As a coach and a practitioner of positive psychology, I don’t typically encourage my clients to focus on what they don’t want. And yet, that’s exactly what I’m about to challenge you to do.
Inversion is a problem-solving strategy that reverses problems in order to solve them. The process involves reflecting on what you want to avoid in your life, and strategically designing your days to better dodge your biggest bullets.
For example, consider two business partners who found themselves overbooked, overworked, doing business with people they didn’t like, and so on. Determined to enjoy their time at work, they set out to find ways to make their days consistently more enjoyable.
Instead of trying to imagine what a perfect day would look like, they thought about the worst day imaginable and captured the biggest sources of their unhappiness:
- Endless meetings
- Dealing with people we don’t like or trust
- Owing people things / not being in control / obligations
- Having to be at the office
Working backwards from there, their mission was to generate a list of “anti-goals” that would help them to avoid the things they hated most:
- Never schedule an in-person meeting when it can otherwise be accomplished via email or phone (or not at all)
- No business or obligations with people we don’t like—even just a slight bad vibe and it’s a hard no
- Never give up voting control of our businesses, no favors from people who could need something from us
- Work remotely as needed/wanted
- Video conference or pay for people to come visit us
These anti-goals serve as non-negotiable guard rails that allow the partners to stay in alignment with their values and promote a positive relationship to their work life. Certainly not everyone has the freedom to determine when and where they work, but this example highlights the positive shifts that can result from honing in on the things you want to avoid or prevent—not just the things you want to create or achieve.
Here’s another example of a goal that everyone can relate to: greater productivity.
When looking at productivity goals through the lens of inversion, you begin by asking questions like, “What if I wanted to decrease my focus? What would I do? What distracts me now and what has the potential to distract me in the future?” The answers to these questions can help you create a roadmap for avoiding future potholes, thereby improving efficiency and productivity.
Warren Buffet famously said, “[My partner] Charlie and I have not learned how to solve difficult business problems. What we have learned is to avoid them.” To that end, inversion proves that you can learn just as much from identifying what doesn’t work as you can from spotting what does.