WWGD? (What Would George Costanza Do?) aka “The Opposite”

If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite has to be right.

What if every instinct you ever had was false?  What if every calculated action you took was actually detrimental to your happiness?  On May 19, 1994, American television viewers tuned in to witness a man brave enough to challenge his own pillars of belief, and his name was George Costanza.  On that night, NBC aired the 21st episode of the fifth season of Seinfeld, which was titled “The Opposite”.  In that episode, George comes up with a theory: What if every instinct, every decision he has ever made, has been wrong and is the source of all his life’s disappointments.  From that moment, he decides to begin an experiment to test the decisions he makes in his daily life.  For every action he is about to take, he consciously does the opposite of what he thinks is appropriate.  Over the next thirty minutes, we see George get his dream job with the New York Yankees, move out of his parents’ house and into a new apartment, and land a new girlfriend that most would agree is way out of his league.

I love “The Opposite” because I admire George’s courage and commitment to challenge his own status quo, and it provides an opportunity to play the “What If” game: What if George was an outdoorsman?  What if I have been behaving like George?

If George was a hunter prior to his “Opposite” epiphany, I like to think that he would hike out the same trail to the same clearing every year, throw out a few calls, scan the same treeline repeatedly, and call it a day once he considered the temperature to be “too hot for anything to be moving around”.  He would stick with the same old plan, which was probably never his to begin with.  It was probably passed along to him by a more experienced hunter, or maybe he overheard it one night at a local bar, and George lazily took it for gospel.  He abides by knowledge he considers to be commonly-accepted, or maybe he found success by simple luck the first time he tried it, so he sticks to it year after year hoping to recreate the triumph of his first outing.   This leads George in a continuing cycle of frustration and embarrassment.  He takes no risk by attempting anything different.

When George finally tries his “Opposite” approach, it isn’t easy.  It’s uncomfortable, and he risks public embarrassment with each new action.  But luckily for him, his instincts were so misaligned that each opposite decision is a substantial improvement to his situation.  The average person is not likely to see the same results as George, so it’s probably not the best idea to turn a full 180 degrees like he did.  But, the idea of challenging your assumptions, taking risks, and trying something uncomfortable is on point.

What I had been behaving like George?  I can admit that I have a tendency to fall into the same old routine, almost subconsciously, without taking a moment to consider a new technique.   I sometimes fail to question the actions that have become automatic.  For example, for years it was my instinct to make fun of my buddies that used trekking poles while out hiking.  Right before they became popular, a guy came rolling into town with a trunk full of “Swedish Walking Sticks”, and every blue hair in town came out to see him demonstrate how to walk while poking at the ground with those sticks.  The man sold off his walking sticks and left town, but the image of all those old timers walking around with their new trekking poles stuck with me.    That was the image I always associated with my friends carrying them in the woods.  But then, I finally tried them last year.  After a twelve-mile backpacking trip, my shoulders and upper back had never felt better.  No more knots, no pain in my scapula, no sore neck.  I now own two sets and I’m thinking about getting a third.

I have also realized that I have become so fixated on minimizing my pack weight that I have totally lost focus of what will really make my backpacking trip more pleasant.  I might save a few ounces with my ultralight sleeping pad, but the good night’s sleep that I get with heavier and more comfortable mat definitely outshines the weight burden.  Also, I will no longer go on a multi-day hunting trip without camp shoes again.  If I’m hunting for five or six days and spending countless miles in heavy boots, the joy of soft camp shoes at the end of a long day cannot be matched.  They definitely contain more body-rejuvenating power than the one and a half pound weight savings from leaving them back at the truck.

So, we all experience the plateau-effect from time to time.  Maybe taking some risk by trying “The Opposite” may help you get to the next level.