Tuna on Toast: How George Costanza Helped Me Find the Right Therapist

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Last updated on: Mar 25, 2024

What could you possibly learn about life from a sitcom about nothing? 

Seinfeld is one of my favorite shows. An episode from May 1994 called The Opposite opens with Jerry and George sitting in a coffee shop. George is going on and on about the sad state of his life. 

“Every decision I've ever made, in my entire life, has been wrong. My life is the opposite of everything I want it to be. Every instinct I have, in every aspect of life, be it something to wear, something to eat...it's all been wrong. “ 

Hearing this, Jerry convinces George to try the opposite. “If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right.”

Instead of tuna on toast for lunch, which he always orders, George gets chicken salad. Rather than avoiding a beautiful woman who looks his way and regretting it for the rest of his day, he walks right up to her and, opposite to what he thinks should work, tells her he’s unemployed and living with his parents. Cue the iconic slap bass solo, cut to the next scene and before you know it they wind up dating.

Trust your gut, but sometimes try the opposite

Obviously the episode is written as a joke, but there is an important lesson regardless. There’s value in broadening your perspective, in trying something completely at odds with your gut just to see what happens. How can we ever learn what might be possible if all we ever try is what we think will work?

Luckily I don’t have much in common with George. I’ve learned to listen to my intuition and although I’ve had my fair share of epic failures, things are going pretty well for me. 

There was a period in my life where this wasn’t the case. 

A few years ago my sister was diagnosed with late stage cancer. I was helping to build an AI startup from the ground up. I was stressed at work and my sister’s diagnosis and subsequent treatment hit me really hard outside of the office. I knew I needed help to cope. I had heard of therapy, but until that point I never felt I had something “wrong” enough to justify going. I've since learned that what I thought I knew about therapy was the opposite of right.

At that time, however, the decision to try therapy was an easy one. Anything that could help me cope was on the table. Having spent most of my career building startups, I had learned to break problems down, set goals and figure out how to track progress towards them. Naturally, I took the same approach with therapy. I knew what to do.

Just like a job description I would have written to hire a new teammate at work, I outlined the key attributes I was looking for in a therapist. Then I set some goals and came up with metrics so I would know if therapy was working. I put together a list of a few therapists that fit my description and was sure I was ready to go. Then a good friend of mine offered to share his experience with therapy as I got ready to set out on my own journey.

I met Alex for lunch to hear what therapy was like for him. I think we had sushi (chicken salad wasn't an option). He listened to me walk him through my structured thinking. Then he did his best Costanza impression. Try it your way, he said, but would you also be open to trying the exact opposite as well? 

He explained that therapy was not going to be like business. He told me it wasn't about setting clear goals or ticking off milestones. Instead, it was a fluid experience, where progress wasn't linear - if measurable at all.

He pushed me to consider looking for the exact opposite of what I thought I needed and gave me one therapist's name. She didn't match my ideal description at all. In fact, she was the exact opposite. That said, his argument was interesting, so I figured why not. I scheduled initial meetings with five potential therapists, one of which was his recommendation. Want to guess who I ultimately went with? 

Unexpected learnings lead to unprecedented impact

Yup, it was Alex's recommendation. “The Opposite" therapist. The one I didn’t initially think was going to be a great fit for me. 

I leaned into the approach further, not setting any goals or worrying about measuring progress, the opposite of what I'd usually do. I also decided that I was going to let the experience play out for at least five sessions, much longer than I thought it should take to see an impact.

I questioned every minute I spent with the opposite therapist, right up until the very end of that fifth session when things clicked. I’ve been seeing her ever since and she's been a big part of altering the trajectory of my life. 

I didn’t need tuna on toast, I needed chicken salad. Had I followed what I thought I knew, it never would have happened. I never would have reached out to find time with her, she wasn’t what I thought I needed. I never would have stuck with her for five sessions, I expected to see progress faster. 

I’m not suggesting you stick with a therapist that isn’t working for you just because Costanza landed a date with an anti-pickup line. Rather, I’m proposing that you consider the possibility that the opposite of what you think you need may actually be exactly what's needed. 

  • If you’ve never considered therapy, perhaps it’s worth a look - an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure
  • If you’re considering therapy, maybe you don’t need to think about it anymore and should just try it - learn by doing
  • If you’ve tried it and not found a fit, maybe you should look for someone who’s the complete opposite of who you think you need - you never know what you’ll learn

Ultimately, George gets the girl and lands a dream job with the Yankees. Doing the opposite was the catalyst. 

You don't need to flip your whole life upside down like he did, but if something about therapy is feeling stuck for you, why not try the opposite and see what happens?

Jason Silver is a multi-time founder of kids and a multi-time founder of companies. He’s a startup advisor and author of the upcoming book Quietly Crushing It, about unlocking bigger impact at work with less burnout in life. 

He appeared on Episode 16 of Actualize Podcast, hosted by First Session’s Rob Pintwala. Listen on all major platforms. 

Get a free preview chapter from Quietly Crushing It here - the chapter covers a specific tactic to do 5 days of work in 4. 

Sign up for Jason’s Newsletter here where he shares actionable tactics to help you do and feel better at work. 

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