Life and death are two sides of the same coin, the coin representing our time on this earth. This juxtaposed combining of opposite concepts can be found on another coin, this one an artifact from ancient Rome. The coin of that realm featured the god Janus. He was the god of beginnings and endings. Roman mythology also acknowledged him as the god of gates, doors, and the future-past combination. (And yes, the month of January is named for him.)

Many scholars consider Janus the premiere god in the hierarchy of deities. Lending credence to this belief is the fact that he was often referred to as Janus Pater. He and the goddess Jana (or Diana) are a divine pair, regarded as the sun and the moon. Sacrifices were made to them before they were made to any other gods.


No matter the opposites–birth and death, past and future, planting and harvesting, barbarity and civilized behavior, childhood and adulthood–all involve that middle ground between one state of being and the new state it ultimately becomes. If you can stand in that middle ground and look back to the past and forward to the future, you will sharpen your cognitive powers indeed. The process is bound to yield some innovative solutions to the problems you may be facing or the decisions you need to make.

Here’s an example of how to do that. You want to write a mystery for a television series. You know that traditionally–in an Agatha Christie novel, for instance–you will find out who the murderer is at the very end of the story. You now think in opposite terms–what if you revealed the murderer within the first few minutes of the story. Voila. You now have the format for :Columbo,” the beloved detective series that can still be seen on television, fifty years after it first appeared.


Poets, statesmen, philosophers, scholars, playwrights, and a host of other thinkers have explored the power of opposites. Discuss the meaning of these quotations with someone whose intellect you respect. Then, work to formulate a statement that includes opposites of one kind or another. The statement should reflect your view on some issue important to you, your life, your career.

“Success is never final. Failure is never fatal. Courage is what counts.” –Sir Winston Churchill

“A new broom sweeps clean, but the old broom knows the corners.” –Irish Proverb

“Child is the father of the man.” –William Wordsworth

“A father lives after death in his son. ” –Sanskrit

“There is nothing either good or bad,but thinking makes it so. ” –William Shakespeare

“Love is blind, marriage is the eye-opener.” –Pauline Thomson

“Cowards die many times before their deaths,
The valiant never taste of death but once.” –Julius Caesar

“Any coward can fight a battle when he’s sure of winning; but give me the man who has the pluck to fight when he’s sure of losing.” –George Eliot


Oppo-sitting is the self-motivating process of reaching goals by taking a point of view opposite to prevailing wisdom. It requires the kind of mind-set Chinese scholar Lao-tzu alludes to in his observation that “all behavior consists of opposites. Learn to see things backward,” he advised, and also “inside out and upside down.H

Every salesperson worth his or her metaphoric salt knows that Friday is the worst day for making a sale. This knowledge, though, can become become a self-fulfilling prophecy; it can prevent you from even trying to reach a goal. If you subscribe to this research-driven way of thinking, then you are likely to think end-of-the-week thoughts like these:

            “Today’s Friday. Why even try to make a sale?”

            “Everyone knows you can’t sell umbrellas in a downpour on Fridays.”

            “I may as well do paperwork rather than try to make a sale today.”

But if you are oppo-sitting, if you are willing to station yourself on the opposite end of the sales spectrum, you will probably engage in this kind of self-talk:

            “People are in good moods today because the weekend’s about to begin. I’m going to capitalize on this upbeat atmosphere and try to make a sale today.”

            “Many people leave a little early on Fridays to get a jump start on the weekend. How can I capitalize on Friday’s need for speed?”

“By the end of the week, many potential buyers are tired. I’m going to do something today that will energize flagging spirits, something other than delivering a box of doughnuts. Then, when I see prospects starting to revive, I’ll make a fresh presentation about my product.” 

Keep a log for one full month–that’s only four Fridays–to see if you have improved sales on this day so often scorned by salespeople. If your oppo-sitting approach is working, continue it. If it is not working, you will have lost nothing at all. In fact, you will probably have gained–some creative ideas for improving your opening techniques at the very least.

More Examples

No doubt about it–oppo-sitting is a question of refusing to let your brain be drained by negative thoughts. Take these brief quizzes to see what we mean. Paraphrase the meaning of this run-together sentence:


Now try punctuating this sentence:

W O M A N  W I T H O U T H E R  M A N  I S  A N  A N I M A L

Ask your colleagues or family members to take these same small tests and compare your answers to theirs.


We find this way of looking at the same situation with two opposing points of view in the Chinese calligraphic symbol for “crisis”: the word is composed of two other words: “danger” and “opportunity.” By extension, the salesperson can look upon a mistake he or she has made in one of two ways:

            “Mistakes are missed opportunities” or

            “Mistakes are opportunities not to be missed.”

Once again, you can play mind-games and come out a winner if you are willing to take a positive slant on any given reality. Some salespeople beat themselves up for making an error or missing a chance to land an account. Others, more realistic and ultimately, we suspect, more successful, look upon the mistake as a learning experience, something from which they will profit in the long run.

In the words of the computer wunderkind, Bill Gates, “It’s fine to celebrate success, but is more important to heed the lessons of failure.” Now, if that’s not oppo-sitting, what is?

We Didn’t Forget

In case you’re wondering about the answers to the quizzes, the two ways of looking at the first example are:

            “Opportunity is nowhere”  and

            “Opportunity is now here.”

Clearly, the latter viewpoint is more likely to result in a positive outlook, which is more likely to result in sales.

And the two meanings derived from various ways of punctuating the second example are:

            “Woman!  With her, man is an animal!”  or

            “Woman, without her man, is an animal.”

We leave the interpretation of this one entirely up to you.