Updated on 03.03.12

Repetition Is a Losing Life Battle

Trent Hamm

Over the past few days, I’ve been exchanging messages on Facebook with an old friend of mine. This person (that we’ll call Chris) has spent virtually every weekend (and many weeknights) getting completely drunk since Chris was in college more than a decade ago.

At one point, Chris told me the following:

Most of the last decade is a giant blur. I don’t remember any of the parties that I went to except as part of a giant flood of them. They were all basically the same thing. Every good memory I have of the last decade was from doing something besides partying. The only parties I remember were a couple from college and it seems like every weekend I just try to recapture that magic and fail.

Chris is experiencing what I like to think of as the diminishing returns of repetitive experience.

Most of the things a person chooses to do has some set of positives and negatives associated with it. Going to a party, for example, can be a wonderful social experience, but it can sometimes make it difficult to build lasting one-on-one relationships within a party crowd.

If you do what amounts to the same thing over and over, eventually it ceases to be something special and enjoyable. It just becomes the norm, and when that happens, you begin to find that the negatives weigh you down more than the positives bring you up. The wonderful social experience of a party begins to feel completely normal, and then you reach a point where you feel your life is lacking deep individual relationships, like Chris is doing right now.

I’ve gone through this cycle many times, where something that was a great experience became substantially less so through repetition.

Around 2005 and 2006, I used to often go out after work with a few different groups of people. It was fun at first, but after a while, it just began to feel like the same old thing. I’d feel a bit hung over and I’d feel like I wasn’t building any really worthwhile relationships that would last, so I stopped going.

In 2003 and 2004, there was a coffee shop that I loved going to in the mornings. I would go there each day, recognize the staff there, enjoy my cup of coffee, and read the morning paper. After a while, though, the experience became just a routine, and all I could see is the money just flowing out of my pocket.

I used to love the experience of shopping in a bookstore, but in 2004 and 2005, it became a several times a week experience for me. I wound up with a pile of books that I hadn’t read yet and I no longer felt that happy little twinge that I once felt when I would walk into a bookstore with a few extra dollars in my pocket.

Repetition of a great experience eventually dulls that experience. The joy slips away and you find yourself wondering how you could have wasted that time, money, and energy.

The only way a repetitive experience can stay fresh and new is if you’re constantly looking for something new in that experience. For example, I play board games with a small circle of friends every week. When we play a new game, there’s fun in exploring the rules. When we play a game we’ve played before, there’s fun in exploring the strategy within those rules. I get to learn more about how I think, as well as how my closest friends think.

If I just looked at it as sitting down at the same old table and moving the same old pieces around with the same old people, it would get boring. I make an effort to look for new angles and freshness, and when you look for that, new and interesting experiences about.

Obviously, another valuable tool in this process is simply exploring a variety of things. I’ve mentioned recently that my list of things I want to do for personal enrichment is much longer than I have time to do.

There are many days when I look at that list and find that I have little interest in doing many of the things on it right at that moment, but eventually I do find something that excites me. If it does not make me feel excited in that moment, I skip it.

I also relish in trying something new, which is particularly useful considering there is an infinite variety of things to try. Even if you apply a filter to that list – for example, sticking with things that are free or very low cost as well as things that in some way teach you a skill – there’s often an incredibly long list of things to do. Just go through that list and spend your free time tackling some of them.

For me, I find that filling my life with a variety of activities makes the individual activities much more pleasureful. I don’t suffer the burnout of getting a daily coffee if I only get it once a month, in which case it’s a fun experience. The same is true for bookstores or parties or anything else in life.

We spend a lot of our life working and sleeping so that we have the ability to spend some of our time doing what we want to do. Why fill that time with experiences that aren’t memorable or pleasures that have been dulled by repetition?

Find something new to do today. Learn something new. Go outside and wander until you find something intriguing. Take care of something that’s been bothering you. There are thousands of possibilities here, and most of them are new and exciting and don’t involve opening your wallet.

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  1. Mary says:

    I find this to be very true. My fiancé and I love to go out to eat. We used to a lot, and over time the magic and fun-ness started to wear thin and now all it is is an excuse to waste 30-40 bucks. Not always if there’s a new restaurant to try, but usually we end up regretting it. Now we cook at home more, and stick to going out once in a blue moon. More memorable that way.

  2. kc says:

    Simply put,if you really enjoy something, go ahead and enjoy it. If you don’t because it’s become dull or routine, then stop doing it, or do it less frequently.

    Reading these posts is not very pleasureful.

  3. Vanessa says:

    Trent, I believe “Chris’s” issues with alcohol are just a tad more complicated than your issues with bookstores.

    The last decade is a blur? He gets drunk on an almost every day? I seriously hope you encouraged him to seek professional help instead of telling him to go learn something new.

  4. Johanna says:

    This isn’t quite as bad as the “I know what it’s like to be in an abusive relationship because I used to live in an apartment” post, but it’s pretty close.

  5. Alice says:

    I get the sense that Chris’ larger issue might be a problem with alcohol, unclear if Chris doesn’t remember the parties because Chris was “getting completely drunk” (blackouts) or because the experience was getting old.

    Significantly, the last decade has been a “giant blur” and Chris only has good memories of things not involving partying. A college student getting “completely drunk” every weekend and many weeknights would suggest a problem, that Chris has been doing this 10 years post college suggests an even more serious problem.

    If Chris was my friend, I’d encourage Chris to think about the choice to get drunk so often, and to look at whether things are going well (or not) in other aspects of Chris’ life.

  6. kc says:

    Oh yeah, if this story is true, Chris is an alcoholic. To compare his plight to your morning coffee is insensitive, callous, and dumb.

  7. valleycat1 says:

    I’m glad [insert your choice of great musician or rock group name here] can find pleasure in repetition – not only because of the practice hours they put in, but the number of times they perform the same piece.

  8. Liz says:

    Chrisis not experiencing the diminishing returns of repetitive experience. Chris is experiencing a significantly delayed adolescence and alcoholism.

    And you, sir, are experiencing delusions if you think is topic is a great lead in to personal finance, frugal fun, nattering on about your board games, and thinking there is nothing deeper going on here than the parties as a “been there, done that” experience for your *cough* friend.

  9. Andrew says:

    ” I make an effort to look for new angles and freshness, and when you look for that, new and interesting experiences about.”


  10. kc says:

    …abound. He can’t proofread, either.

  11. Evaluise says:

    Okay, taking an alcoholic as an example for what Trent wants to tell us in his post may not have been the best decision. I guess Trent has had his “oops” moment by now and might even feel a little ashamed.
    But apart from that: Folks, why don’t you just follow Trent’s advice and come here less often? Obviously for you Trent’s posts have become stale. Yes, there are repetitions. Sometimes I’ve forgotten the original post and what he says fits my situation like a glove right now, so I’m glad he repeated it. Sometimes it’s stale for me, too. But so what? There are millions of people who have not read Trent’s posts for years like you and I did. And to them they may be new and very helpful.
    Why don’t you just go and play somewhere else if you don’t like it here?

    And Andrew, I guess he meant “abound”. Typos do happen and the hand is more used to “about” than to “abound” because it occurs much more frequently.

  12. Johanna says:

    “I guess Trent has had his “oops” moment by now and might even feel a little ashamed.”

    Now, why would you guess that? When has Trent ever let on that he feels a little ashamed of anything he’s written here?

  13. SwingCheese says:

    While I appreciate the point about repetition ceasing to bring about the same level of excitement that the first few experiences provided, I agree with the others that this isn’t exactly what is going on with Chris. From what you’ve said (and from what you’ve relayed about what Chris has said) there is much more going on here. True, s/he is trying to recapture the feeling they had in college via alcohol and it isn’t working. But….perhaps the better question is why are they still behaving like a college student when they are in their early 30s? And how has using alcohol as a crutch prevented them from forming mature relationships? And why the fixation on alcohol as the means to ameliorate their feelings? Because make no mistake: this person is using alcohol as a way to deal with life and that is a huge problem, and it is not the same sort of problem as going to a coffee shop a few times a week for a year or so. It does a disservice to your friend to use them as an example of diminishing returns (which minimizes their actual problem) and the fact that you’ve used their obvious chemical dependency as a comparison point with your own repetitive shopping makes you seem self-centered. Unless you were going to say that you used retail therapy as a way to deal with your feelings like this person is using alcohol, it is a false comparison.

  14. Andrew says:

    Evaluise–yes, typos happen. If you are a writer who cares about what you write, however, you proofread your work, catch the typos and auto-correct mishaps, and check that what you have written is coherent.

    Trent, quite obviously, does none of those things.

  15. Vanessa says:

    @ #11 Evaluise:

    …Folks, why don’t you just follow Trent’s advice and come here less often?…

    So you’re saying Trent admits his blog is a repetitive experience with diminishing returns? Ha!

    It’s not just about stale or repetitive posts. Some of them have inaccurate information, or are even potentially harmful (like this one). I am glad that some commenters continue to bring attention to–and correct–the misinformation, even if it they no longer find this site “pleasureful.”

  16. elyn says:

    I am personally q

  17. K Ann says:

    While you probably mean well and intended to make a point here, it is glaringly obvious that you’ve never “seen the elephant” of alcoholism. I think this is a case where we need to read Trent’s article and then forgive him for he knows not what he speaks of.

  18. kevin says:

    I doubt this conversation ever took place. It’s most likely another made-up anecdote to illustrate his point.

  19. elyn says:

    Huh, not sure why my comment posted mid-sentence. So, what I was saying is that I am personally questioning why I even visit this site anymore, and am seriously considering stopping altogether. I notice that I disagree with most of Trent’s posts because his ability to differentiate is so very challenged. For example, this post- Trent can’t differentiate serious addiction from compulsive behavior that seeks to replicate the original first-time-thrill versus the good kind of repetition. I love my morning coffee every morning, and no amount of repetition makes it dull, and I have been drinking coffee since I was in high school. It is a ritual that I get very much pleasure out of. Now, if I was drinking it in order to seek the original thrill of tasting it for the first time when I was 5, yes, this would have diminishing returns. But the taste, the smell, the warmth are all comforting and fresh every morning.

    Trent tends to lump things all into his personal experience, then extrapolate his feelings into big general incorrect statements. I feel this knee-jerk desire to correct him constantly, but here is where I am questioning myself: I get very little out of doing so, but his site gets oh-so-many clicks from those of us correcting him, which keeps him, for free, way up there in the Google results. This translates to free publicity for a blog that I have serious issues with. So, as I’m writing, I realize that I think I need to step away from this blog. Trent is too easy of a target for me to nitpick, and I really don’t feel good about myself doing so. There are much better personal finance blogs out there with much more satisfying discussions to participate in.

  20. Johanna says:

    @K Ann: I understand your point, but really, there is no reason Trent shouldn’t have known what he speaks of. You don’t have to have had your life personally affected by alcohol abuse to know that it’s serious business and not the same thing as buying too many books or drinking too many lattes. If you can reach your early-to-mid 30s and still not understand that, maybe you don’t deserve to earn a living by writing a blog about your life wisdom and experience.

    @elyn: I agree with you.

  21. kc says:

    @elyn: Agree. I find TSD morbidly fascinating, and probably ought to walk away from it.

  22. jim says:

    It sounds like Chris may have a serious problem. I hope he gets help with that. Its most likely he has an addiction. I wonder if Trent has even realized or considered that his friend Chris’ may have alcoholism or if Trent just thinks his friend ‘parties too much’ like some overgrown college student?

    Setting Chris’s drinking aside:

    I think Trent has a good point. “Repetition of a great experience eventually dulls that experience.” True. You do something too much and you eventually get bored of it. If you go out to eat at expensive restaurants every week then its not ‘a treat’, its instead routine. If you spend every vacation at Disneyland then you may start to get bored of going there and you instead might get more value out of going to a variety of vacation destinations.

  23. marta says:

    *head meets desk*

    I just don’t know what to say anymore. Elyn has got a good point here.

  24. K Ann says:

    #20 Joanna: I think you’re absolutely right that anyone should recognize that alcoholism is serious business and not the least bit appropriate for the connection Trent tried to make here. However, unless someone has personally been affected by or actually “seen the elephant” of alcoholism, they probably have no clue. Obviously Trent has no clue which I would say is responsible for unconscious incompetence on his part in this article. I believe Trent is a good person who means well and who would be horrified with the comparison he tried to make if he had any exposure and thus insight into what is involved with alcoholism and/or addictions.

    Having said that, I think it’s time for me to stop reading daily and maybe just check in weekly for an overview and the inspirational post on Saturday mornings.

  25. DA says:

    Simply put, this site and the content is like a bad car accident. You know you should feel bad for looking, but it’s too morbidly fascinating to look away.

    I don’t even read the articles anymore. The comments are ridiculously entertaining.


  26. Johanna says:

    “However, unless someone has personally been affected by or actually “seen the elephant” of alcoholism, they probably have no clue.”

    I understand what you’re trying to say and I get that you mean well, but I find this statement pretty insulting. I’m fortunate that neither I nor anyone really close to me has suffered from alcoholism in a way that affects my life. Obviously, there is a lot that I do not know about alcoholism. But I do know enough – from reading books, watching TV and movies, and (especially) listening to other people when they talk about their own experiences – to know that the comparison Trent made is a pretty bad idea. There is no reason for Trent not to have known the same.

  27. Alice says:

    I’m examining my own morbid curiosity with this site.

    As many have pointed out, it’s wrong to compare an obvious alcohol issue to a bookstore or daily coffee habit. If Trent feels “ashamed” or has learned anything from the comments, he could post an update to the post noting that his comparison was flawed.

    If Chris is a real person, I hope s/he reads the comments and seriously considers exploring the alcohol issue; weekend and weekday binge drinking becomes a bigger problem the older one gets.

  28. elyn says:

    Last comment stuck in moderation, because you can’t link anything here.
    I was trying to point to the comic from x, k, c, d, dot com slash 386 slash. Remove the commas and you have yourself the link. If that doesn’t work, here’s the summary: One person says,
    Are you coming to bed?” The other person, while on the computer, says, “I can’t, this is important!” “What?” “Someone is WRONG on the internet!”
    When I feel like the person in the comic, I know that I need to change something because I don’t like feeling like the person in the comic. That’s why I’ve got to stop reading this site. I believe that this will be my very last comment here. If it makes it past moderation.

  29. Jules says:

    Count me amongst those skeeved out by the comparison of addiction to spending money thoughtlessly.

    No, not merely skeeved out…disgusted. It’s like comparing Ebola to the common cold. You just can’t.

    I do have my doubts as to whether Chris is a real person, though. The little quote sounds too much like Trent.

  30. Adam P says:

    If an article has a lot of comments, I know Trent has stuck his fat foot in his fat mouth again. In which case, I read the article and the (hilarious) comments.

    GRS is going downhill lately too. I wish the guy who wrote the Bad Personal Finance Advice blog would come back. He was awesome.

  31. kevin says:

    I agree that coming here is like looking at a car accident – you know you shouldn’t but you can’t help yourself. One of my New Year’s resolutions was to stop visiting this blog. I don’t like the part of my personality that makes me do this. But I’ve failed. And Trent never disappoints. But his posts are going from stupid to offensive like this one. This will be my last comment. (Now to join a 12 step…)

  32. Johanna says:

    I’ve tried a couple of times already to swear off commenting here, but each time, I check back and notice that Trent has said something so mind-bogglingly stupid that I can’t help but snark about it.

    I used to think I was doing a valuable service by correcting misinformation. I’m starting to think, though, that anyone who comes to this blog for advice deserves exactly what Trent gives them.

    Anyone interested in starting a “Simple Dollar ex-commenters’ forum,” where we can talk $hit about Trent without giving him the extra pageviews?

  33. Gretchen says:

    Ah, but the blog is already sold. So we can pageview all we want. Right? Although you’ll remember Trent tried to tell us the more page views he got the more it cost him.

    And I’m reminded of the letter writer with some sort of depression (involving a bus? not leaving the house?) and Trent’s “just snapping out” of his “depression.”

  34. jim says:

    Johanna, I don’t take K Ann’s comment as offensive in general. She said people who havent’ seen alcoholism first hand “probably” have no clue. That doesn’t mean everyone who lacks first hand experience is ignorant of the signs. The qualifier “probably” saves it from being too broad of a generalization. She’s not saying you can’t spot alcoholism. Maybe “probably” is too strong, but thats a different point.

  35. Johanna says:

    @jim: First of all, the word I used was “insulting,” not “offensive.”

    Second, your subjective reaction to K Ann’s comment does not negate mine. 99% of the time, when someone says “I don’t see it that way,” what they really mean is “You’re wrong to see it that way,” but it doesn’t work like that.

    Third, I know how to read, I did notice the “probably,” and I don’t think it helps. That would imply that it takes some kind of extraordinary insight or perceptiveness to understand that Trent’s comparison is inappropriate, and I don’t think it does. This is pretty basic stuff here. If Trent were, say, a teenager, I might be convinced to go along with K Ann’s assessment of “well meaning but clueless.” But he’s a grown-up, he’s supposedly very well read, and he’s gotten feedback in the past about his problematic portrayals of stuff like this. At this point, it can’t be anything other than willful cluelessness.

  36. Johanna says:

    @Gretchen: I think the post you’re thinking about was “Overcoming Severe Social Anxiety.” Hey, that one was about Chris too!

  37. Riki says:

    I wonder if Trent is paraphrasing the quoted text from Chris because it DEFINITELY sounds like Trent’s voice. “Capture that magic” or some variation is an expression that Trent uses pretty much every day.

    It definitely smacks of a made-up conversation.

  38. Andrew says:

    Johanna, how do you remember so many of Trent’s old posts? I forget them almost immediately, which I consider a blessing.

    I was sitting in my dentist’s waiting room one day recently reading TSD comments, and I laughed so loud that everyone looked at me curiously. This blog does provide a valuable service; it’s just not the one originally intended.

  39. valleycat1 says:

    For those commenting that all the commentary add $ to the value of the site – what counts is the first page view you make of the day, since they only count unique page views. Which is one reason I only view his site from one device (either one of our computers or my smart phone) a day. Although I’d guess the new owners also had looked at the number of comments per day too.

  40. jim says:


    What do you think the difference between “insulting” and “offensive” is here? Insult and offense are synonyms. So I’m not sure why you point out the different terms and why you think that matters.

    Otherwise, no I don’t think she is implying that it takes “extraordinary” insight to spot alcoholism. If you want to take insult at what she said then fine with me. Feel insulted. I doubt think K Ann was trying to insult you nor that she meant any insult. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe K Ann set out to insult you. *shrug* As you said my subjective reaction doesn’t negate yours. But yoru opinion on the matter doesn’t negate mine either.

  41. Johanna says:

    “What do you think the difference between “insulting” and “offensive” is here?”

    One is a word I used. The other is not.

  42. jim says:

    Johanna, I’ll say that I’m not sure that you and I are talking abut the same thing. K Ann was saying she thought that Trent might not have spoted the alcoholism. You seem to be arguing the alcoholism is obvious and therefore the comparison is bad. I agree the use of Chris’s drinking problems (alcoholism or not) as an example in this topic is not really appropriate. But I’m open to the idea that Trent is clueless about the seriousness of his friends drinking problem. Im also open to the possibility that Trents friend doesn’t have alcoholism and simply parties too much. Drinking every weekend does not equal alcoholism nor addiction.

  43. jim says:

    me : “What do you think the difference between “insulting” and “offensive” is here?”
    J : One is a word I used. The other is not.

    OK so whats the difference? Or are you just pointing out that I used a synomym for no apparent reason??

    I’m starting to seriously wonder if you’re just arguing for argument sake here or if you think you’re funny or what…

  44. David says:

    I imagine that one could add comments to “Only 318 Days of Crap Left”, thus answering in some measure the need to make cost-free unflattering remarks.

    Still, the idea that one could set up a forum for the purposes of issuing unfavourable reactions to posts by the author of another forum without directly addressing that author is an interesting one.

    Technically, of course, there is no difficulty at all – I could set up “The Trent Hamm Bashers’ Forum” within the hour, and so could most of you.

    Morally, however, I would feel certain compunctions about doing so. Suppose that after a few years the forum became so successful that I could sell it for the price of a medium-sized family home in Iowa. Would it be right to cash in on a fellow human’s tin ear for language, or insensitivity to the plight of alcoholics?

    One envisages heated debates leading eventually to the formation of the “Trent Hamm Bashers Bashers’ Forum”, whereon questions as to whether any of the first four words should be hyphenated or apostrophized would occupy the first few years of controversy. Thereafter, people would tend to say the same things in the same order until it dawned on them that repetition is a losing life battle.

    To every omega-consistent recursive class K of formulae, there correspond recursive class-signs r such that….

  45. Johanna says:

    @jim: I could just as easily ask you why you said “offensive” instead of “insulting.” If (according to you) the words mean exactly the same thing, wouldn’t it have been easier to use the same word as I did?

    In fact, even two words that are synonyms on paper are rarely exactly interchangeable. There are shades of meaning that the dictionary (let alone the thesaurus) doesn’t always capture.

  46. jim says:

    Arguing for the sake of argument.

  47. David says:

    If someone said to me “men are useless” I would be offended. If someone said to me “you are useless” I would be insulted. (Comment number 48 is here reserved for anyone wishing to remark that I should not be.)

  48. Kevin says:

    Jim: Take it from someone who’s spent his share of time on the business end of Johanna’s pedantry. You’re not going to win this one. Just let it go and move on.

  49. pollyanna says:

    i will admit to not reading all the comments to the atricle, But my family is full of drinkers alot of family memebers in AA and alot that have died from alochal related medical problems. I have no problem with the article. I consider my family full of addictive personalities and alochol is just one addiction that can kill you alot faster than others. I have never drunk alochol just because i have seen what it has done to my family, but i still spent more time hiding my addiction to books during highschool. highschool is one big blur. I can’t remember anything but a few things that happened. i spent more time reading my books than doing anything else including homework.
    So where alochol can kill you it isn’t the only thing you can be addicted to. smoking, drugs caffine, and anything that seems to bring pleasure at the cost of a real life.

  50. Michael says:

    Adam P, I agree GRS may have peaked at some point, but the peak was higher than TSDs and the decline has been nothing like the swift plunge here. JD does a much better job running his site than Trent. JD is much more humble and he respects his readers, two things that have always eluded Trent. JD has even given Trent friendly advice about the problem that went nowhere.

    The real winner in their class was Ramit, in my opinion.

  51. jim says:

    David, Thanks, that makes sense.
    Kevin, Yeah agreed. First I had to recognize it was just pedantry.

  52. Elysian says:

    Trent’s comparison to alcoholism aside, I thought he had a good point. Even if his friend wasn’t drinking the whole time, its possible to see how a decade of clubbing could be “a blur.”

    There are lots of things that once were an exciting treat that could become a habit with diminishing emotional returns and a large out of pocket expenditure. My mother, for instance, at one point really enjoyed the occasional manicure as a treat. Over the past few years, the “occasional” manicure has become a weekly expenditure that costs upwards of $60 each time she goes. Even when she was unemployed, she continued to go because it was her “one treat.” But everyone around her can tell that she just doesn’t enjoy it in the same way anymore. When we ask why she still does it, she says she just “has to” now. It’s like an obligation she’s made to herself, and its an expensive one for the very small amount of joy she gets out of it.

    It’s fair to point out that when an occasional pleasure becomes a habit and turns into a lifestyle, that you might not be getting the return on that “investment” in your happiness anymore.

  53. lurker carl says:

    I have worked almost my whole life. It all is a giant blur even though I wasn’t drunk or seeking some elusive thrills. Maybe in 30 years Trent will look back and The Simple Dollar days will seem to be a blur as well.

  54. Carol says:

    I skimmed over the part about Trent’s drunk friend and really enjoyed the part about burning out on repetitive things that were once pleasurable. Maybe there is a connection in that these things are addictions? Anyway, I found this a useful topic and feel sorry that Trent is getting extremely bashed over his blog.

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