The inversion method: How intelligent people avoid life-changing problems

Problems are inevitable in life.

It’s how we deal with them that matters. Or better still, it’s how we avoid life-changing problems that can change the trajectory of our lives.

Avoiding problems can save you years of trying to correct them.

Intelligent people work backwards and think about their problems from the future and take action today for a better life for their future selves.

Inversion changes your approach to solving life problems. It’s not the same as inaction or avoiding failure though.

In a different experience, example, when learning something new, failure enables you to rethink or reexamine your approach to getting better. It helps you find improved ways to ways to achieve what we want.

Inversion, on the other hand, helps you flip how you make decisions and think about everything in the opposite direction.

Thinking forward and backwards forces you to consider solutions differently. And you allow yourself to think about what would go wrong and avoid it.

Charlie Munger explains it beautifully, “It is not enough to think problems through forward. You must also think in reverse, much like the rustic who wanted to know where he was going to die so that he’d never go there.”

Jeff Bezos used the inversion method when he was making the life-changing decision to start Amazon. He called it the regret minimisation framework — project yourself into the future and ask yourself what can cause more regret. And then work backwards to reduce the future regrets.
Instead of the conventional way to think about problems, inverse thinkers consider everything in the opposite direction. What can go wrong?

Humans are already great at finding everything wrong with someone or something. So, trying to find what won’t work, can be harmful or won’t be beneficial for your well-being can help you narrow down on what to avoid to have a better life.

Apply the negativa principle

Inversion is similar to a philosophy called Negativa — studying what not to do instead of what to do. It’s an art of negative subtraction.

“You can improve your life substantially by merely knowing what to avoid,” writes Thomas Waschenfelder.

It’s probably one of the most practical ways to get closer to a good life. You can use inversion to improve your finances, health, learning, how you work and your relationships.

One of Warren Buffett’s popular investment rules is this: Rule №1: Never lose money. Rule №2: Never forget rule №1.”

It’s one of the best ways to apply inversion when you invest your money. If you know the many ways you can lose money, you will avoid losing your capital in the first place.

Instead of thinking forward and trying to figure out how to become wealthy or build a better exercise routine, thinking backwards can help you figure out how to avoid the problem in the face place.

A few questions to help you put inversion into practice

How do people become miserable? How do many people get into debt? How do people ruin their relationships? What habits causes people to lose money? How do people gain excess weight? Why do many people become poor?

You probably know more reasons people get worse than the good ways they improve their lives. Thinking forward and backwards helps you think about the many ways to build better habits.

“Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards,” says Soren Kierkegaard, a Danish philosopher.

Great thinkers occasionally drive their brains in reverse to find what they are missing when they think forward.

What’s the opposite of what you want?

Forward and backwards thinking allows you to ponder many possible causes and effects. For example, how do I stop making progress? How could the project derail? What habits can sabotage my work? How am I doing today that’s slowing down my career?

Many people don’t think about avoiding problems enough. They use forward-thinking in almost all situations and end up wasting a lot of time in the future thinking about how to undo what they did in the past.

“Inversion is an essential skill for leading a logical and rational life. It allows you to step outside your normal patterns of thought and see situations from a different angle,” argues James Clear.

Inversion is both an art and a skill. You can get better with practice. In all your decision-making process, ask yourself: how can this decision derail my long-term goal?

Instead of thinking about what can guarantee success in life (forward-thinking), try the counterintuitive approach. Ask yourself: what can cause failure in my life (backwards thinking). Use that thinking process to make better life choices.

This article originally appeared in Medium.