Relaxation is helpful for overcoming a mental block. Leaving aside your challenge is a way to relax. You can take a long walk or sleep on the problem. It turns out that another way to relax can be asking the wrong questions and chasing the solutions to answer them.This is particularly effective after exhausting other thinking methods for solving a problem.
The technique is based on reversal and it’s known by many names: negative idea generation, wrong answer, idea inversion, the opposite, upside down or false friends. You can also interpret the last letter of the well-known Scamper method as reverse, in addition to rearrange.
The reversal technique can help you see things from a relaxed viewpoint and can function as a mindset shift. In turn, it can relieve the pressure on you.
Missteps to the solution
Here is how it goes.
- First, state what you want to achieve, i.e. your challenge.
“How can I improve my writing process?”
- Now, reverse the challenge using negation and opposites.
“How can I worsen my writing process?”
You need to try different versions to reach fresh viewpoints.
“How can I write so that nobody understands what I mean?”
“How can I write fewer than 300 words in an hour?”
“How can I write unshareable blog posts?”
- When doing this, also try understatement or minimizing. Instead of “How can I write fewer than 300 words in an hour?”, you can try versions like
“How can I write one word per hour?” or
“How can I write nothing in an hour?” or using double negatives
“How can I not write nothing in an hour?”
Similarly, to reverse “how can I make my writing better?”, you can use “how can I make my writing worse” and also “how can I make my writing not better?” Different versions may trigger different viewpoints.
- Then go to the extremes. Write not only the opposites but look for the worst idea. For example, generate ideas for
“How can I write the most boring articles in the world and end up with zero readers?”
- Afterwards, generate ideas to realize these inverted versions. Start listing the obvious answers to warm up and work your way up from that point. You can start with suggestions like “not write at all, use complicated and rare words, stay immobile, write whenever I like, no routine”, etc. After that, make a list and record all the new viewpoints you reached in doing the exercise. You can use some of them for other projects.
From the above answers, I can, for example, start to think about the following in more detail: Should I record instead of type? Should I write content on the origins of foreign words that are relevant to my industry? How can I write without moving? What’s brain writing? How can I adapt it to such-and-such a situation?
Other directions to go in
You can reverse many other things. Does your challenge include a physical object? Turn it upside down.
A great example of this is upside-down drawing. If we draw an object in an upright position, we are not really good at seeing the details of the lines, because we have many familiar shapes stored in our brains. Drawing in an upside-down position, however, can improve how we observe things and, as a result, our lines can improve as well.
Proofreaders apply similar techniques to detect language errors more easily. They read each word from right to left or the whole content from the end to the beginning. They turn the pages upside down to evaluate graphic design elements.
Is a process included in your challenge? Reverse the order of the steps. For instance, a normal process for writing nonfiction is
- Do the research, gather related information
- Develop a point of view, set the main idea
By reversing the order, you can search for ways to initiate the writing process by rewriting. What can you rewrite? For example, you can collect inspirational quotes and rewrite the main ideas in your own words; or you can take your previous research summaries, rewrite them and use the resulting text as a starting point for a completely new article.
Reversal can be very fruitful when applied to conventions. Here, you start by listing the conventions, rules or assumptions related to your challenge and then reverse each of them in turn to come up with novel ways of looking at things. Read this post from Seth Godin to get real inspiration.
Use it with attribute listing
List the desirable attributes of your challenge. If you want to improve your writing, for example, some desirable attributes can be good content, authentic style, daily routines and broad vocabulary knowledge. After listing the attributes, think about “what are the opposite attributes?” Shift your focus from the desirable attributes to the undesirable attributes. For instance, the attribute authentic may remind you of unreal. This may stimulate the idea of integrating science fiction into your current work and you can think about connections between the two. Alternatively, you can describe each attribute and reverse the description with various negation methods. When doing this kind of exercise, it’s a good idea to refer to synonym and antonym dictionaries, to produce as many alternatives as possible in a short time.
So reverse your challenge to loosen up. Reverse your challenge to gain fresh viewpoints. And reverse your challenge to examine conventions. But notice that, even when you think about how to realize the opposite or negative of a challenge, your focus is still on how you can achieve the inverted outcome and not how you cannot.