I love Secrets of Adulthood, and am always listening to try to identify new ones. At first, I didn’t realize the usefulness of this Secret of Adulthood, which was given to me by an engineer friend: “If something doesn’t work one way, turn it around.”
Literally, if you can’t get a piece to fit, turn it around. And figuratively–if something’s not working, reverse it.
I’ve found this principle to be astonishingly useful. If some approach isn’t working, try the opposite.
For instance, I’m a person with pretty high self-control, and when I thought about trying to achieve certain aims by using more self-control, I could hardly bear the prospect. But then I realized I could do the opposite, by abandoning my self-control. (Granted, my method of abandoning self-control might surprise you, but it works.)
I see this principle over and over in the area of habit-formation. People assume that one way is the “right” way, even if they aren’t getting good results. Instead, it’s helpful to think — well, what I’m doing isn’t working, so I’ll turn it around.
I’m trying to start small, but it’s not working — so start big. Or vice versa.
I’m trying to follow a new habit first thing in the morning, but it’s not working — so try later in the day. Or vice versa.
I’m trying to be moderate, but it’s not working — so abstain altogether. Or vice versa.
People often ask, “What are the best habits to follow?” as though there’s one path that everyone should follow. But I’ve concluded that the secret to having good habits is to figure out the habits work for us, and to make a great effort to maintain those habits.
There’s no magic formula—not for ourselves, and not for the people around us. We won’t make ourselves more creative and productive by copying other people’s habits, even the habits of geniuses; we must know our own nature, and what habits serve us best. So if something doesn’t work one way, turn it around.
I write much more about this in Better Than Before, my forthcoming book about how we make and break habits. Which, I must say, is one of the most fascinating subjects ever. To hear when the book goes on sale, sign up here.
How about you? Have you ever found that doing the opposite of something was a good way to come up with a solution?