Thinking, Backwards And Forward

Move forward by working backwards

Thomas Oppong
Jan 9 · 4 min read
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Most people rarely stop to think about how they think — they don’t pause to ask themselves why they decide, judge and choose the way they do. And they tend to think forward by approaching problems from an initial state and advancing forward, towards the end goal.

Many life and career-changing decisions should involve two different kinds of thinking: thinking backwards (with the end in mind and working backwards in time — beginning by identifying the very last step, the next-to-last step, and so on) and thinking forward (combining all the pieces of information available to you to arrive at the end goal).

A great decision-making process or idea generation session is about thinking through how to climb a mountain and also about the moment a climber returns safely to the base of the mountain.

Using both thinking tools can help you make better decisions in less time and with less effort. Sometimes looking at — something backwards can reveal information that’s not otherwise available.

By understanding thinking backwards and forward, you can recognise decision-making traps and improve your decisions or generate better ideas.

Looking at a problem both forwards and backward allows us to consider every possible scenario, good and bad, and then make a decision accordingly.

As Charlie Munger said: “It is not enough to think problems through forward. You must also think in reverse, much like the rustic who wanted to know where he was going to die so that he’d never go there.”

“Indeed, many problems can’t be solved forward. And that is why the great algebraist, Carl Jacobi, so often said: “Invert, always invert.” And why Pythagoras thought in reverse to prove that the square root of two was an irrational number.”

Look forward, reason backward

Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards” says Soren Kierkegaard.

Great thinkers and innovators think forward and backwards. Occasionally, they drive their brain in reverse.

“Flipping one’s thinking, both forward and backward is a powerful sort of mental trickery that will help improve your thinking,” writes Shane Parrish.

Backward thinkers start by pondering the many possible outcomes — how did it end, what could derail it, how it can be sabotaged. They imagine both the worse and best-case scenarios, barriers and obstacles that might arise and what to do about it before it emerges.

They see linkages between the future and the present and the type of bridge they’d need to construct — one girder at a time — in order to get to the goal.

For example, rather than asking, what you should do to be happy or productive, you should ask what you should do to avoid being unhappy or unproductive. This makes you look at this problem backwards.

“Inversion prevents you from making up your mind after your first conclusion. It is a way to counteract the gravitational pull of confirmation bias, writes James Clear.

Working back from both positions of failure and success can help you ask yourself critical questions, the answers to which can help you end up with a much better outcome, reducing your chances of failure.

Thinking both forward and backward can be applied in investment, personal finance, career, relationship and business.

Instead of asking, what will bring success in your life and working towards a successful life (forward-thinking), try asking what can also bring failure in your life (backwards thinking). Or Rather than thinking what makes a good life, think about what would ensure misery, and simply avoid them.

Going forward in reverse help you eliminate all possible outcomes that are not favourable. Once you understand the routes that lead to an undesirable outcome, you can avoid them before you even start the journey, taking a neat little sidestep onto the roads that lead to your success.

“Rather than trying to be famous, or successful, or wealthy, try inverting the problem instead. Turn it upon its head, and think of it backwards,” writes Abhishek Chakraborty.

If there’s only one thing you want to learn from this posts, let it be this: Spend less time trying to be successful and more time trying to avoid obvious mistakes, failures, bad habits, and decisions. Avoiding stupidity is easier than seeking brilliance.

Thinking backwards and forward is an essential skill for thinking clearly. It allows you to see situations from a different angle. Whatever you think, consider the opposite side of things.

Mind Cafe

Relaxed, inspiring essays about happiness.

Thomas Oppong

Written by

Founder @AllTopStartups | Featured at Forbes, Business Insider, etc. | Join my personal newsletter for life and career tools at https://postanly.substack.com

Mind Cafe

Mind Cafe

Relaxed, inspiring essays about happiness.

Thomas Oppong

Written by

Founder @AllTopStartups | Featured at Forbes, Business Insider, etc. | Join my personal newsletter for life and career tools at https://postanly.substack.com

Mind Cafe

Mind Cafe

Relaxed, inspiring essays about happiness.

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