If you want to change something you do, its opposite usually is no better. Look for its complement.

People seem to want to change a lot about them. I see them trying to do the opposite of what they are trying to change. Sometimes it works. More often trying to do the opposite of what they want to stop reinforces doing it more.


For example, overweight people often think if they eat too much they should try the opposite and try to eat less. But dieting seems to predict obesity more than prevent it — that is, people who diet tend to be more obese than those who don’t (sorry I don’t have a source, so feel free to read this part skeptically).
I find the complement to eating too much is not to eat less but to savor and enjoy your food more. Candy, soda, junk food, and so on create feelings of pleasure because they refined out just one part of food — the sugar from corn, beets, sugar cane, or whatever — the unhealthy part. Or the same with oils. My point here is that you can’t savor and enjoy those single parts, however pleasurable. You only get the simple pleasure of stuffing it down your throat.
Eating ripe fruits and vegetables and whole grains, in my experience, gives you more complex, more enduring, and varied flavors and textures (note the reference to the main emotional characteristics of my model). You can also learn more about them because they aren’t far from the living plant and fungi they came from (animals too if you eat them). To savor and enjoy them you have to eat them more slowly, in my case improving my life, and you learn about the natural world outside of the factories that manufacture processed food.
If you ask me, the trick to losing weight is to enjoy foods more, which leads to finding more complex and less processed foods. I don’t know anyone who got fat off vegetables.


People who want to get more fit think they don’t exercise enough so they should exercise more — forcing discipline and willpower on themselves.
I find the complement to not exercising enough is not to force yourself to exercise more, but to have fun. I find having fun involves moving around. I don’t know how to have as much fun sitting still as moving around. Running makes me feel good, which is why I do it. Playing ultimate is much more fun. And, lo and behold, it gets me running around a lot more.
Team sports seem more fun to me and, in my experience, tend to burn more calories. Still, there’s skiing for me. But tennis, surfing, yoga and a million other games and sports work for other people. Burpees, for me, represent fun with my friend.
I love the quote I came across from a parcour expert. He said when people ask him when he started doing it he asks them when they stopped. Kids run around. And I feel like a kid when I run.
Don’t have time for fun? Oh brother! Give me a break.
So I find the antidote to too little exercise is more fun, just like the antidote for too much food is to enjoy food more.


Never having raised a kid, I don’t know how easy or hard it is to get them interested in learning. All I know is that I didn’t put a lot of energy into learning until I started enjoying physics in college. Then I devoted myself to it deeply.
I also, in high school, briefly sat in a calculus class where the teacher just assigned problems without making the field come alive. I was transferred out of that class to an Advanced Placement class, but I have no doubt that class would have killed my interest in math. Being challenged more made the subject more interesting. Making it easier or dumbing it down would have made it less interesting.
Lesson learned? The opposite of a class being too hard may be to make it easier or rote, but that doesn’t motivate. The complement, in my experience, is to evoke curiosity. Easier said than done, perhaps, but it will motivate the student to work on their own.


A lot of people seem to think if they don’t lead well they must not be telling people what to do enough so they try to tell people what to do more.
In my experience the complement to doing things people don’t want to follow is to understand them and yourself more — what I generally call awareness — in particular, emotional awareness. This direction leads people toward introspection, understanding, and empathy, away from commanding and controlling.


If you have something about yourself you want to change, I recommend not trying to do its opposite. Instead look for its complement. Find something you’ll love, or at least like, that you will do that will crowd out what you are trying to get rid of.
If you eat a lot of spinach (lightly fried in olive oil with a squeeze of lemon and salt) you’ll probably lose interest in candy bars. If you play a lot of sports you’ll probably not miss sitting at your desk and not have time to get wrapped up in television shows. If you start gardening you’ll get fresh vegetables and exercise.
There is an art to finding a complement. It’s not as easy as finding the opposite but more rewarding. Think of some complements yourself. If you’re having trouble meeting people, what should you do? Should you go out more? How about if you want more out of a relationship? Should you try to get the other person to give you more?
Pushing against something tends to reinforce it — the opposite of your goal.

This Post Has 2 Comments

Leave a Reply