A classic episode of Seinfeld begins with George Costanza having a revelation. “Every decision I’ve ever made in my entire life has been wrong,” George says. “Every instinct I have in every aspect of life…is often wrong.” Then just do the opposite, Jerry says. “Yes,” Costanza says with excitement, “I will do the opposite!” For the rest of the episode, George has great success doing the opposite of what his instincts tell him to do.
“There’s so much messaging today about how you always have to be yourself and trust your feelings. But I tell people, “be un-you.” Like what is the opposite of what you feel like doing right now? Or who is someone you really admire—what would they do in this moment? And I actually think that can get us closer to the versions of ourselves that we would like to be…Separating oneself from one’s impulse, taking a healthy step back and gaining some distance between what you feel like doing and what’s actually going to help you—you’ll make a better choice.”
As we’ve talked about before, this is ancient advice. In his essay on clemency, Seneca tells the story of the emperor Augustus’ wife advising him, “Do what doctors do when the usual prescriptions have no effect: try the opposite remedies. Strictness has gotten you nowhere…Now try and see how far clemency gets you.” And Epictetus’ line was, “What assistance can we find in the fight against habit? Try the opposite!”
When the Stoics, the science, a wife, and a sitcom agree on something, only a fool would decline to listen. Try the opposite today. Be un-you.