During one of the most famous episodes (“The Opposite”) of the TV show Seinfeld, loveless and unemployable character, George Costanza decides to stop following his instincts and do the opposite of what he’s always done.
George: “My life is the complete opposite of everything I want it to be. Every instinct I have in every aspect of life, be it something to wear, something to eat… It’s often wrong.”
Jerry: “If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right.”
– Seinfeld, “The Opposite” (1994)
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This light switch moment meant that Costanza would be honest, confront his fears and go after what he wants in life.
Here’s a clip of George Costanza doing the opposite of what he would do.
George Costanza “The Opposite” from Seinfeld
Clearly, this is a sitcom and not real life, but, there are valuable life lessons we can learn from Costanza’s opposite strategy.
A few years ago, I did the exact same thing in a different context and it completely changed my life.
Here’s how …
How doing the opposite could help you win friends and influence people
It was a typical afternoon lunch break. I’d leave my desk at 1 p.m. and walk across the road from my office to the local food cafe.
2 minutes later I’d handpick a sandwich — typically a chicken and lettuce baguette — a packet of crisps and green smoothie.
Then, I’d join the queue waiting for the cashier to take my payment. When my turn to pay came around, I would hand over the food items to the cashier, whip out my card to pay and walk back to the office with my lunch.
I didn’t think. I didn’t talk. I wasn’t aware of my surroundings, the names of the cashiers and so on.
It was a daily mindless routine that repeated itself for several months.
One day, whilst mindlessly standing on the queue to pay for my lunch, one of the customers got into an argument with one of the cashiers.
From what I could see, the cashier had charged the customer the wrong amount of money by mistake.
But, the customer wasn’t in the mode for forgiveness.
The customer shouted at the cashier, threatened to call his manager and told him that she’d never come back to the cafe again.
Towards the end of this fiasco, the customer stormed outside the cafe and the cashier stood frozen, with a look as if he was about to burst into tears.
For the first time in many months of visiting this cafe on a daily basis, I finally snapped out of my zombie state.
In my mind at the time, I had two options to pick from.
Option 1: Do what I usually do. Give the cashier my food, pay for food and exit fast. No time for chit-chat or friendly eye contact.
Option 2: Do the opposite. Instead of rushing away with my food, I could speak to the cashier to cheer him up, check up on him and give him a tip.
In case you’re wondering, I went with Option 2.
I spoke to the cashier—let’s call him Jose—and talked briefly about what had happened, where he was from and so on.
Nothing too special in my eyes, just showing genuine interest and getting to know him as a person.
Before I knew it, the other cashiers started to join the conversation, laugh and smile again.
It seemed like my decision to do the opposite of what I usually did, helped to bring back a positive mood in the cafe.
After saying my goodbyes to the staff at the cafe, the senior manager of the cashiers turned around and said to me something along these lines:
“I always see you around here, but you never said hi until now. But, that’s normal I guess in this city. Everyone’s always in a rush and they never take the time to get to know the people who serve them. You’re the first customer who’s shown a genuine interest in getting to know the team in a while. Thank you, have a nice day and please come back soon.”
I thanked the manager and walked outside the cafe with a beaming smile. It had been a while since I felt so happy about my life.
For the rest of the week, I would speak to, laugh with and get to know the workers who I never noticed but served me on a daily basis.
These were the bus drivers, the cleaners, cashiers, receptionists, security guards and so on, I lived the opposite all the way through.
By the end of the first week, I knew their names by heart. I knew their dreams and passions, the names of their children, their hobbies and plans for the future.
I was no longer a stranger to them, I became their friend.
After a couple of weeks, these friends would show up for me in times of need or crisis.
Remember Jose, the cashier who got shouted at? Jose became the senior manager of the local cafe that I visited on a daily basis.
Coincidentally, I already started to develop a friendship with Jose from the very first day I tried to do the opposite.
On the days I forgot to bring cash to pay for food, Jose would insist on paying for me.
On more than a handful of occasions, he’d even prepare a free lunch for me and let me skip the queue on very busy days.
And that’s only Jose.
I’ve had some of my friends who are bus drivers and security guards, let me on the bus for a free ride whenever I lost my bus pass or skip the queue for free entry into special events.
Over time I built this habit of doing the opposite and being friendly with the staff of any venue I go to, and it paid off.
I would get free invites to exclusive events, opportunities for business partnerships, discounts at restaurants and so on.
I never asked for anything in return, but they all insisted on giving me something in return for showing a genuine interest in them.
But, I believe that the reason is simple: I treated them in a different way than everyone else they had encountered on a daily basis.
In other words, I did the opposite, just like George Costanza in the Seinfeld episode “The Opposite,” and you can do the same thing too.
Your life in opposites
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”
– Albert Einstein
What would your life look like if you did the opposite of what you would normally do, or what everyone else seems to be doing?
Instead of letting fear of failure or rejection hold you back from progress, what if you took a chance to build that dream relationship, ask your boss for a pay rise, travel to another country, start a blog, start a company and so on?
If your life hasn’t been working out the way you want it to, it won’t cost you much to try the opposite as an experiment for a couple of weeks.
You wouldn’t be reading this right now, if I hadn’t taken a chance to do the opposite and launch this platform.
My preference would have been to remain anonymous and keep my ideas in my private journal. But, I chose the opposite and you can do the same today.
When in doubt, just remember the words of Jerry from the Seinfeld episode: “If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right.”
Mayo Oshin writes at MayoOshin.com, where he shares practical ideas at the intersection of science, art and philosophy, for better thinking and decision-making. You can join his free weekly newsletter here.
A version of this article originally appeared at mayooshin.com as “The Costanza “Opposite” Strategy to Win Friends and Influence People.”
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