© Darwin Binesh – v0.0.1
The Inversion Mental Model:
This is one of the not-so-secret "secret weapons" in my arsenal of thinking tools. It's helped me break big goals into small ones that are easier to manage and complete. The Mental Model (a series of steps applied to thought) clarifies details that matter, removes what doesn't, and simplifies my day-to-day. Makes me more productive, happy, and excited for what's to come.
Inversion works by thinking in opposites. Most goals are written in aspiration language. How many people want to make a million dollars? I'd guess many. How many people stop and say: "failure means not doing this," whatever that might be? I'd venture to say most don't think about goals in negative terms. That's the point.
So rather than considering what I want, I look at what guarantees failure and focus on avoiding that. Once I'm clear on this, I can build my days, weeks, and life around it. It's helped me tremendously (more on how exactly later).
All I want to know is where I'll die, so I can never go there.
A quote from Charlie Munger.
If It's So Useful, Why Isn't It More Popular?
The interesting thing about this mental model is that it's discussed in public, but not as much as it should be.
Who's talking about it, though? Massive figures in personal productivity, business, strategy and living a good life.
Here are just a few figures talking about the Inversion Mental Model:
- Charlie Munger - Business Partner to Warren Buffet.
- James Clear best-selling author of Atomic Habits
- Shane Parrish and the team from Farnam Street are one of the world's leading publications on personal productivity, thinking, and strategy.
- Andrew Wilkinson - Co-Founder of Tiny Capital who's considered the "Warren Buffet of the internet"
Mental models - in general - are not super popular. I think it's because most people don't go out of their way to become better thinkers. The ones who do, unsurprisingly, tend to be more thoughtful. In a business context, it's clear why they're more successful.
Reading this is a sign that you're already on your way to success. Now, let's get into Inversion's usage.
Roots of Inversion:
James Clear covers the details on how ancient Stoics and mathematician Carl Jacobi explored these ideas. "Invert, always invert" was the mathematician's go-to saying. He found out quickly that by writing the inverse of the math problem before him, the answer came more easily.
Let's first look at common personal goals.
- Making a $1,000,000.
- Lose 30 pounds.
- Read 1 book a week.
- Build better relationships.
Notice that the language is positive. It's a thing we're to do. They begin with a verb (make, lose, read, build), and therein lies the opportunity. What would it mean to invert these goals into what we absolutely can't live without?
Inverting Common Goals:
As Shane Parrish clarifies "inversion alone cannot solve the problem, but it can help you avoid trouble," and goes on to call this a "stupidity filter," which I love.
Let's break down common goals using a stupidity filter.
- Making $1,000,000 -> spending no time on activities that make money.
- Losing 30 pounds -> zero physical activity.
- Read 1 book a week -> not picking up a book, reading nothing.
- Build better relationships -> don't communicate with other humans, bring nothing to the table.
This shows us clearly how we can guarantee failure, and it's often from doing nothing. The first step to getting ahead of this is to do a little bit every day that supports our goals. As tiny as it might be, failure is only guaranteed if we do absolutely zero. Sometimes, doing less is best as in my example below.
So here's how we might act on the above inversion:
- $1,000,000 -> 5 sales call per day.
- 30 pounds -> some pushups, situps, and skipping rope for 20min a day.
- 1 book -> read 1page a day (hint start with short books).
- Better relationships -> communicate with another person every day.
These are just the start. By making sure we're above absolute zero, we can put ourselves on the right track. For more on the habit-building component of achieving goals, read "Atomic Habits" by James Clear.
What I've described above is the Minimum Viable Action - the very beginning.
My Experience with Inversion:
Earlier in my career, I was in a role dedicated to business-to-business (b2b) sales. It was a grind, and I had big goals. Along the way, I noticed part of my process that slowed me down. It was writing a long, detailed proposal that clarified everything.
The problem: my clients didn't read them.
At a certain point, after reading "How to be a Capitalist Without Any Capital" by Nathan Latka, I discovered something interesting. It's absolutely possible to do 6-figure deals without a detailed proposal. So I went for it.
I was doing a deal with Lululemon, a large yoga/athleisure apparel company here in Vancouver. I decided to do the same. No fancy proposal - just emails and bullet points (of course the invoice had some terms on it though).
Here's the follow up to Nathan thanking him for the book and the details (he actually answers his IG dms):
Always a good sport. Unfortunately, no 2%. Next time?
The point is that letting go of what I thought really mattered was valuable for me. It could be the same for you. The only way to lose a deal is to send nothing. All it takes is a price, a plan, and the value. The medium (proposal) is less important.
Less time thinking more time sending. Knowing what I'm sending and why means no need to waste time on a proposal.
Once I figured this out, applying it sped things up by at least 5x. I made over $1,000,000 that year selling deals between $10,000 and $20,000 each.
Set Goals Based on the Life You Don't Want:
Instead of coming up with goals and then inverting them (making them manageable after the fact), Andrew Wilkinson started by inverting, to begin with.
This approach is amazing when you already have a semblance of a stable life figured out. There's clarity in place already. For folks just starting out or growing out a life-changing tragedy, it's not quite as simple. Still, much merit in this.
Andrew also cites Charlie Munger:
“Problems frequently get easier if you turn them around in reverse. In other words, if you want to help India, the question you should ask is not ‘how can I help India,’ it’s ‘what is doing the worst damage in India and how do I avoid it?”
“A lot of success in life and business comes from knowing what you want to avoid: early death, a bad marriage, etc.”
From here, Andrew elaborates on the approach he took and why.
I recommend this approach to most people who ask me about how I go about staying productive and breaking down my goals.
Stop everything, reflect on what you don't want, and restart from there. Andrew refers to these as Anti-Goals. Call them what you want.
My Current "Anti-Goals"
This wouldn't be complete if I didn't elaborate, would it?
Let's get into it.
Wanting to Explore an Idea, But Stopped For Any Reason.
My intellectual curiosity, and the need to satisfy it, is one of my non-negotiables. I love to explore new concepts, try new things, and bring whatever's in my head to life.
Now, it's largely focused on business-related concepts, but for a long time, it was about writing what I cared about. I've shipped more in the last few months of applying this compared to years before.
I just don't want to be in a room for a meeting if I don't see the point. Giving time when I don't want to ruins my mood, the meeting, and leaves me feeling sour. No thanks. If I can go a day without a meeting I find meaningless, I call it a win. Meaningful meetings only ftw.
Coincidentally, my meetings have been much more productive, effective, and worthwhile since establishing this. Sure, some slip through, but the trajectory is where I want it. That's what matters, the trajectory.
New Cash In Every Day
Trying to get my bag I realized a wasted day is a day with $0 of new cash. There's always an opportunity, and with tools like Stripe - it's possible for you too.
Guess what? It's not just about making more money. It's about the relationships that follow. I've now done deals as an "influencer" - imagine that - me an influencer?! I would've never imagined it, but it's happened.
It's not just that.
What people used to ask me to do for free - I now get paid for. I'll rarely do it without that payment. It's empowering, and even if it makes me look "bad," it's worth it to me.
No Tacit Approval:
Most business mistakes that came back to me were traced back to tacit approval somewhere down the line. The idea of "going along" with something because I didn't put my foot down and say no is tacit approval. It's shit. Even if I have mild disagreement with something, I make sure nobody takes my silence as "approval."
I already know this makes me come off as annoying, petty, and worse. Don't care. That's just how it is.
Can't tell you how much time and grief it's saved me because I stopped counting and caring. Will have to accept looking like the bad guy though. On the bright side, I get walked on a lot less. What would it mean for you to know you've reduced instances of being a doormat by 90%? Worth.
Say How I Feel:
Similar to the above. A moment in which I don't express how I actually feel is wrong to me. It's partly a reaction to biting my tongue too much for fear of what others might think. That's pretty much gone.
This is positive and negative. Sure, in some cases it's important to read the room, I get that. It's tricky but important to me. People with who I want relationships will understand and hopefully appreciate where I'm coming from.
Every once in a while I publish an email for my audience. I don't have many subs, but it's growing. It's not on a regular schedule, I write and send when it's important, and when I have something I feel worth saying.
I call them Letters and you can signup anytime.
Thanks for reading.
- The Inversion Mental Model:
- If It's So Useful, Why Isn't It More Popular?
- Roots of Inversion:
- Inverting Common Goals:
- My Experience with Inversion:
- Set Goals Based on the Life You Don't Want:
- My Current "Anti-Goals"
- Wanting to Explore an Idea, But Stopped For Any Reason.
- Meaningless Meetings
- New Cash In Every Day
- No Tacit Approval:
- Say How I Feel:
- What's Next??