The Inversion Technique
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It’s hard for us to see the error in our ways. Most of the time, if you ask one what he is doing wrong, or how he is failing, you will quickly get shooed away. Ask a person what he is doing right though, and you will never hear the end of it. There’s a million different things that each of us can point to, to show that we are right. We have too good of an ability to justify our actions - nobody likes to be in the wrong.
It is a useful skill to be able to clearly identify what we’re doing wrong. Too often however, being wrong is interpreted as a sign of failure. We disdain wrongness and don’t value it as an opportunity to learn. In this way we forget that failure can only truly happen if we indulge our ignorance. The ability to realize when we are in the wrong can be learned, but it is incredibly hard. It goes against our base impulses. Therefore, instead of fighting our instincts it would be better to use them. Hence, the inversion technique.
The inversion technique is based on the idea of thinking in reverse. When you have a goal, instead of thinking about what it would take you to achieve it, think about what it would take you to not achieve it. This takes advantage of the tendency that it is much easier to think of what you are doing right. If you think of a problem in terms of how you can get to a place that isn’t what you are looking for, you will be able to see all the
right things you are doing to get to that place. The place where you do not want to be. Once you see those things, you can begin to avoid them. It seems deceptively simple, but it’s extremely powerful.
So, the next time you set a goal, all you have to do is to think about what kind of person would generally not achieve this goal? As you ask this question it would be very easy to judge and say instantly
a person like Mark would never be able to do something like this; however, try to not judge like that, for this attitude will definitely not help you get to the top. If you must judge something, judge qualities and ideas. Ask yourself what kinds of qualities and/or ideas would make a man fail in the endeavor of your choosing. Once you have all the answers you will know what not to do, if you truly want to reach your goals. It is much easier to know what not to do and go from there, instead of trying to build from the ground up.
Eliminating the errors standing in your way is just as powerful as doing all the right things.
Imagine you were trying to become more fit, but having trouble achieving it. You could ask
what can I do to become more fit, increase my endurance, and better my health. However, considering this is probably not the first time you are thinking of this goal, you’ve already ventured down this line of reasoning. Perhaps, you have already come up with all the conclusions you can reach by asking this question. You’ve thought about this before, so you think that you already know all the things that will get you to succeed. It’s very likely you know that you need to dedicate time and effort to this. Perhaps, you’re even doing all of those things and you just need to wait it out until the effects are visible. But maybe you’ve been making some excuses. You’ve been giving yourself reasons for putting off exercising just this once. Some reasons for eating that junk food just this once. You end up thinking that you just couldn’t find the time today, but are still on the right track. It’s possible all the excuses are valid, but yet something keeps bugging you, because deep down you’re depressed. You know you’re not staying true to your purpose.
So what can inverting this question do for you?
The inverted version of this question is
what can I do to ensure that I don’t get fit.
And the answers must immediately be:
make excuses for myself
find ways to procrastinate on my exercising
eat junk food
become discouraged when not seeing quick results
make unrealistic expectations
If you find you are doing all these things, you will finally see where the problems lie. Failing to succeed and succeeding in failing are essentially the same things. However, noticing the first thing is hard, while realizing the second through inversion become much easier. I mean, you are doing all the right things for it!?
In this way the method of inversion can guide you in your journey. It can help you cut through all the excuses and all the bullshit. It will force you to take responsibility. The way we are trained to think is by going forward, not backwards through inversion. This creates conditions in which we are either actively succeeding or passively failing. With inversion you can flip the switch and consider the situation in a mind frame that you are either passively succeeding or actively failing. Both ways to view your life are extremely powerful.
Inversion can get you to really think about where your priorities lie and reassess what matters to you. If you end up deciding that some things are just not as important to you, that’s fine, but you need to decide and live with the decision. You can’t keep lying to yourself.
Another reason to use inversion when solving problems and planning for your success is that it trains your brain to think about things from different angles. This can be extremely helpful in your life.
For example, you could apply inversion to planning for your life. Let’s say you are in your twenties. Chances are people have asked you where you see yourself in five or ten years, but they haven’t asked you where you see yourself in the last five or ten years of your life. If you haven’t thought about life like this before, you should. Use inversion to think backwards and see what this can teach you. Think of all the things that you want people to say about your life when you are gone. Think of all the things you want to achieve before you pass. Think of all the contributions you want to make. Think of all the ways you will want to have given you gifts to the world. Then imagine what a life lead with these values and priorities would look like. What will your life be when you are 90, considering you’ve done everything you’ve ever wanted to achieve and done everything you’ve ever wanted to do?
Don’t think of 10 years into the future. Think of the end point and begin to go back in increments of 10 years. This will help you to visualize more concretely where you need to be at in your life at each point.
You can also do this for short-term planning as well. Consider what traits a person might have that will guarantee that he will not be on track for his goals. Try to identify whether you exhibit any of these traits, like sloth, unreliability, or an uncanny ability to procrastinate. I, for one, had all of those at some point in my life, but inversion helped me identify them in time and work to cut them out of my life.
Start applying this exercise in your life right now and enjoy the benefits! Happy inverting.
What do you think of this strategy? Share your perspective in the comments below.