Derek Sivers

Over-compensate to compensate


You have something you want to change: a thought process or habit you want to fix.

Let’s use the metaphor of a bunch of bricks on a seesaw. Right now all the bricks are stacked on one side. This is the way you have been.

To make a change, most people don’t do enough.

If you do something small and sensible, it’s like moving one brick. You’re still unbalanced.

You think you made the change, but it’s not accounting for:

So, to make a change, you have to be extreme. Go all the way the other way. It will feel like over-compensating, but you have to stack a huge pile of bricks on the other side.

This new you sounds extreme and exciting. You will think you’re going to be completely changed.

But actually the old stuff is still there. So really this is what you needed to do to balance, to compensate for that cultural baggage, self-identity, habit, and history.

Once balanced, it will sink in, and become your new normal.


You have a tendency to blame others for your situation. We all do this.

You realize this is hurting your life. You think, “I shouldn’t do that so much. I should take some responsibility.”

So you try to make some changes:

Nope. That’s not good enough. Still unbalanced. You need to go to a further extreme, in a way that will feel like over-compensating.

You need to think, “Absolutely everything is my fault. All of it. It’s my fault the world is the way it is. It’s my fault the government isn’t exactly to my liking. It’s my responsibility to fix everything I don’t love. It’s my fault that others act the way they do towards me.”

Sounds extreme, right? It will feel like this:

You try to think this new way. Sometimes you really can.

But you still can’t help feeling that some things are not your fault.

That’s OK. Now you’re balanced. This sinks in and becomes your new normal way of thinking.

More examples:

The best and most effective changes I’ve made in my life seemed crazy at first, because they seemed to be over-compensating.

I’m going to be writing about more of them in the future, and I’ll keep them listed here:

Illustrations by Victoria Medvedeva in Saint Petersburg, Russia. They are free for you to use.