life, but the options seem endless? Even thinking about the problem freezes you up? That’s because you haven’t inverted the problem yet!

For example: imagine you want to get toned and have visible abs.  What would it take to achieve that?

Crunches, squats, eating clean, going on a run…the list is endless.

So invert the question: what activities would I have to do NOT to get that six pack? 

Eat chips, drink a pitcher of beer with friends, stay out and party, don’t go to the gym, don’t sweat every day…see the difference?

You already know what you shouldn’t do and those activities come to mind much easier than the never-ending list of things you should do

Enter The “Not To Do List”

Let’s look at another example from Johnny Carson, the great late night host, who during a commencement speech was asked to share some tips for happiness for the graduating class. 

How could he answer that question?  It’s subjective and broad.  But inversion loves broad questions! All you have to do is ask, “What would make me the opposite of happy (miserable)?”

To Johnny, that list was easier to describe to the students.  He gave these three suggestions:

  • Ingesting chemicals in an effort to alter mood or perception
  • Envy
  • Resentment

If we take his list and invert it one more time, we get his recipe for things to do for a happier life:

Don’t do drugs because they might be masking an underlying condition that should be addressed.

Instead of being envious, default to being happy for those excel around you.

Instead of feeling resentment, just move on. You can’t change the past so you might as well focus on what you can control.

Navy Seal Jocko Willink has a saying that I love when he’s faced with a bad situation. Whenever something bad happens, he says, “Good.” Then, he proceeds to look to what’s next so he can move on with his life productively.  That’s so much better than saying, “Aww shit!” and going down rabbit holes where he adds unnecessary self-doubt to his life.

Invert, Damn It!

If you have an open-ended question that’s been stumping you, try inverting it. Think of how you might achieve the opposite result and then don’t do the things you come up with.

For example, I hear all the time, “I’m not sure what I want to do next.”  And in my head I think, “Well, what don’t you want to do?”  Most people know exactly what they won’t put up with: a shitty boss, working seven days a week, too much traveling, working for unappreciative clients, etc. Now that you know what you don’t want, all you have to do is reverse that to find out what you do want. It’s a surprisingly simple technique.

Actionable Nugget

For today’s actionable nugget, I want you to ask yourself this question:

How can I get smarter?

Then, invert it!  What actions would guarantee you DON’T get smarter?  You’ll probably come up with a ton of these right away. Then, all you need to do is stop doing those things.

Let me know what you come up with.  I put up a contact page so you can send me a note if you don’t want to drop me a quick voice message on the site.

The Actionable Book Short this week is Influence by Robert Cialdini, so get excited!  We’ll be looking at what people do to influence others so we can be on the lookout for those trying to do so with malicious intent.

If you have 30 seconds, I’d love for you to share this episode with someone you care about or leave a review on iTunes, because the more people who know about it the stronger our community and discussions can be.

Stay Thought-Full,


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