Insanity and Perseverance

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

We’ve all heard that chestnut many times. I’ve seen it attributed to many places: Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, mystery writer Rita Mae Brown, the Narcotics Anonymous handbook.

The phrase makes a good point in some ways. All of us get stuck in ruts. Sometimes, we’ll see ourselves making the same set of mis-steps over and over again.

How can someone expect to lose weight when they keep eating the same diet that caused them to gain weight?
How can someone expect to be rich when they stick to the same work routine and spending habits?
How can someone expect career advancement if they keep following the same old work routines that they’ve had for the last ten years?

The statement is simply a call to change. If you want different results in your life, you’ve got to do something different.

Yet, so often, I hear some variation on that phrase being used as a crutch to excuse falling back into old bad habits.

One of my oldest friends is simply not very good when it comes to dating. Over the last several years, he’s asked a few women out on dates and been rejected for various reasons. Because of that, he believes it is crazy to try asking someone out again, because, as the saying goes, he shouldn’t expect different results.

Another friend of mine gets really frustrated when exercising. She’ll do great for a week or so, but then she’ll find that there’s no weight change on the scale. She gets disheartened and stops exercising because, in her eyes, she’s just not seeing any difference in her weight when she diets and exercises, so why not have fun and enjoy delicious foods?

Countless readers have described to me how difficult it is to stay on the path of being frugal and financially responsible. I’ve been told by readers that being frugal just doesn’t work, they’re not getting near their financial goals, and they’re going to spend more and enjoy their lives more.

In each of these cases, they’re ignoring the fact that their positive action is actually having a real positive result.

When my friend asks a woman out on a date, he’s doing something that takes a lot of courage for him to do. Each time he does it, he’s showing himself that he can take that social leap. The more he does it, the easier it becomes.

When my other friend exercises, she’s slowly training her body into better shape. The first time you run a mile, it’s very hard. Each subsequent time, it’s a bit easier. Each time, you’re burning a lot of calories, but with patience, it transitions into something easier. The same is true with diet – at first, you miss the foods you used to eat, but after a while, you begin to desire the foods you’re eating now. Each time you do this is a small step in a better direction.

Staying on a financially responsible path is the same thing. One step might only equate to $5, which isn’t enough to cause a financial transformation in one’s life. But a hundred steps, which you can build up over a month, might equate to $500, and staying on that path results in thousands of dollars over the course of a year.

In each case, the positive action the person is taking is achieving a positive result. However, one action achieves only a small positive result.

You can’t expect one thing you do one day to completely change the years of habit that caused you to get into the troublesome position you’re in. If everyone could suddenly find themselves in great financial shape from a few days of eating ramen, you can bet that’s what a lot of people would do. If good health and a good figure could result from a week of jogging and eating salads, people would do that for a week and then veg out and eat whatever they want for a month or two.

Life doesn’t work that way.

If you want to undo the results of your life lived to this point, you have to make permanent changes to your life. A hole that took many years to dig is going to take a long time to fill back in. Unless you’re very lucky, there is no magic button that will undo the debt you’re in or the extra weight you’ve gained or the shyness you’ve allowed to build up.

Each step in the other direction will be a change, but it will be a small one. You won’t see life-altering results in the first week or the first month. Instead, what you should be shooting for is a new path that you’re comfortable with, one that will lead you to where you want to go.

It took me six years of living very lean to achieve my financial goals of debt freedom and home ownership. Much of the time, particularly in the first year or two, revolved more around teaching myself how to live in a new way in which I spent less than I earned. I saw results from those actions, but they were small ones. It was patience that made all the difference.

It may be insane to do the same thing over and over and expect different results, but it’s also insane to expect to change a few things and see immediate and drastic results. If you want change, you have to change the entire path you’re on, not just change your behaviors for a few weeks.

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7 thoughts on “Insanity and Perseverance

  1. Carole says:

    Maybe if your friend would lower his sights, whatever that might mean in his situation, he might get dates. Heaven knows there are plenty of women looking for Mr. Right. (coupon)

  2. Johanna says:

    Nobody says you have to persevere at everything. It’s OK to choose not to date or diet, for example.

  3. krantcents says:

    Change is very difficult and takes a minimum of 22 days to see change. I am pretty good at achieving goals, but I do not bat 1,000. I will keep trying when others will quit. Maybe that is the key to success. I will change my efforts to achieve my goal over and over again.

  4. Tracy says:

    Ugh, those are terrible examples.

    Particularly the diet one. “so why not have fun and enjoy delicious foods?” Why not, INDEED? That’s the route I would go, life’s too short to not have fun, and not enjoy what you’re eating, to the best of your ability to access it.

  5. Johanna says:

    @Carole: You may be right, but that doesn’t mean he SHOULD lower his sights. For many people, it’s far better to be single than to be in a relationship with the wrong person.

  6. Tracy says:

    On the other hand, this post explains the ongoing saga of the 365 Things series … if we just keep reading them, we’ll start thinking they’re good posts! Every time we read them it’s a positive action.

    It certainly requires courage.

  7. Troy says:

    Actually there are several things that you can do once on one day that can change years of habit.

    Stopping Smoking or drinking requires one decision. Starting a new business or job or quitting a bad one or ending a bad relationship or moving or asking a girl on a date are all individual actions that require one thing on one day.

    Life does indeed work exactly that way. Not everything takes 6 years. In fact, most things don’t.

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