In this essay, I'll explain what inversion is and how you can use it to simplify your decisions.
Most decisions seem difficult because they are complex. There are countless factors, options and effects that play into them. Faced with this complexity, it's easy to feel overwhelmed and delay a decision. But, this delay can lead to endless procrastination until external circumstances force your hand or it's too late.
Inversion is a way of thinking that makes those complex decisions easier. It can prevent overwhelm, procrastination and avoidance. If you use it, you'll be better equipped to handle any decision, immunize yourself against analysis paralysis and become able to act quickly when it matters.
What is Inversion?
The Merriam-webster dictionary defines inversion as "a reversal of position, order, form, or relationship."
In other words, it's useless to understand what inversion really is.
Instead, for the purpose of this essay, think about inversion as a method of getting what you want by avoiding what you don't want. Instead of asking how to do something, ask how not to do it. Then invert the results of this question to know what to do.
This sounds very theoretical, so let's look at a concrete example of how to use inversion in everyday life:
How to Use Inversion For Happiness
"What would make me happy?" It's difficult to answer such a complex question. Just thinking about it is overwhelming and might trigger anxiety. Instead if answering this question, you are more likely to avoid it.
With inversion, you ask the opposite question: "What would make me miserable?"
This question is much easier to answer:
Messed up sleep, poor nutrition, no exercise, no contact with friends or family, lots of time spent on social media or news sites, working a meaningless job and more.
Now you can reverse these answers to your inverted question to answer the original question of what would make you happy:
Regular quality and quantity of sleep, good nutrition, regular exercise, contact with friends and family, minimal time on social media or news sites and working a fulfilling job.
By inverting the original question and then inverting the results of the inverted question, you can find easy answers to the original question. Are you keeping up?
Let's look at more examples.
How to Use Inversion For Productivity & Sleep
"How can I be more productive?" becomes "How would I be unproductive?"
Simple: Poor sleep, checking emails often, avoiding difficult work, working without a clear plan, having distracting websites bookmarked and so on.
By inverting these answers you know that you should focus on getting good quality and quantity of sleep, checking emails only at set times of the day, prioritizing difficult work, following a plan for what to work on and removing distracting websites from your bookmarks.
Let's take sleep as the final example:
"How can I improve my sleep?" becomes "How would I guarantee a horrible night of sleep?"
Simple: Buy a shitty mattress, stare at screens before bed, drink caffeine late in the day, eat a big meal right before bed, constantly vary the time you get up and go to bed, sleep in a bright bedroom and keep the temperature in your bedroom up.
By inverting these answers you know you should focus on: Get a quality mattress, avoid screens before bed and caffeine late in the day, eat your last meal 3 hours before bed and make your bedroom as dark and cool as possible.
The Step-By-Step Process for Using Inversion
From these examples we can infer an exact process for using inversion:
- Pose a question.
- Ask the opposite question.
- Answer it.
- Do the opposite.
In sum, inversion helps you to make complex decisions by directing your focus on what would guarantee failure. Then you do the opposite of that. Inversion works because thinking about failure is much easier than thinking about success.
Equipped with the power of inversion, you can quickly and easily find simple answers to complex problems that work.
Chris Williamson uses this example in his "3MM: Moods, Assassins & Daughters" Newsletter that inspired this essay. ↩︎
I burrowed these excellent examples from Dickie Bush's Inversion: The Reframing Technique of Top Thinkers (Dickie's post has since been deleted). ↩︎