Inversion is a powerful method to build mental models. Charlie Munger, the business partner of Warren Buffett and Vice Chairman at Berkshire Hathaway, is famous for his quote “All I want to know is where I’m going to die, so I’ll never go there.”
This technique is very simple. If you are stressing out about something and want to be super prepared, just think of what would happen if everything went wrong? Let’s say you are taking an SAT or other high stakes test.
When all goes wrong, you:
-Couldn’t fall asleep the night before
-Overslept and running late
-Got really nervous in traffic
-Went to a wrong building/place/room
-Lost the address/invitation
-Didn’t have a picture ID
-Forgot your calculator
-Couldn’t think straight during the exam
-Ran out of time
-Had a sharp pain in the stomach
-Always had to run to the bathroom to pee
What does this do for us? This list points out where we should focus our attention to prevent the disaster from happening.
Here’s what you should be doing the night before your SAT.
1. Know exactly where the testing center is, how to get there, and at what time you need to be there. If you need to, drive the route in advance with your parents. Don’t figure this out the morning of the test. Know it as far in advance as possible. Make sure you have a full tank of gas and directions to the testing center. Make sure you know EXACTLY what time you need to be there at, and double check the location.
2. Set every single alarm in your house. Yours in the room, your phone, your parents’ phones, the one on your microwave – every alarm. You don’t want to wake up late tomorrow – the stress factor of doing so will be out of control. By setting all your alarms (and knowing that your parents have set theirs), you’ll also be able to sleep more soundly. There’s research showing that your brain maintains partial alertness on the night before a big task. That equals lower-quality sleep! This alertness is diminished by setting additional alarms. It’s like your brain knows that you’ll definitely wake up, so it takes the night off.
3.Make sure you have everything you need for test day. These items include:
-Multiple sharpened or mechanical #2 pencils
-Extra batteries for the calculator
-Printed testing ticket
– Mental model checklists – before you take your test, I want you to “warm your brain up” by solving a few problems in all sections before you go into your test (further explanation coming up). You’ll need a math section, a Writing/English section, a reading section, and a science section (if you’re an ACT student) that you’ve already completed and reviewed. Tear them out of your book and have them ready.
– Your key strategy, tactic, and process checklists for all the sections of your test (including the essay). You’ll want to read all of these before you take your test to prime your brain and remind yourself of all the key strategies. If you want to get your hands on these checklists, please get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org
-Snacks. Best are a bottle of water, some almonds, a granola bar, and a banana. Not all testing centers let you bring snacks in, but you can run and grab them during breaks.
-All clothes laid out the night before. These clothes should be multi-layered and comfy. You never know if the room is going to be too hot or too cold.
-Headphones. You’ll be listening to 60bpm music before you take your test. Make sure you have the proper playlist ready and everything set to go.
-Chewing gum. Chewing gum increases your mental alertness for 20 minutes after you start chewing it. Use it during your toughest sections to get an extra boost.
1. Carbo-Load at dinner. Marathon runners eat ludicrous amounts of carbohydrates the day before their races so that their bloodstreams are packed with glycogen (your body’s main fuel source). You should do the same for your brain. Your brain burns 20% of all your body’s calories, and thinking hard for hours at a time is incredibly energy intensive. The day before your test, you should aim to eat a massive dinner composed of complex carbohydrates.
Whole grain pasta, bread, and cereals, combined with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, will fill you up with all the energy you need.
Also remember to eat some healthy proteins and fats at dinner. Your pre-test meal should be epic.
1. Hydrate. You don’t want to have to pee throughout your whole exam, but you need to be hydrated to think properly. To deal with that paradox, you should spend today drinking ludicrous amounts of water. Stop drinking about 2 hours before you go to sleep (you don’t want to wake up in the middle of the night), but aim for at least a gallon of fresh water. If you saturate your body, your mind will function much more effectively tomorrow. Get in bed early – even earlier than you’ve been getting in bed this whole week. If you’ve been getting in bed every night at 10 pm, try getting in bed at 9pm. It’s best to give yourself some extra time to fall asleep.
WHAT IF I CAN’T FALL ASLEEP?
If you can’t fall asleep, I have three tricks that work incredibly well. Combining these will make you pass out like a sack of bricks.
#1: Use the cold shower trick. The idea behind this trick is simple: get in the shower, turn it as cold as it can go, and stand under she stream for 1-3 minutes. It’s painful and wretched, but it slows down your body’s metabolism and puts you in a “shutdown” mode. I know that most people think of a “long, hot bath” as the best way to relax, but in fact, heat actually prevents you from falling asleep. If you want to pass out like a champion, this is the way to do it. Jump in the cold shower, stand it for as long as you can, towel off, and jump in bed. You will PASS out.
#2: Make sure your room is as cold, quiet, and dark as possible. Sleeping in high temperatures is difficult. Blast your AC, or at least keep your windows open (if you don’t live in the city) to get some circulation. Hot room = bad sleep.
Also, make sure to completely cut your room off from light. Turn off all the lights, light-emitting electronics or devices with lit buttons, and shut off all computer monitors. Ideally, your room will be PITCH BLACK.
Finally, be sure to limit noise. No TV. No vacuuming. No loud phone calls. No stomping around. No exceptions.
#3: Limit your access to monitors and screens for 2-3 hours before bedtime. A lot of recent studies have shown that brightly-lit monitors and screens (your phone, computer, iPad, and TV) confuse your brain and make you think that it’s still light outside. As a result, when you look at bright screens, it becomes very difficult to fall asleep for a few hours afterward (if you’re wondering why you fall asleep watching the TV, it’s because the TV makes you use so little of your brain that you’re already in a sleep-like state. In fact, you use less of your brain watching TV than you do when you’re sleeping!).
Two hours before bedtime, make sure all monitors, TVs, phones, etc. are off. It’s time to eat dinner, read stupid magazines, take a shower, and pass out.
One more note: do NOT take any drugs to help you fall asleep. You’ll wake up groggy and out of it – not a good idea before a huge test. If you do take pills or sleep medication routinely, then continue on this course, but otherwise, avoid sleep medication (over-the-counter and prescription) like the plague.