The action you need to become more socially independent, according to Dr. Gary Emery, is usually clear. “You do the opposite of what you feel like doing around people.”

When you are socially independent, you meet others as equals. Once you own your own life, you are able to move closer to others. You approach others with the attitude of giving and acceptance. Because you can accept yourself, you are free to accept others. “Love is accepting others for what they are, not for what they could be or what you would like them to be. When others feel this acceptance, they want to be around you. The absence of your expectations and corresponding judgments frees them  to be themselves.”

You have to think in reverse, especially when you are in trouble. The person who survives an airplane crash or fire is often the one who does the opposite of the victims. Dr. Emery believes that, survivors of crises typically use a version of his ACT formula.

First, they accept the situation: they do not deny that they smell smoke or indulge in false hope that rescue is imminent. Second, they choose to stay calm and not become excited and panicky. Finally, they take action that is often the reverse of their first instinct.

When you are in trouble, your instinct are usually thrown off. That is why you usually need to act against them. The same goes for social situations where your instinct is to be dependent.

Dr. Emery reiterates that thinking in reverse is the best practical way to approach everyday problems of social independence. “Those times you cannot think of the answer to a social dilemma, the opposite of what you are looking for is often the best.”


Many philosophers and writers have commented on the self-contradictory nature of life. “You are living and dying at the same time. You need sunlight to see, but if you get too much it blinds you.” Life is full of such paradoxes. Dr. Emery suggests that we can use the self-contradictions of life to help us become more socially independent by using the reverse principle.

Any of your rules or beliefs about how to deal with others can hurt you if you follow them to extremes. Just as the sun can both warm you and blind you, your rules can help or harm you. You are acting dependently because you have followed a set of rules that may initially have helped you but now hold you back. Wanting to be liked, for example, makes perfect sense on a limited basis, but on an extended basis, it is self-destructive.

The paradox is that when you follow any of your rules to the extreme, they work in reverse: you get the opposite of what you want. If you believe that everyone has to like you, you often end up with no one liking you. “The way out of this trap is to reverse your rules when they are working against you. To get back on track you have to take the opposite tack.” By taking a radically different perspective and reversing them, you can get unstuck.


In day-to-day social living with people, thinking in reverse has its practical advantages: it is easier going shopping on Sunday morning than Friday evening; it is easier to get a dinner reservation Tuesday night than Saturday night; it is easier to look for a job when you already have one; it is easier to learn something when you are teaching it; and it is easier and more effective when interviewing for a job to interview the interviewer.

Two of Dr. Emery own guiding principles have to do with reversing the normal process. First, do the hardest activity first. This gives you a success experience; and everything after it seems easy. Second, tell people the bad news first and in detail. Beating around the bush only makes matters worse.


Being creative involves thinking in reverse. New solutions to old problems are often discovered by reversing the way you have been trying to solve them. Instead of trying to get people to like you, try to like them. Instead of trying to hide your flaws in social situations, expose them. Instead of trying to defend yourself from criticism, agree with the kernel of truth in the criticism.

The way to any type of success is frequently to think in reverse. When you turn your ideas around 180 degrees, solutions start to appear. Most successful people knowingly or unknowingly use this strategy, Dr. Emery observes. “Failures are seen and used as preludes to success. Disadvantages are turned into advantages and problems are seen as opportunities. People who are considered lucky often use this strategy.” When you fail you often think your best bet is to look for something less. Often your best bet is to try for something better.

Because reversing your strategies is often the best strategy, you can use this when you are in trouble and do not know what to do. Henry Thoreau’s advice, “If a dog runs at you, whistle at him,” is along the same lines. An interesting phenomenon occurs when you are willing to face the naked truth: the fear and the danger disappears. You do not have to face it even, just willing to face it.

“When you try to change the direction of your life, you usually follow strategies that have some logic and have worked for you before. However, following this method often stops you from getting what you want.”


Have you noticed that when you try to get something, it is difficult to get, and when you stop trying, it often comes to you? The most common example is a couple that tries and tries to have a baby unsuccessfully. Finally they adopt a child. Then after, they have quit trying, the woman almost immediately becomes pregnant. “The belief that the more you want something the more likely you will be able to get it is often wrong. When you want something too much, you create resistance that gets in the way.”

There are reasons why trying gets in the way. Laurence Morehouse an expert on how to maximize human performance has talked about this. His basic message is that you will accomplish more and have more fun doing it if you stop trying so hard. “At stake in learning to be a better performer are some cherished notions of how excellence is achieved. Foremost among them is the idea that the harder we struggle the better we will do. That is almost wrong.” He says you will achieve more if you do not overload yourself with projects, concerns, and goals. Your over-effort spoils the act.

When you try hard you tense up; you then have to un-tense to get moving. A relaxed muscle can be stretched to a greater length than a tense muscle.

Part of this relates to levels of motivation. If you want something too much you often use more energy than you need to. This throws the whole process off. If you try with all your might to thread a needle, you will have trouble than if you do not try so hard. “Each task has its proper level of motivation.” That is why trying too hard often becomes counterproductive.


Nearly any activity reaches some point of diminishing return. This applies to your actions that are keeping you socially dependent. Too much help makes you more helpless. Doing too much for your children can make them into social cripples. Seeking constant reassurance makes you more insecure.

Much of dependency is paradoxical. You try to protect yourself and this makes you feel more vulnerable. You try to feel more secure and this makes you more insecure. You try to get people to help you and you end up more helpless. You try to get people connect with you and people move farther away. You try to make yourself feel better and you end up feeling worse.

To become independent, you often have to use this paradoxical truth to your advantage and think in reverse. Doing the opposite often appears to be the hardest action, but it turns out to be the easiest.

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