Margaret Marcuson: Do the Opposite

I’m not a huge fan of Seinfeld, the groundbreaking 90s sitcom. However, my husband, Karl, convinced me to watch one episode recently. In this one, George, the perennial loser, decides to do the opposite since everything he tries fails. He figures that’s the road to success--and it works! Suddenly life turns around for him--he gets a gorgeous girlfriend and his dream job with the Yankees. And lo and behold--the character Elaine turns into George. Her life falls apart. She loses her dream job, her dreamy boyfriend, and her apartment. It’s a great example of homeostasis at work in relationships.

Family therapist Elaine Boomer has a challenging suggestion for her clients. When you understand the way you typically relate to others, your own “emotional process,” Elaine says, “Try doing the opposite.”

What does the opposite look like? A few ideas:  

...If you are the first to volunteer to solve a problem, lean back in your chair.

...If you typically talk more than everyone else in the room, keep quiet and wait for others.

...If you avoid a difficult topic, bring it up.

...If you always work harder when a challenge comes up, ease it up a little.

It’s not easy to do the opposite. And, at least initially, it may not work as magically for you as it did for George in Seinfeld. The purpose is not to get a different result immediately, but to create more choices for yourself--which can, over time, lead to remarkably different results. Here’s one example: one pastor I know has moved from anxiously avoiding money talk to explicitly and regularly asking people to give. Not surprisingly, giving has gone up.

In my own life, my “opposite” work often has to do with NOT reminding people about--anything, really. What I find is that people have more capacity to remember without my help than I’m inclined to think.

How could you do the opposite of what you usually do?


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