“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, and expecting different results.” That’s often misattributed to Einstein (along with many other proverbs), but the wisdom holds. At some point, we all find ourselves living a sequence of habits that consistently cause more harm than good.
Let’s say that last night we were so tired that we forgot to plug in our phone (again), and then overslept because the battery was dead (again). Then, still sleepy, we gulped a triple-shot espresso (again), despite the turbulence it creates in our bellies. As a result, we made an urgent beeline to the bathroom in our toddler’s daycare, cursing and crouching over the tot-sized toilets (again). Late for our shift, the whole day went sideways, so in the end we collapsed into bed, without plugging in our phone.
But not all repetition is bad. We recently shared the “definition of insanity” quote with one of our eight-year-olds, and she wrinkled her forehead.
“Isn’t doing something over and over again and expecting different results also the same thing as practice?”
Ummm, good point. How else would we learn to ride a bike or read books or swing across the monkey bars?
When we’re unsure whether we’re stuck in a loop or simply practicing, we can ask this:
Is the repetition building a muscle (physical or mental) that will eventually be strong enough to produce different results?
If yes, then bingo! Keep going! Perseverance will pay off!
If no, then this is a loop! Stop now!
We knowwww. It’s HARD. If it wasn’t hard we’d have already done it. But there is a science around forming new habits to replace old ones, and we found a nice summary of those strategies here.
One of the biggest problems, however, is that when we’re stuck in a loop, we may not even realize we’re in it. We shrug and say things like, “This is just who I am.”
Helping us see our patterns more clearly is one of the benefits of calling on professionals. While an Instagram post might offer generic words of wisdom and comfort, a person face-to-face, one-on-one, can help identify which of our behaviors are creating problems for us, and recommend specific strategies for change.
If it offers any comfort, even therapists go to therapy, as revealed in the recent bestseller, Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, HER Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed. The author, Lori Gottlieb, suffered a heartbreak that sent her back to the therapist’s office, and her book describes the journey of self-reflection while also sharing the tools she herself uses to help others.
Ms. Gottlieb employs both sensitivity and humor to share the process of dispelling unhelpful thought-patterns, and in the end, she really does feel changed. Still, she knows that there’s still no silver-bullet for all psychic pain. Instead, good therapy builds our skills to cope with whatever comes next. Gottlieb quotes the late psychotherapist John Weakland:
“Before successful therapy, it’s the same damn thing over and over. After successful therapy, it’s one damn thing after another.”
Strong Mom, it’s summer. What better time to leap out of the loop? You deserve the chance to embrace the new, not just relive the old. Maybe a swing across the monkey bars will help? If not, you’ll at least make your kiddo laugh, and we all know that’s the sound of true inspiration!
We’re rooting for you!