Defying the Definition of Insanity
"The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results." –Albert Einstein
According to Einstein’s definition of insanity, a whole lot of us are totally insane. Now obviously this is not the actual definition of insanity (see the dictionary for that) but it is a pretty crazy of us. I think it’s easy to take his quote at face value without realizing its implications. If you really ask yourself how frequently you repeat the same behaviors and habits while hoping the end result will be different, I think the reality will surprise you. So why do we do it? Well, it’s too simplistic to say that we’re “irrational creatures” so let’s dig deeper. I believe the two main reasons are a lack of self-awareness (ie. we don’t even realize it) and that we try to fix the solution in the wrong areas.
This first point is interesting because people who are generally self-aware are equally as susceptible to this issue. The reason is because these “habit loops” are so ingrained, automatic and frequent, that often times it’s hard to step out and see ourselves from a third person perspective. In other words, if you constantly do something you stop even thinking about it. It becomes you therefore it goes unnoticed.
With regard to the second point, I believe we try to fix an issue in areas that negate the underlying behavior. Let’s look at an example. Suppose you wanted to wake up earlier. Now there are a number of behaviors associated with early rising such as going to sleep earlier, drinking less alcohol the night before, consuming less caffeine and so on. However, if we decide to wake up earlier we usually tell ourselves “just try harder!” or “set more alarms in the morning or “place your alarm across the room” etc. So here we are trying super hard with all these alarms in far away places and yet nothing seems to work. The reason is because we get so focused on taking actions in the morning that we forget some of the habitual behaviors that are interfering.
The question then is how do we become aware of these habit loops. It’s actually not all that hard but it does require some legitimate self-reflection. The best way to do that is to track the different patterns you engage in. So returning to our early rising example, if you see that Monday you stayed out late drinking with friends, Tuesday you were reading a book until late, Wednesday you went to bed early but didn’t actually fall asleep until late because you had too much caffeine then the pattern will start to emerge. After noticing this, it will probably become clear that these passive behaviors are actually very specific actions that you need to find a way to change. After correcting them we can all be a little less crazy.