The Rule of Inversion - or - The George Costanza Method (Wisdom pt. 2)

Very often, it is much easier to understand how to not do something than to come up with clear principles of how to achieve your goal. In other words, failure conditions are easier to define than success conditions. If we simply avoid the failure conditions, then logically, we will eventually succeed.

This is my version of the "inversion rule" borrowed from famous investor Charlie Munger. I like to call it The George Costanza Method, after the TV character who tries doing the opposite of his usual routine and achieves unexpected success. In the words from the show, "if everything you do is wrong, the opposite would have to be right."

The essence of this technique is to shortcut the decision-making process when trying to achieve a goal by identifying common pitfalls and simply avoiding them.

Most experts don't have special talents or insights, but they have been around long enough to have made every possible mistake, and thus know what to avoid. By avoiding the mistakes that newcomers don't know about, the so-called expert appears to have a special road-map to success.

Another way of looking at it is as a risk-mitigation tool. By analyzing all the ways things could go wrong, and simply avoiding those risks, we increase our odds of success -- without changing anything else about ourselves.

Let's say as an example that you want to have an athletic physique. Perhaps you're starting out and don't understand anything about the merits of different kinds of exercises, diets, programs, etc. It's easy to become overwhelmed and get into an "analysis paralysis" which prevents you from making any progress.

Instead, focus on the exact opposite. How could you have the worst possible physique, with the least athletic ability? Your list might look something like:

  • Be as sedentary as possible.
  • Eat only unhealthy sugary and processed foods.
  • Drink alcohol and/or use other recreational drugs frequently to ensure that most of your waking hours are spent either consuming these substances or recovering from the previous session. As a bonus, recreational drugs also will make you more prone to eating unhealthy foods.
  • Surround yourself with others that are living the same way to ensure that these habits will stick.
  • Get as little sleep as possible. Try to stay up late and go to bed at odd hours so that your body is constantly stressed and unprepared for any physical activity.
  • Avoid drinking water.
  • Avoid nutritious food like lean meats, vegetables, fruits, nuts, egg, milk, etc.

By doing the opposite of everything on this list, you would be all but guaranteed to end up eventually with an athletic physique.

The Method applies to almost anything. Give it a try the next time you are feeling stuck and unable to make progress on a goal.

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