It has been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results. This is a well-known quote, but I have seen many people do exactly that even though they agree to this definition of insanity. This is why you should never try again: if what you are doing doesn’t work, try something else.

So… What about perseverance? What about Edison trying to invent a marketable light-bulb a thousand times? I regularly advise people to not give up, to keep trying until they make it, until they achieved their goals. Now I am telling you to give up, to do something different… Are these pieces of advise not conflicting? Not really, and here is why…

Consider this situation:

Your friend, Mary, has been dating John on and off for a few years. It is now the third time they are breaking up. According to Mary, John has some anger issues, and this makes being with him unbearable. After a few months Mary starts remembering the good things about their relationship. John has a good sense humour and he is actually a very caring guy. His anger issues are a problem, but maybe this time it won’t be so bad?

You and Mary are out on town having some coffee together as good friends are wont to do.  She tells you about John and that she considers dating him again for the fourth time. What do you tell Mary in this situation? It is obvious to us that it won’t work, so you can tell her that… She probably won’t listen. If I was Mary’s friend, or life coach, I would ask her this: “What changed? And how can you be sure it changed?”

The reason Edison had success with his thousandth light bulb, is that he didn’t try to make the same light bulb a thousand times. Every time he tried a way to make his light bulb work, he found a way that didn’t work. He learned from it, and tried something different, until he was successful. If Mary wants to have a successful relationship with John on the fourth attempt, either she or John must change first. Whenever you try something again, either you or the situation must change for it to have even the remotest chance to be successful.

You Must Change

After you failed at doing something, then you hopefully learned something from it. If we learn from our failures, we never truly fail. Take that lesson, make the appropriate changes, and try again. Failing is a natural part of changing, it is normal to fail many times before you are successful. There are two ways in which you can learn from your failures:

Try something different

Bob is trying to lose weight, but he is not doing well with the diet he is following is not really working for him. He gets these incredibly irresistible cravings that he can’t say no to, so he gives in and before you know it, he consumed an entire chocolate cake in a day… Bob should try something different. Maybe a different diet? Maybe an accountability partner? Maybe he should figure out how he can satiate his cravings in a healthy way.

What do you really want?

Mary wants to rekindle her relationship with John, because he has a good sense of humour and he is very caring. Does Mary really want John, or does she want a caring guy with a good sense of humour? Or does she want the feelings she felt in the good times of their relationship? Mary needs to do some homework on herself and figure out what she really wants. With some patience she can get over John and his anger issues and find an attractive guy that loves her the way she should be loved.

The Situation Must Change

When I was a programmer,  I saw this a lot: You execute your code, and it bombs out on the second line. So you run it again, and this time it magically works! Most programmers would trust the magic, and go on, because they have deadlines. A programmer without deadlines will take the time to understand what changed the second time around. The code didn’t work this time because it tried a little harder, it worked because something changed behind the scenes.

People are also like this (though trying a little harder might work in some situations). If you are going to try the exact same thing the situation must change first. This time the market may be ready for your product. Maybe this time, John worked on his anger issues. Maybe this time, your friends will help you resist your cravings… Just remember this, it is easy for people to say they changed, so make sure to get some proof about the change before you believe them. Do some market research before you try to launch your product again. Ask John how he worked on his anger issues, did he get some professional help form a life coach or therapist? Give your friends a chance to support your diet, to see if they really do.

You should persevere in chasing your goals, but don’t try the same thing twice… That way lies insanity. Change something about yourself, change something about your approach, or wait for proven change in the situation. Then, when the changes are made, go for it. Go conquer the world!

1 Comment

  1. Stunning post. love the way you explain that you need to change something even if its just a little adjustment. Because doing the exact same thing over and over again is the definition of insanity – Francois van Ginhoven

Leave a Reply