Opposite Action

There is a very well-accepted but I believe harmful myth running around the world of personal development: I call it the myth of belief.

Here it is:

Change your beliefs/thinking, and everything else will follow: your emotions and behaviour will improve 100%.

While this myth allows a lot of low grade motivational speakers to sell a lot of product (because it is easy to persuade the neo-cortex that this visionary thinking can turn itself into reality), the myth of belief actually stymies real, deep sustainable change. To me the idea that all change (especially change that we resist) originates in the neo cortex is wishful thinking equal to my hope for the invention of the self-cleaning house.

A much more usable, liberating replacement for this nonsense is opposite action.

I coined this term to describe the following:

Doing the opposite of what a mental energy within you is trying to dictate.

A bit of a mouthful, that.

Let’s unpick it.

Mental energies within you - by this I mean your harsh inner critic, your Inner Food Rebel, the drive to eat compulsively.

This page on slow eating 2.0 also talks about different characters in Back To The Future being mental energies. Opposite action is as far away as it is possible to get from the myth of belief.

Examples of Opposite Action

Doing a slow eating game for 2 minutes when you are super stressed and want to eat like Roadrunner.

Moving the cookie jar at work into a cupboard - just for a day -in the kitchen, even when it has lived next to your desk for the last 3 decades

Planning your food for the day after tomorrow, even when you really don’t want to do it.

Laying your workout clothes on the chair next to your bed so you get your exercise done first thing, even when that report at work is due and you’d really like to crack on with it straight after breakfast tomorrow.

Notice that each of these examples involves one small act. Opposite action has to start small because it is disruptive to your sense of self.

Start Small

Opposite action has to start small because it is disruptive to your sense of self.

To understand why this is so, let me hand over to Oliver Burkeman in his excellent book The Antidote

Opposite action upsets that because your actions are essentially rebelling against what your beliefs are dictating. Who are you without your beliefs? Even if those beliefs are not great, and often invisible to your conscious mind.

In the examples above, the beliefs challenged are for example as follows:


I have to eat fast because I must rush and workhorse myself. I need to be in a stress response 24/7. I do not feel safe in the world, so hyper vigilance is necessary. I can never relax.


I cannot upset the applecart at work. People need their sugar fix to get through the day.


I just can’t plan my food. I have a binge eating problem. I am such a mess.


Because these work reports always take twice the time to do than I think they will, I have to sacrifice my wellbeing at the altar of work. . Work always has to be a grind and I have no choice.

The Choice

A great way to approach opposite action is to understand that your choice is NOT choosing the discomfort of people moaning about the cookie jar vs having an easier time at work.

The real choice in that scenario is choosing between the discomfort of people moaning about the cookie jar vs living your life dictated by that metronome. That is not such a comfortable way to live, I think.

Both choices involve discomfort and fear for Cavebrain.

But the discomfort of the first choice is temporary. It moves you ahead and you can prove to CB that moving the cookie jar does NOT mean being outcast by the tribe.

The discomfort of the second choice - living your life dictated by the metronome - now that is permanent.

So which do you choose?