Despite what you may think, there are lifehacks to be learned from the television show Seinfeld. Take for example the episode “The Opposite”- George Costanza decides that every decision that he has ever made has been wrong, and that his life is the exact opposite of what it should be. George decides to do the opposite of everything he has done before, and great things begin to happen to him:
What George inadvertently discovers is Victor Frankl’s lifehack for overcoming fear and anxiety, called paradoxical intention.
How to use Paradoxical Intention
If you want to overcome fear and anxiety (including obsessive-compulsiveness and phobias), do the opposite of what you ordinarily do- deliberately wish for that which you fear, in order to remove it. According to patient statistics, paradoxical intention is successful in 80-90% of cases.
As fitting with a Seinfeld episode, humor is the key to using paradoxical intention. “The neurotic who learns to laugh at himself may be on the way to self-management, perhaps to cure”, says Godon W. Allport in his book The Individual and His Religion. Unable to maintain your diet due to fear of food binging? Eat as much as you can next week. Unable to fall asleep due to fear of sleeplessness? Try to stay awake as long as possible. The pure absurdity and humor of such suggestions are what allows one to put himself at a distance from his own fear and anxiety.
How Paradoxical Intention Works
Frankl says, “as soon as the patient stops fighting his obsessions and instead tries to ridicule them by dealing with them in an ironic way- by applying paradoxical intention- the vicious circle is cut, the symptom diminishes and finally atrophies.” Paradoxical intention seems to reverse the patient’s attitude, taking the wind out of the sails of anxiety.
Sweating Out Your Fears
An example was given in Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning. A young physician who had a fear of perspiring. His anticipatory anxiety of perspiration actually caused him to excessively sweat around certain individuals. Frankl advised the patient to use paradoxical intention, by deliberately showing people how much he could sweat. When the patient tried this, he was able to permanently free himself of a 4-year-old phobia, within one week.
Paradoxical Intention is Not a Panacea
If you are fighting anticipatory anxiety, obsessive-compulsive thoughts, or phobias, my suggestion is to give paradoxical intention a try. But if you are having suicidal thoughts, or have a mental disorder such as schizophrenia, paradoxical intention is not a good solution. I’m not an expert on paradoxical intention, and I don’t want to mislead anyone with this post- please do your own research, and talk to a medical professional if your condition is serious.