Tim Ferriss has a list of 17 questions in Tools of Titans he uses to Test the Impossible. I am going to explore one a week.
1. What if I did the opposite for 48 hours?
This question is presented in context of Tim’s relative rags to riches story after he left college. He was toiling away in a job he hated and struggling. As existential moments go, he suddenly found clarity in a simple idea: do the opposite.
Doing so brought remarkable success in his sales position. By working at a time of day when his colleagues and competitors were not he found something impossible. Prior to that decision the thought hadn’t occurred to him. It resided in a subconscious blindspot. The lesson is not about working when others are not. Rather, it is a statement on the value of rebuking convention. Even if it your own convention.
This is a great place to start when developing a Growth Mindset. If I am doing X, maybe the opposite of X (-X) will offer dramatically different results. Particularly if I don’t like the way things are going, why not? You don’t have to be Dr. Phil to ask yourself “how’s that working for you?”
It’s a plan even George Costanza would love.
Bracketing: Live life like a photographer
Even if the opposite doesn’t solve the problem, by establishing limits on either end of your investigation you can be sure the best answer is somewhere in between. This is similar to bracketing in a photography. Back in the days of film you didn’t know if a shot was lit well enough until you developed it. To compensate you’d take additional shots on either end of the lighting spectrum. Find the shot you think will work, then take shots a stop above and below your light reading. One or more with more light and one or more with less. Chances are a good shot will be in there.
By doing the opposite you have tested two hypothesis and are now far closer to the perfect solution you desire.
The Definition of Insanity
Somebody smart once said:
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” -Many Different People, allegedly
It doesn’t have to be the opposite, but if you are hoping for change, something different sure would be a good place to start. Even though it is totally intro level psychotherapy to say “if it hurts when you hit your head stop hitting your head,” it can be a good place to start. If you continue with X it will NEVER change. You then need to be very okay with what the consequences of X are in your life.
If you are experiencing your life and have assessed that there is something you don’t like or wish was different, your highest-yield approach is to try something significantly different.
I like considering doing the opposite because it often explores a space your mind will find absurd. You can’t get more different from X than -X. We’ve talked before about the role of flanking your Ego defenses. It allows you to get past a set of cognitions designed to prevent change. Your emotions will let you know you found that space. The opposite will seem impossible. It will feel risky. It will seem like a waste of time. If you find yourself saying, “I could never do that!” Bam! You’ve found a new space to test out.
If you think about it, the opposite is the opposite because you are really invested in the not-opposite. If you are kind-of a Raiders fan, becoming kind-of a Patriots fan isn’t really the opposite. It’s more an equally “meh” idea. That’s less valuable in terms of potential for exploring change.
I think politics is a better example here. Take the Democratic and Republican National Convention. Maybe nowhere else in America do more people come together to have the same idea. Not only that, they share in their disagreement with the opposite. Their investment in their ideology is exactly the reason they are there. It’s not the Kind-of-Republican-But-Sometimes-Not Get Together. Everyone at that convention is passionate about X. And they hate -X. Their dogmatic support of X is a beacon for how much they should consider -X. They have a HUGE blindspot. How much would both parties benefit from trying the opposite for 48 hours?
It is ridiculous to believe that you will create change in your life or the life/beliefs of those around you without having tested the validity of the ideas you hold true.
X: “You should eat Chinese food with chop sticks.”
-X: “Have you ever eaten it with a fork?”
X: “No, but I know it’s terrible.”
-X: “I don’t agree with you.”
X: “Nuh uh, I talked to all my friends who use chop sticks and they agree we are right. We also agree you are stupid for using a fork.”
-X: “I’m not stupid. Please don’t call me names.”
X: “Well you have to either be stupid or hate chop sticks and that’s why you won’t use them. Anyone who can’t see that chop sticks are the best is either stupid or hates chop sticks. It’s science and I saw it on Twitter. Here’s a meme that explains my idea.”
This dramatization is as much a commentary on how people often interact as it is instructive on how our subconscious engages internal conflict. Anxiety, anger, judgment, fear and even sadness can be the ways your subconscious shames the part of your mind that wants to explore new things. It has to, that’s what Ego defenses do. Until you teach it not to do so.
Ethnocentrism: Live life like an anthropologist
In anthropology we have a similar idea. It is called ethnocentrism. You cannot study a different culture unless you first learn how to abandon all thought that your culture is better or right. It’s not to say you have to do the opposite of your culture. You do need to be open to the idea that different may be just as valid, if not better than yours.
An island of cannibals do not deserve the moniker “savages” or “primitive” any more than we do for our slothy way of having burritos delivered to our door and having a stranger carry us from place to place in their car. “Better” is the result of having tested at least two methods and identifying one as superior in achieving a desired outcome. Remember that the next time you find a judgment word for someone with different beliefs than you.
If you can create a culture in your life that routinely asks, “What if I did the opposite for 48 hours”you stand to more reliably execute a life that has explored blindspots, tested assumptions, and somewhat scientifically made choices. The steady-state of your life will comprise a higher percentage of planned intent. Planned intent is what I will sell is the most effective path to wellness.