May 20, 2023




The Crucial Thinking Skill Nobody Ever Taught You

At a glance

Today’s Fast Summary:

  • Inversion involves thinking of how you might achieve the opposite of your goal or desired outcome so you may avoid it.

  • You can learn just as much—if not more—from failure than you will success. Inversion is a simple way to avoid failure.

  • To practice inversion, think about possibilities for failure and use visualization exercises.

  • When you determine what you want in the end, it's easier to visualize the set of possibilities that can get you there.

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The Inversion Method

Charlie Munger, the billionaire investor and businessman, once said, “All I want to know is where I’m going to die, so I’ll never go there.”

He’s touching on an important point: You don’t need to design a life-sustaining potion. All you need to do is avoid the worst possible scenario.

Inversion isn’t about gaining great advice or special insight: It’s a simple way to avoid failure. Avoid small mistakes and detriments to your success instead of searching for big, intangible solutions.

Inversion is a decision-making skill. It involves thinking of how you might achieve the opposite of your goal or optimal outcome so you can avoid it.

It’s simple, yet under-practiced.

Inversion goes against what we’ve been taught. As children, we’re taught to engage in wishful thinking. We believe that if we want something to happen, it will: When we believe something wholeheartedly, we manifest it into existence.

However, wishful thinking is a lie.

Doing something about your wishful ideas is what matters. Instead of simply wishing something into existence, take concrete steps toward your goal.

This is where inversion comes in. Inversion comes from a place of rationality, not manifestation or dreams.

Inversion is not wishing for failure. You can learn just as much—if not more—from failure than you would from success.

How to Practice Inversion

Inversion is practiced in three steps:

  1. Identify the goal you’re aiming to reach or achieve.

  2. Invert your thinking and consider the worst possible outcome.

  3. Avoid what you identified in Step 2.

First, consider your big goal. You might be thinking of a big-picture goal, like writing a book, buying a new house, improving your financial literacy, or getting a promotion.

Your goal can be something a bit smaller too, like nailing a big presentation, going on a first date, or decorating your living space. Remember, these are just examples. Feel free to fill in your own goal.

Once you’ve identified the goal, you can move on to step two.

In Step 2, we invert our thinking and consider the opposite of the goal. Ask yourself, “If this is my goal, what is the opposite result?” or, “What is the worst thing that can happen?”

For this step to be put into practice, you must think about it in two ways:

  1. What is the opposite of my goal?

  2. What steps would be a detriment to my goal, or would guarantee my failure?

Let’s say you’re seeking financial literacy. Your answer to the first question would then be financial ruin or bankruptcy. And, in this example, spending large sums, going into debt, or losing your job would guarantee your failure.

If your goal is to nail a big proposal at work, consider the opposite of your desired outcome. In this example, the opposite of a great proposal would be a terrible one.

Begin thinking about what comprises a terrible proposal. Poorly written, under-researched, oddly organized, or inaccuracy are key components of unsuccessful proposals.

Finally, you arrive at the third step. To practice this, simply avoid the outcomes you identified in the previous one.

In the financial literacy example, you can avoid spending large amounts of money, avoid taking out personal loans, save as much as you can, and avoid termination.

In the proposal example, you can spend time researching your proposal topic, checking your grammar and writing, and practicing presenting the pitch.

Begin With the End In Mind

Another way to practice inversion is to think of the final result before beginning the process.

Try the Failure Premortem exercise.

  • First, think of a goal or achievement you’re aiming for. Now, speed up the time frame. In your future premonition, assume you’ve already failed.

  • Think about what led to your failure. What did you do? Which steps did you take? Where did you go wrong, and which mistakes were made?

The goal of this exercise is to identify potential roadblocks and challenges before they occur. Prepare for these challenges and identify your areas of weakness.

It’s similar to the aforementioned exercise but involves more planning and foresight.

You can also try Debbie Millman’s Remarkable Life Vision Exercise. I’ve discussed it briefly before, but it lends well to inversion.

  • First, establish where you’d like to go. If you’d like to become more financially literate, that would be your goal. Identify the goal.

  • Then, consider what you’ll need to get there: Which skills do you need? What steps must be taken?

  • Set your course: For this step, you’ll need to plan your path to success. Consider the components of the goal, and plan for potential setbacks.

  • Lastly, you need to get started.

This exercise is particularly helpful in the context of larger goals and issues like career focus, running a marathon, or losing weight. Ask yourself, “What would I like this aspect of my life to look like?”

Take steps to make that a reality.

When you determine what you want in the end, it's easier to visualize the set of possibilities that can get you there.

Identify areas of difficulty and avoid failure.

This week’s challenge builds off of the Failure Premortem exercise introduced in the article. Invert your thinking and be honest in your responses. Think about failure critically and use this exercise to avoid your own.

  1. Identify a goal, habit, or achievement you’ve been thinking of.

    a. Consider the goal realistically, and open your mind to potential events.

    b. Then, speed up the timeframe, and consider the goal or achievement as though it already happened, and you’ve already failed.

    c. What led to the goal’s failure? Think first about specific events and setbacks that occurred while you were aiming for the goal.

    d. Consider how you played a role in your own failure. It might feel a little uncomfortable, but that’s okay. How were you instrumental in the goal not coming to fruition the way you intended?

  1. Use what you came up with in the first section, and apply it to your thinking.

    a. Consider your response in part c. How can you avoid the events that impeded your ability to accomplish the goal or achievement?

    b. Plan for those setbacks. Which concrete steps can you take to ensure your success?

    c. Consider your response for part d. Which skills were you lacking, and what role did you play in your failure? How can you avoid personal setbacks? How can you gain the skills and insight necessary to achieve the goal?

Decomplicate your decision-making process by thinking negatively. It sounds counterintuitive, yet it’s anything but. Inversion is a simple, but effective way to get what you want.


I’d love to hear from you:

  • How are you engaging in wishful thinking?

  • What are some ways you can use inversion and logic?

  • Which of these models or hacks did you find most helpful and/or relevant?

Tweet at me (@_alexbrogan) or respond to this email — I’ll try to respond to everyone.

Have a wonderful, Wednesday all.

Until next time,


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