Invert your questions

I’ve been pondering this post which argues that inverting your questions leads to well rounded thinking. For example,

  • Instead of: “How can I eat more healthy foods?”
  • Try asking: “How can I stop eating as much unhealthy foods?”


I like it for a few reasons:

  1. Sometimes thinking about what to do is harder than thinking about what not to do
  2. It leads to subtracting before adding
  3. 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.’

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’.

Charlie Munger

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?”

Try asking, “What should I neglect first?”

James Clear

I like that.

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