Carl Gustav Jacob Jacobi was a sensational German mathematician, working relentlessly to reveal wonderful algebraic insights, yet history (as history does) clawed away at his lifetime of work and reduced it to its simplest form.
In posterity he is remembered for a simple maxim.
'Man muss immer umkehren'.
Translated, this means, 'Invert, always invert.'
Translated again; look at any problem you face both forwards AND backwards.
The most commonly used example of 'inverted thinking' would be 'death bed speculation'.
Rather than considering what we are looking to achieve from now, towards the end, we consider how we may feel at the end of our lives, towards the beginning. This thought process can fundamentally alter how we consider what really matters to us. With forward thinking; financial gain, career success and social equity can dominate goals.
With inverted thinking; time spent with people we care about and experiencing the world we live in usually take over.
Forward thinking dominance may lead us to neglect the core pleasures in life as we plow ahead with our plans to build and create, without ever considering the importance of actually enjoying what we build.
With inverted thinking dominance we may end up with a vastly different, but equally challenging life; neglecting finances and accomplishments in favour of experience and relationships is a truly wonderful thought, but unlikely to be practical or bring the sense of lasting satisfaction we had hoped for - building and creating is a pleasure in itself.
Looking at a problem both forwards and backwards allows us to consider every permutation, good and bad, and then make a decision accordingly. The insight gleaned from inversion of thought should not supersede the insight from looking at the same problem forwards, but rather accompany the decisions we make.
As people, we have a tendency to look at solutions to problems in one direction, with an isolated outcome, but this limits both our potential and our capacity to make the right choice. Since the majority of people reading this blog are interested in physical transformation, lets break it down like MC Hammer at hammer time and see how Carl Jacobi (and The MC) can help you achieve your goals.
Lets imagine that today, you've just started your new workout and nutrition plan. You have a clear goal to lose 50 lbs in six months, build some muscle, get fit and feel great about your body and recharge your energy!
Forward thinking from a positive place and full of motivation - you plan your workouts, prepare your diet and get set and ready to go.
'This is it!' you tell yourself. 'This time I am going to do it'.
You visualise the success you are going to experience in 6 months time, and with more bounce than a space hopper factory, you get going.
Fast forward: 6 months later, you have failed to reach your goals. After a strong start and early progress the wheels came off. After 6 weeks you gave in to tempting foods, and after 8, you got an injury and stopped training altogether. After 10 weeks exercise and healthy eating had been replaced by netflix and take outs!
With such a positive mindset and attitude, how could this happen?
When in the throes of motivation, the hardest thing to do is to look at the downside. After all, why would you want to? Shouldn't we just look at the positive outcome we desire?
"Think positively." I hear you cry. "Don't be a spoil sport."
Thinking positively is a little bit like the bass guitar. Occasional it can sound good on its own, like in Day Tripper and Under pressure, but there ain't nobody going to concerts to listen to bass guitar all night. The beauty of the bass guitar is unleashed when it accompanies rhythm guitar, drums and vocals.
So it is with positive thinking. On it's own it can work, but 99% of the time it's infinitely more effective alongside other things, like discipline, critical thinking and inverted thinking.
At the start of the 6 months, if you had inverted your thinking to look at the problem of weight loss from the end to the start, as well as from the start to the end - you would have seen there was actually more than one possible outcome.
Success and yes, failure.
Working back from a position of failure, rather than success, you would have been able to ask yourself critical questions, the answers to which could have changed your outcome. Questions that matter philosophically, physically and emotionally.
Knowing I haven't achieved my goals - how do I feel?
What caused me to not achieve my goals? Injury? Cravings? Work? Travel? Wrong information?
If I get an injury what will that mean and what will I do?
If I give in to cravings, what will that mean and what will I do?
If I have work trips and holidays, what will that mean?
Was this outcome inevitable, or could I have approached it differently?
If I fail achieve my goals, how important were they to me in the first place?
How bad is it that I haven't achieved my goals? Does it even matter or is it more painful than I care to consider?
You see, looking at a problem from the end back to the start, allows us to foresee the issues that may arise on our journey, before they happen. Famous businessmen, from Warren Buffet and Steve Jobs, through to Elon Musk - credit inverted thinking with enabling them to make good decisions and grow businesses that thrive. On the other hand, many companies that didn't succeed highlight lack of inversion and too much positivity as being the hammer (not MC Hammer...he just busts moves) that fell on their ultimate downfall.
I want you to succeed on your health journey. I want you to feel positive about your experience and confident you will succeed - and in order to magnify the chances of you reaching your goals, you'll need to consider the reasons you might not.
Slip out of your positive mindset for a few moments to spend time considering a scenario where you DO NOT succeed, and then ask the questions to find out why. What stopped you? Why didn't it work out the way you intended?
As Warren Buffet famously said “All I want to know is where I'm going to die, so I'll never go there.”
Once you understand the routes that lead to failure, you can stop walking them before you venture too far, taking a neat little side step onto the roads that lead to your success.
I'm positive you will achieve your health goals.
Positive thinking is good, but it needs to know the answers that will shut up and eradicate the gnarly, negative little bugger in the corner of your mind that thinks you won't.
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