Start at the end

… and consider everything backwards

(Backward planning – Backward design – Backward mapping)



The Toybox Game

Your target is to teach a child how to put away their toys in an orderly fashion so that when they next go to their toy box, everything is together and in order of priority.


Step One.

Imagine waking up in the morning to find ALL your toys neatly put away, with your favorite toys at the top so you don’t have to go “digging” for them.

What needs to happen before that?

Step Two.

Your toys all need to be in a single line, with your favorite toys at the front, and your least favorite toys at the back.

What needs to happen before that?

Step Three.

All the toys and their various pieces are all gathered together.

What needs to happen before that?

Step Four.

The child needs to imagine the joy of waking up to find all their toys in place waiting.

Now … reverse the order.

Step Four … “Imagine this …”

Step Three … “Let’s get the toys together …”

Step Two … “Okay, put the toys in order for the morning …”

Step Four … “Now put them into the toybox in reverse order.”

I use this regularly with young children. I involve them in the backwards planning. They love it.


What just happened?

We started where we wanted to be, and we backward-designed a path to make it happen.

You might have thought it impossible to make your child enthusiastic about getting their toys into order, but in fact, there was always an “escape” pathway that made it possible … “to make it a game of the imagination”.


REAL examples of “backwards planning” in use can be found on my examples page.




Backwards planning something disrupts our blinkered thinking to reveal pathways to achieve our goals/outcomes.




Go to lesson 9

To learn how to set EXCEPTIONAL GOALS


Check out the concise definition: What is lateral thinking?


2 thoughts on “Lesson 8 – Backwards Disrupt Your Thinking

  1. Hi Michael

    To help get me started, could you recommend a couple of simple examples to practice with? Everyday stuff that will help build up to the bigger things…


    1. Start simple. Backwards plan some activities around your domestic/home life first:
      – Build the perfect garden bed, weed free and easy maintenance;
      – A small renovation around the home;
      – Something a child wants but must work for. They will understand and achieve the desired result if there is a clear path forward with measurable benchmarks that have been clearly defined by a backwards plan.
      Next, step up to a wider circle of friends and family:
      – Set an objective with friends, family or neighbors;
      – Bring people together for something special;
      – Create an event, or organize a sporting comp/team.
      Take it to work:
      – Set a target and map it out for all to become involved;
      – Set personal and private targets of progress/promotion/payrise and clearly understand what must happen beforehand. (Agree to benchmarks with the boss);
      – Learn a new skill that will be valued and used in the workplace. Map out the integration you imagine.

      All these things involve the setting of goals, of building or creating better outcomes. First, you must decide what important things are happening, or could/should happen in your life, and then try starting where you HOPE the outcome will be and backwards plan.


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