Thinking Toys #1 — Inversion

This will take about 2 minutes and may magically solve a problem for you.

Pick a problem from your life. It can be big or small, but keep it salient — what was on your mind before reading this?

Take 15 seconds and load it up into your head.

You’ve probably thought about it already. You’ve been trying to fix something, or make something different, or achieve some goal. You may have some sense of what you want, what success would feel like.

Let’s call that X — the goal. And let’s try something else. Instead of trying to achieve X, think of the different ways that you could achieve the opposite: Not-X.

What can you do to achieve what you don’t want? How can you predictably fail?

Now, check if you are doing these things. Also, given that these are things you probably don’t want to be doing, what options remain?

Pay attention to what it feels like for your mind to flip the problem like this. There is no right way to do it. Paying attention to how it feels for you will help this move be accessible in the future.

When it’s not obvious how to succeed, or even what success looks like, define failure and avoid the actions that will lead to that.

This is inversion. The first, and arguably most powerful, thinking toy I’m going to write about. Rather than saying a bunch of neat things about the strategy, it seems much more useful to try to get people to practice it. Try to feel what it’s like from the inside and install it as a tool that you can actually use. So, if you skimmed the above, I urge you to actually try it!

Bonus: Try it on someone else. Load up a problem that you know a friend or loved one is struggling with and try to invert it for them. Even better, introduce them to the idea and try it together with them. Teaching someone else is one of the best ways to learn something, plus you get to help someone solve a problem!

Reply and let me know what worked above. What was confusing or aversive or where did you get stuck?

I’m writing one of these every week: sign-up for the Thinking Toys newsletter


Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Gary Basin’s story.