Why the Best Things in Life Are Backwards 

You'll mostly achieve the opposite effect when you try as hard as you can to get what you want—like happiness, respect, and love. This guide will teach you how to live life backwards.

Part of the Navy SEAL’s training involves drown-proofing, where you’re tossed into a nine-foot-deep pool with your hands tied behind your back and your feet tied together. You’re supposed to survive for only five minutes.

A majority of cadets fail this training. 

Upon entering the water, most panic and scream to be removed. Others struggle, slip underwater, lose consciousness, and have to be pulled and resuscitated. Several trainees have even died during the drill.

But some make it. They succeed because they understand two counterintuitive facts about drown-proofing:

First, they learn that struggling increases your likelihood of sinking. The trick is to sink to the bottom, push yourself lightly off the floor, and head back to the surface with momentum. 

Once there, you’ll grab a quick breath and then repeat the process. You don’t need endurance or superhuman strength to succeed.

Instead, you need to surrender to the physics that’s supposed to kill you to save your life.  

They also learn that panicking depletes one’s oxygen reserves, increasing their chances of falling unconscious and drowning. 

The more intensely you desire to breathe, the less your chances of breathing. This basically means that the more intense you fight to live, the greater your chances of dying. So the fact that you’re putting in more effort could be the reason you won’t survive.

The ability to relinquish control when you need it the most is among the most crucial skills. And not just for Navy seals, but for everyone’s daily living.  

The Paradox That Is Life

For many people, effort and reward share a one-on-one relationship. The assumption is that life mostly exists on a linear curve.

But as someone who’s tried drinking two bottles of energy drink to finish working on this article, I can assure you that this is never the case.

Such linear relationships exist for repetitive and mindless tasks that require no ingenuity or thought.

Most life activities don’t align with the linear effort versus reward graph because they’re complex, mentally taxing, and require one to adapt. 

Sometimes the effort and reward don’t align

Thus, they exist on a diminishing returns curve where the more you familiarize yourself with something, the less it rewards.  

The number of times you travel to visit your dad, the number of times you shower per day, and the number of eggs you eat for dinner–all these experiences seem highly valuable at first. However, their value diminishes as you do them more frequently (sorry, Dad).

Another example of a diminishing returns curve: Sex has diminishing returns, just like sleeping, eating, working out, drinking, working out, reading a book, consuming caffeine, hiring workers, saving for retirement, studying for an exam, or staying up late to play video games.

The more you do them, the less they give back.

Your pursuit of happiness will take you further away from it. Trying to gain emotional control can only remove that ability from us. The need for more freedom often leads us to feel trapped.

In essence, the fundamental elements of our mindset exist in a paradox. This happens because when we’re consciously trying to develop a state of mind, our desire for it mostly leads to a different result from what we anticipate.

This paradox of life is called the Backward Law.

Understanding The Backward Law

“Expecting a positive experience is a negative experience, while acknowledging a negative experience is a positive experience.” 

Mark Manson’s remarks clearly summarize The Backward Law. This principle originates in Tao Te Ching, the 2,000-year-old classic text from China that laid the foundation for Taoism. However, Alan Watts publicized it.

This law’s basic idea is that starting at the end means you’ll have everything you need to get where you want to be. The statement may seem odd, but it makes sense.

Here are the ten Backwards Laws:


The more we try to control our impulses and feelings, the more powerless we feel. We live uncontrollable, chaotic emotional lives, and our desire for control exacerbates the situation.

On the other hand, accepting our impulses and emotions allows us to process and control them better.


Ironically, our constant craving for more freedom limits us. Similarly, the best way to exercise freedom is by limiting ourselves by deciding on and committing to a particular aspect of life.


Trying to find happiness often leaves us unhappy. On the flip side, acknowledging dissatisfaction can increase our happiness.

The more you think of happiness, the more elusive it becomes


Making yourself as secure as possible adds to your sense of insecurity. We can only feel safe by accepting and being at ease with uncertainty.


The more we do everything to make others accept and love us more, the less we love and acceptance we receive, and more crucially, the less we accept and love ourselves.


The more we strive to earn other people’s respect, the less they’ll respect us. On the other hand, the more we give out respect, the more they will respect us.


Persuading someone to believe in us could only cause them not to trust us. But the more we trust them, the more they’ll return the energy.


Trying to feel confident only creates more anxiety and insecurity. We can only be confident in our skin by focusing more on accepting our flaws.


Desperately striving to change ourselves only leaves us feeling more inadequate. But the more we accept our current state, the more we progress and develop because we’ll be too busy doing the cool stuff to realize.  


As we seek our lives’ purposes or deeper meanings, we become shallower and more self-obsessed. On the contrary, dedicating more time to transforming other people’s lives can help us leave a more profound impact.

Understanding the relevance of The Backwards Law doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be ambitious, pursue change, or set goals. You probably have infinite reasons to adopt change and beat the status quo.

Rather, this law teaches us to avoid deceit by the notion that you must pursue happiness to be happy. It’s actually the reverse.

This knowledge can cause a blissful state where you “don’t want” more frequently. Because, in Alan Watts’ words, “the mystery of life isn’t problems to solve, but realities to experience.”

Getting The Best Things In Life By Living Backwards

The psychological experiences above (the ten laws) exist on an inverted curve. Why? Because they form the cause and the effect of our minds. Whenever you desire something, your mind is simultaneously the one desiring it.

The mind is like a pooch who, with a successful record of chasing and catching small animals, has decided to now chase its own tail. This seems logical to the dog, considering her experience.

Don’t chase life’s meaning. Lie with spontaneity.

However, it’s irrational because the rear seems to run away as she continues chasing it.

The wise thing to do is train your mind against chasing its tail and stop going after happiness, freedom, and meaning because they’ll move further.

And how do you push through? By letting go, surrendering, or giving up. Not because you’re weak, but because you understand that the world can’t fit your grasp. 

Recognize that we’re limited and fragile, and relinquish control. By letting go of the stuff beyond your control, you’ll have decided to accept that you’ll often fail, not everyone will like you, and you sometimes don’t have a clue what you’re doing.

Final Thoughts

The reality of life is that embracing challenges is the only way to achieve rewarding results. The tough workout sessions create stronger abs. 

Difficult conversations make relationships authentic. 

You can now find pride in your discomfort because it means you’ve gotten over it and are no longer scared of it. 

Therefore, self-help won’t create a better life for you (so says a passionate self-help writer).

Rather, we should try shifting towards equanimity – a calm mental state that lets you weather the storm and deal with all that comes your way without categorizing your experiences as GOOD and BAD.

Once we’ve learned to release control and find peace and ease during challenging moments, we can experience nimbleness.

Maybe then we’ll be drown-proof. So set goals, but don’t be locked into endless striving for change or cling to an inevitably temporary thing. 

Sometimes you just need to be right here, allow yourself to sink, and then push yourself up the water to breathe.