George Costanza’s Law of Opposites

“Our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world as being able to remake ourselves.

There is an immensely popular Seinfeld episode I love where the ever-neurotic George Costanza states, “Every instinct I ever had is wrong.” By his own admission, his life has never amounted to much, so he decides to do and say the opposite of everything he normally would. With that, he gets the girl, gets a job with the New York Yankees—his life takes off.

My dad has advised, as did Mr. Einstein, that if what you’re doing isn’t working, do the opposite. One of my dad’s suggestions, which didn’t really appeal to me, was to dress “schleppy,” something I am not prone to doing. He figured that since men in Canada don’t seem to respond to me the way I present myself, maybe looking a little unkempt would work.

Einstein’s wise advice was that we cannot solve our problems from the same thinking we used when we created them. What we know gets us more of what we know. The hesitation comes from the uncertainty of trying something new or from a different angle—it calls up the fear of the unknown.

We tend to use a database of past history to determine risks and outcomes of situations. But a lot of the time, we are poor at predicting the future and knowing what is truly best for us. We can convince ourselves of the solidness of all kinds of decisions based on biased logic.

Sometimes we behave a certain way or do things because of our tribe’s preconceived opinions of us. We conform to a box someone else has pigeon holed for us: Wanda is our lazy child. Sharon is shy. Brandon is bull-headed.

Here’s an excellent (short) video that illustrates why that’s a bad idea: Believe in Yourself.

Even when things are not working, humans will interminably go on doing life or business in the same, disfunctional way. We don’t stop to question whether a policy or habit actually serves us. As we’ve all seen evidence of, governments and institutions are notorious for this.

It’s hard to see new ways of doing things from the same old perch. There could be 50 ways to leave your lover, or solve any problem, but they are not visible or obvious from our limited vantage point. That’s why crazy George might have been on to something.

Do you have a particular area of your life that’s just not working out for you? We don’t have to be as drastic as George, but we can try one, two, maybe three things different from our norm.

This summer, I’ve decided to try some “Law of Opposites.” I’ve just gotten myself a membership at the canoe and kayak club in Calgary. This is rather radical for a girl like me. But I love nature and it is a new outdoor, healthy experience for me. Maybe the fresh air, rigorous exercise and water will blow some cobwebs out of my brain!

My bike has sat abandoned for (I’m embarrassed to admit) 16 years. I bought the shiny white cruiser-with-a-basket for life in Europe that many years ago. I don’t like to wear a helmet on a bike (to me, it defeats the whole feeling of freedom that bike riding is all about) and I don’t like rules. However, I have just emailed a friend who does handyman repairs to see about getting the poor, neglected thing up and running. I’ll run the risk of a ticket and see how I enjoy riding about Calgary for a change of habit.

I am also going to use my Simple and Sensual Summer Pleasure list from my last post to up my summer happiness quotient.

Habits and thought patterns are a little more complicated than taking action by trying out a new activity. We dig into a routine or habit and once our brains are comfortable with it, it can take wild horses to drag us out of the rut. My main drug of choice, especially over winter, was to have old sitcom reruns playing in the background. Why? The familiarity and humor gave me a feeling of being with friends. My sister and I joke about it when I am actually watching Friends, which came on 4 times a night. I wanted to stop watching it, especially with summer coming, but I kept it on as company. Peach Tree TV took care of that habit for me tout de suite; they replaced them all with Three’s Company. I’d rather stick a fork in my eye!

book.disalvoIn What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should do the Opposite, science writer David DiSalvo “reveals a remarkable paradox: what your brain wants is frequently not what your brain needs. In fact, much of what makes our brains “happy” leads to errors, biases, and distortions, which make getting out of our own way extremely difficult.”

Is there something you’ve been meaning to try? Maybe you have a habit that you know isn’t working for you. In an act of self-care, take George’s lead and try the opposite for a week and see what happens. A new possibility you never thought of could creep into your field of vision. I know for me, I’ve become a little more productive with the loss of Friends.

Sometimes all it takes to make a long-wanted change in your life is by trying something different to give you a bird’s eye view of options you never imagined.

Some ideas to trigger George Costanza’s Law of Opposites trial …

  • Gossip = Start seeing the good in others and talk about that
  • Have coffee as breakfast = Start eating a good breakfast
  • Have daily road rage = Start listening to calming music or books on CD in the car
  • Eat too many sugary things = Start eating more fresh fruit instead
  • Never exercise = Start walking around a pretty locale
  • Whiz past life in a rush = Go sit in a park and just rest and be
  • Complain = Start a jar that you’ll fill with gratitude notes each day
  • Ignore strangers in shops and on streets = Start saying hello, engaging and smiling
  • Hoard = Give stuff away to charity
  • Get up late = Get up early
  • Don’t get enough sleep = Go to bed an hour earlier
  • Procrastinate = Do one not-so-fun “to do” each week (I just finally made a long put-off call to Telus about billing errors—relief!)
  • Shop as therapy = Start a travel fund as therapy
  • Talk about bad news a lot = Stop watching bad news (see how you feel!)
  • Blame someone for a problem = Create a solution for a problem
  • Workaholism = Start making “play” appointments alone and with others
  • Keep a messy house = Start a new tidying regime
  • Hermit too much = Plan some fun outings
  • Obsess about food/diet = enjoy real, good food
  • Party too much = Spend some time alone in nature
  • Be stingy with yourself = Buy fresh flowers for yourself each week
  • Eat out too much = Take a cooking class or learn some new recipes
  • Gym obsessed = Cut yourself some slack and go for some leisurely strolls
  • Spend too much time on electronic devices = Go out to a lake or body of water and get connected to the earth instead of a machine
  • Texting addiction = Don’t take your phone into restaurants and events
  • Forget to stay in touch with friends = Book dates
  • Speak rudely to family or spouse = Begin conscientious politeness
  • Take loved ones for granted = Start showing your appreciation and love

Happy new adventures!

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