Self-help has a great way of firing you up. I bet you often find yourself fired up after reading an article, watching a video, attending a seminar, etc, but does it last?
You want to add new experiences, new goals, and new circumstances to your life. You’re going to push, strive, and reach for success, for the next day or two.
What if I told you there was a better way?
What if, instead of trying to get better, you focus on not getting worse?
The Power of Inversion
“It is remarkable how much long-term advantage people like us have gotten by trying to be consistently not stupid, instead of trying to be very intelligent.” — Charlie Munger
Being smart is difficult. There’s a lot to know and you don’t know what you don’t know. You’re better off trying to avoid making terrible decisions than trying to make brilliant ones.
Think about it. You have these dreams, ambitions, and goals. They require energy — lots of it. Recovering from your screw-ups also requires lots of energy. It’s hard to do both at once.
Also, there are too many variables to know what will work. You have odds of success and nothing more. Figuring out what definitely won’t work, however, increases your odds.
I used to believe in avoiding talking about what you don’t want because you’ll “speak it into existence.” But after saying affirmations and putting a Lamborghini on my wall didn’t lead to me owning one, I started seeking useful strategies. I found inversion.
Think of inversion in your life like taking a multiple-choice test with half the wrong answers removed beforehand.
There are many things you can cut from your life to harness the power of inversion, but here are some of the most important ones to me.
Feeling Sorry For Yourself
“Self-pity is easily the most destructive of the non-pharmaceutical narcotics; it is addictive, gives momentary pleasure and separates the victim from reality.” — John Gardner
We can be honest with each other, right? Feeling sorry for yourself feels oddly good. There’s this strange moral superiority you feel from self-pity.
Feeling sorry for yourself is a way to pat yourself on the back for coping with a life you don’t want. It’s your brain’s way of twisting your logic so you don’t have to face the truth about your role in what happens to you.
I’m not immune to feeling sorry for myself. Whenever I do catch myself wallowing in self-pity, however, I ask myself, “What am I getting from feeling this way?”
The answer is never results, progress, or change.
When you stop feeling sorry for yourself you can say, “Ok. This is where I’m at right now. What do I do?”
That sentence begins the journey of transforming your life.
Comparing Yourself to Other People
“We like to think of our champions and idols as superheroes who were born different from us. We don’t like to think of them as relatively ordinary people who made themselves extraordinary.”- Carol Dweck
No matter how successful you are someone will be more successful than you. The more you compare yourself to other people the more you’re unable to appreciate what you have and what you’ve been able to accomplish.
This seems simple, right? Too simple. The thing about life is the greatest answers are the simplest ones. You just need to be reminded of them about 1,000 times, especially with something like envy.
Some people reach out to me and I can sense they feel I’m above them just because I’m a writer. They only see my work. They don’t see the inner-workings of my mind — the voice telling me I’m a fraud who should just quit.
These people don’t know I struggle to get out of bed some mornings, that I could’ve just had a nasty fight in personal life, or that I have a long list of dreams unrealized myself.
On some level, the people you look up to carry some amount of self-doubt and neuroticism. Remember that.
Also, remember that you have to be you. You have no choice. You might as well get used to it, run your own race, and avoid the emotional drainage of comparing yourself to people you don’t even know.
“Keeping one’s distance from an ignorant person is equivalent to keeping company with a wise man.”- Ali Bin Abi-Taleb
You have a friend you care about a lot. For some reason, however, you always find yourself feeling a bit down after you spend time with them. Each time you see each other they’re armed with the latest complaint, dramatic story, or ailment.
“It’s fine,” you tell yourself. Everyone has problems. You’re a good friend, so you’re supposed to be there for them no matter what, right?
Negativity is emotional second-hand smoke. You can’t be around negative, ignorant, and sad people without their state rubbing off on you.
Jon Morrow, a disabled writer with a rare disease who owns a multi-million dollar company, said he had to stop hanging around other people with the disease “because they were waiting to die.” He didn’t do this because he’s crass and arrogant, rather he knew the people he surrounded himself with was literally a matter of life and death.
Look at your life. Are you surrounded by complainers, people with limiting beliefs, and ignorant people?
It’s time to cut out the cancer.
Playing Games You Can’t Win
You have to figure out what your own aptitudes are. If you play games where other people have the aptitudes and you don’t, you’re going to lose. And that’s as close to certain as any prediction that you can make. You have to figure out where you’ve got an edge. And you’ve got to play within your own circle of competence. — Charlie Munger
You have a natural talent or gift. Successful people identify what they’re good at and continue to hone those skills. What do unsuccessful people do? Instead of focusing on what they know or want to get better at, they focus on what’s trendy.
Don’t write a book because it seems cool, write a book because you love to write.
Don’t start a podcast because you think it’ll make you famous, start a podcast because you have something meaningful to add to the conversation and the skills to pull it off.
Most people don’t want to stay in their wheelhouse. They want to compete where they shouldn’t because of the rewards. Not only won’t this work, but you’ll become frustrated at having to start over again the next time a shiny object comes around.
Following your genuine intellectual curiosity is a better foundation for a career than following whatever is making money right now. — Naval Ravikant
Of course, you have to start to get good at something. But consider your motivations beforehand. If you’re doing something for the money, fame, or validation that comes from outside of you, you’ll probably fail.
Why even waste your time?
“We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.”
There’s nothing wrong with having nice things. Material wealth has many benefits. You know what they say “Money doesn’t solve all your problems, but it solves your money problems.”
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be recognized for your work.
There’s nothing wrong with desiring a certain lifestyle.
The above only become problems when you turn them into attachments.
Chasing after status markers can quickly turn you into their prisoner. The things you own end up owning you. The identity you created and now have to maintain for your peers can become a fortress keeping you from a life you love.
Then there’s the attachment to outcomes. We often misjudge our decisions. Decisions should be judged on what you knew at the time, not the result.
If you made a decision with a 90 percent chance of a positive outcome yet the result was negative, you still made a good decision.
It’s both disconcerting and liberating to know that chance plays a large role in your life. If you know deep down you put in the right amount of effort, made an informed decision, and bet on good odds, there’s no shame in failure.
The bottom line — it’s okay to want, have, and do, so long as you behave freely instead of being choked by your desires.
“The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary.” — Nassim Taleb
When you think of the word addiction you think of the obvious culprits — drugs and alcohol. But addiction means anything you have an unhealthy reliance on. Like addictions to drugs and alcohol, they have a negative impact on your life in general.
Some examples of nondrug and alcohol addictions are:
- Social media
- Your smartphone
I won’t discuss any of these from a moral perspective. There are practical reasons to get rid of these addictions. They all take away from the most important aspects of your life — your time, your health, your relationships, and your wallet.
Remember the idea of inversion is to remove obstacles in your way of the success you want to have this year.
I can’t tell you how many hours per day I’ve wasted on my phone chasing dopamine hits from around the web. During these lost hours I could’ve been writing, reading, being more present with family and friends, or a number of other positive activities.
Addictions aren’t easy to get rid of. They’re very serious problems. But they’re problems well worth working on.
People always tell you about all the amazing things you can add to your life, but they’re missing a larger point.
If you try to fill a bucket with a hole in it the water will continue to spill out. You can’t climb out of a hole while continuing to dig it.
Telling you to stop digging isn’t sexy, but it’s effective. The less you screw up the freer you are to succeed.
Yes, this means you’ll have to be disciplined.
No, the process won’t be easy, but nothing worth having comes easily.
Aren’t you tired of empty promises filled with a blind optimism that get you nowhere? The sooner you realize life isn’t all about being happy, positive, and comfortable 100 percent of the time the better off you’ll be.
What are you going to remove from your life?
Ayodeji is the author of You 2.0 — Stop Feeling Stuck, Reinvent Yourself, and Become a Brand New You. Want a free copy of my first book? Get it here.