- Instead of: “How can I eat more healthy foods?”
- Try asking: “How can I stop eating as much unhealthy foods?”
- Instead of: “How can I find a relationship that will last?”
- Try asking: “How can I stop having relationships that are doomed to fail?”
I like it for a few reasons:
- Sometimes thinking about what to do is harder than thinking about what not to do
- It leads to subtracting before adding
- This quote by Charlie Munger (taken from the post linked above):
The mental habit of thinking backward forces objectivity – because one of the ways you think a thing through backward is to take your initial assumption and say, ‘Let’s try and disprove it.’Charlie Munger
That is not what most people do with their initial assumptions. They try and confirm it. It’s an automatic tendency in psychology – often called ‘first-conclusion bias’.
My friend Erik pointed out that this is really just adding constraints to the problem. And sometimes that’s helpful, but not always. For example, inverting “how can I make my table stop wobbling?” into “how could I avoid making my table wobble even more?” probably isn’t helping anyone. (“Answer: do NOT cut off any of the table’s legs.”)
Another interesting example came up in James Clear’s newsletter today:
Instead of asking yourself, “What should I do first?”James Clear
Try asking, “What should I neglect first?”
I like that.