The Definition of Insanity – Is It a Cliché?
We’ve all heard the cliché, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. If you’ve spent any time at all in the addiction recovery world you’ve heard this touted as fact multiple times by people trying to convince you that you are an addict or alcoholic who clearly can’t use substances without causing massive problems in your life. And maybe it made some sense to you based on your history. I mean, it sounds accurate, right? However, with respect to many things in life, it’s not that cut and dry; there is some nuance that’s worth examining.
There are actually a lot of things in life that require painful, challenging repetition for ultimate success to materialize. The trick is being able to recognize when repetition is productive and when it’s futile.
If you are an entrepreneur, you’ve likely had to repeat the same multiple tasks on a daily basis. It gets to the point where even the thought of having to do those tasks another day brings on dread. But you do them nonetheless. This certainly is not insanity, but rather, a focused, persistent drive to overcome odds that are against you as you embark on your business venture. Here’s another example; sometimes a marriage can be a rough and tumble game of hurt feelings, lost love, and crushing loneliness. But even in the worst marital situations that typically end in divorce, there are success stories because both parties kept trying.
Was it a change of thoughts and habits that fixed these marriages or built these businesses? The answer is maybe, but certainly not in all cases, because sometimes painful, difficult, persistent repetition is necessary to achieve happiness and success. But here is the nuance: sometimes painful repetition is needed to succeed and sometimes a drastic change is needed to succeed. The question is which should you choose: to keep trying the same thing, or to make a change.
Let’s look at marriage again. A marriage involves two parties. If the marriage is teetering on collapse, it’s usually due to reasons that are confined within the autonomous minds of each person in the marriage. There may have been a serious breakdown in communication, and each party may have grown apart and now want different things. But they stay together out of habit, “doing the same thing over and over” hoping things will simply get better. If each decides the concept of marriage itself to be so important as to supersede their personal happiness, it’s possible their persistence might get them to a time when circumstances change enough for new perspectives to be built, and wallah – marriage saved, love rekindled. Of course that statement doesn’t hold water for marriages where domestic violence and abuse are present. If that’s the case, to stay is probably a case of the above mentioned definition of insanity. However, barring that kind of scenario, a thing like a marriage is an area where that definition of insanity is not clear. This is important to realize.
The point is this: each person must decide when enough is enough with these kinds of decisions. And having well-meaning people blindly and judgmentally repeating to you, “ya know, the definition of insanity…” does little to foster real solutions. Many decisions are often not simply black or white – there are always shades of gray. And people continuously evolve, and as long as they are open to it, they learn through each and every experience – and yes, even through continuous repetition.
If you feel as if you have areas in your life where you are “doing the same thing expecting different results”, before you begin making drastic life changes for the sake of change, or because people are telling you that you’re nuts, really look inside and ask yourself what you are trying to accomplish. Assess if you are making progress and/or learning from your experiences. Evaluate if the price you are paying either in time, energy, emotion, or resources are going to be worth the results you’re seeking. Be your own guide and master. And always remember, when confused on which way to go, to think creatively and conduct a benefits to benefits analysis of your options to guide you forward. Do that, and you’ll find your way out of any difficult choice to a better, happier future.