Backward Thinking – Why We Must Always Invert

Photo by: thiagofloriano

Invert, always invert

Carl Gustav Jacob Jacobi (December 10, 1804 – February 18, 1851), considered to be the most inspiring teacher of his time and one of the greatest mathematicians of his generation, said: Invert, always invert. Jacobi believed that the solution of many hard problems can be clarified by re-expressing them in inverse form.

Backward Thinking

A lot of success in life comes from knowing what you really want to avoid – like early death and a bad marriage.  -Charles Munger.

Backward thinking as described in Seeking Wisdom: From Darwin to Munger, 3rd Edition, is applying the power of inverting to help find the solution set to many of life’s hard problems.  Backward thinking is an easy to remember 3 step process:

(1) Invert.  Take a particular goal that you hope to achieve – now invert it to find your non-goal.  To do this ask: What don’t I want to achieve? For example, if your goal is to lose weight, then your non-goal is to get fat.

Once you have defined your non-goal, you are ready for step 2.

(2) Solve.  Step 2 is the analysis phase.  Here, we ask: What causes the non-goal?  In our example, the non-goal is getting fat.  Weight gain can be caused by: over-eating, lack of exercise, drinking too many calories, etc.  The object is to determine the primary factors that contribute to your non-goal.

(3) Re-invert.  Once you have your solution set, you re-invert by asking: How can I avoid that?  If the easiest way for you to achieve your non-goal is by overeating, then to improve your chances for losing weight, you need to focus on strategies that help you avoid overeating.

How can I f*ck this up?

If you have already achieved a particular goal, you can use the power of inverting to remind yourself what pitfalls to avoid, so that you can maintain success and make further gains.  For example, if you are in a great relationship, ask yourself, “Well this is great, what could I do to royally f*ck this up?”  Usually, it’s pretty obvious – probably the easiest top 10 list you’ll ever compose.  Avoid these things and you will improve your prospects for maintaining and growing the relationship.

your Top 10 Anti-Goals

For homework, consider your top ten anti-goals and the key factors for achieving them.  Then, for the rest of your life, do your best to avoid them. To get you started, I’ve inverted some popular goals:

To get ridiculously fat I need to…?

These 3 things will help me waste tons of time and get nothing accomplished…?

To ruin my most important personal relationships, all I need to do is…?

To avoid meeting new people and travelling to exotic places, I should…?

I really want to sabotage my mood.  To be supremely unhappy, I must…?

Get Smarter at the Game of Life

Achieving goals isn’t easy.  Apply backward thinking to clarify solutions.  Once you have a goal in mind, knowing what to avoid gives you half of the solution for achieving it and important guidance for where to focus your efforts.  Remember, always invert.

            Photo by: tim ellis

Another good rule…Life is far too important to be taken seriously.

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8 responses to “Backward Thinking – Why We Must Always Invert

  1. This is interesting. It’s good to know how to reach your goals and even better to know what you need to avoid so you don’t sabotage yourself

  2. this is a good thought process, i will work on making it easy to apply!

  3. I liked it~I think I will try the strategy…
    M F butts also a nice even touch
    ♥Bean

  4. I love this one, brother! And the addition of a quote by Jacobi was a nice touch! 🙂

    • Thanks Nick – practical application of abstract thinking is the hallmark of great teachers, like Jacobi and great coaches too ; ).

  5. Pingback: » Row, pull, push » CrossFit NYC

  6. Pingback: Your Monthly Moment of Zen #19 | The Iron Samurai

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