Carl Gustav Jacobi was a German mathematician in the early 1800s, famous for his study of elliptical integrals.
As a professor, Jacobi was known to tell his students, “Man muss immer umkehren.” Roughly translated: "One must always invert.” (Finally, my college German class put to use!)
Jacobi was guiding his students toward the idea that it’s easier to understand complex equations when you work backwards from a clear result.
Inverting isn’t just practical in math, but also in life.
With this month’s theme of Simplicity, I have been thinking of ways to simplify my life — my commitments, my material possessions, even the digital content I consume.
I’m having a difficult time cutting things back. I just don’t know what to get rid of.
Taking Jacobi's advice, I decided to invert the question. Instead of asking myself what I need to get rid of, I imagined what a more simplified life would look like. What was I doing? What was I wearing? What was I reading? How was I spending my time?
The question went from, “What do I need to get rid of?” to, “What do I want to keep?”
Start with the end in mind,
P.S. Speaking of starting with the end in mind, in our Digital Welcome Guide we challenge you to write your own eulogy and to imagine how you might be remembered in order to help ground you in the values you choose to live today. It’s a powerful exercise that I often return to. In case you are curious, here is my eulogy which I wrote and shared a couple years ago.
Begin your day feeling grounded and inspired.
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