Goal Setting or Goal Clarity?
There has been loads of material available on the internet and elsewhere on the importance of setting goals.
Unlike other species, the pre-frontal cortex which is existence only in human brain, gives us a remarkable ability. We can think about the future, we have the ability to imagine a vision and deliberate upon making it real. This ability seems to be both a boon and curse to us humans. On one hand, we have this powerful tool to dictate our future, on the other hand, we are also sickened with anxiety of the hopes and fears of the hitherto unknown.
Arriving at a clarity of our goal is what is causing this anxiety. We simply don’t know what we want.
The lack of this clarity ends up giving one no sense of direction. Or worse, we end up having cheap goals dictated by the existing culture in the society. We simply give up on aiming higher and striving towards it.
There is a Solution
Tim Ferriss puts this eloquently.
“If you have difficulty identifying what you want in some categories, as most will, consider what you hate or fear in each and write down the opposite.”
Mark Forster suggests it elsewhere in his ‘Goal Achievement Method’ as the best way to know what you want is to decide what you don’t want. It is easy to study something, as Dr.Stephen Covey says, by learning its opposite.
This idea of defining a concept by flipping it is known as ‘Inverse thinking’. It is being applied to gain clarity in goals what is now being called as ‘Anti-goals.’
No! you don’t have to stand upside down to do inverse thinking.
Charlie Munger, the business partner of Warren Buffett and Vice Chairman at Berkshire Hathaway explains ‘inverse thinking’ using the Pythagorian proof – that the square root of 2 is irrational as an example of inversion – because they started by trying to prove it wasn’t irrational and wound up with a contradiction that could only be resolved by assuming it was. This idea – that we should try to prove the opposite of what we really want – is the key concept behind inversion.
“A lot of success in life comes from knowing what you really want to avoid – like early death and a bad marriage.” Charles Munger.
This is inverse thinking for you.
How Does It Work?
Give the Inversion Technique a try and turn your problems inside-out to device you Anti-Goals. Rather than think about what makes a good life, you can think about what prescriptions would ensure misery.
Spend less time trying to be brilliant and more time trying to avoid obvious stupidity. The kicker? Avoiding stupidity is easier than seeking brilliance. It is far easier to avoid stupidity than it is to create genius.
Have a go – think of one of your ambitions, write down three benefits of succeeding, but then pause and consider the three main obstacles in your way, and write those down, too.
Consider your top ten anti-goals and the key factors for achieving them. Then, for the rest of your life, do your best to avoid them. To get you started, I’ve inverted some popular goals:
What are the 4 worst things that could happen in personal life?
What are worst things that you could do to ruin your relationship and peace at family?
What are the ways you could spoil your health – both physical and mental?
How can I lose money? vs. How can I make money?
What is this stock NOT worth? vs. What is this stock going to be worth?
What can go wrong? vs. What growth drivers are there?
What is the market implied discount rate? vs. What is a fair discount rate?
What is market-implied growth rate? vs. What is the future growth rate?
Anti-Goals in Organisations
Say you want to create more innovation at your organization. Thinking forward, you’d think about all of the things you could do to foster innovation. If you look at the problem by inversion, however, you’d think about all the things you could do that would discourage innovation. Ideally, you’d avoid those things. Sounds simple right? I bet your organization does some of those ‘stupid’ things today.
There is an additional benefit to this strategy as well: While there may be adverse side effects from seeking success, there is very little risk from preventing failure.
For example, say you want to increase your focus and productivity. You could take a drug or mental stimulant that increases your ability to focus, but you run the risk of possible side effects. On the other hand, using the Inversion Technique you could ask, “What if I wanted to decrease my focus? What are ways I could distract myself?” The answer to that question may help you discover distractions you can eliminate, which should also increase your level of productivity. It’s the same problem, but the Inversion Technique allows you to attack it from another angle and with less risk.
Call to Action
You can devise anti-goals in 3 easy steps:
(1) Invert. Take a particular goal that you hope to achieve – now invert it to find your non-goal. To do this ask: What don’t I want to achieve? For example, if your goal is to lose weight, then your non-goal is to get fat.
(2) Solve. Step 2 is the analysis phase. Here, we ask: What causes the non-goal? In our example, the non-goal is getting fat. Weight gain can be caused by: over-eating, lack of exercise, drinking too many calories, etc. To get ridiculously fat I need to…? The object is to determine the primary factors that contribute to your non-goal.
(3) Re-invert. Once you have your solution set, you re-invert by asking: How can I avoid that? If the easiest way for you to achieve your non-goal is by overeating, then to improve your chances for losing weight, you need to focus on strategies that help you avoid overeating.
It is not enough to think about difficult problems one way. You need to think about them forwards and backwards. “Indeed,” says Munger, “many problems can’t be solved forward.”
I think goal setting is one area where you could aptly apply inverse thinking to its full benefit. Use your definition of Anti-goals to gain clarity upon your goals. What is then success, but progressive realisation of worthy goals.
All the best for your success!