The Definition of Insanity

Perhaps you have heard the quote, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results." Do you think you know who made this statement?

In my profession as a consultant in the screenprinting technologies I am often called upon to perform research and development of processes. In research and development I tend to do the same thing over and over and I tend to get different results. Granted the variables change through the course of the process, however, each experiment must be performed repetitiously as close to the same way as possible to account for the various results and determine what variable must be changed to achieve a different and sometimes desired result.

My clients and those who know me well, certainly do not think of me as being insane.

Actually, the definition of insanity is a term pertaining to an individual's inability to determine right from wrong.

Insanity. n. mental illness of such a severe nature that a person cannot distinguish fantasy from reality, cannot conduct her/his affairs due to psychosis, or is subject to uncontrollable impulsive behavior.

While there are many great quotes ascribed to even greater individuals, there is a dark side to this quote. Often it is used as a way of avoidance. And, of course, avoidance is little more than a defense mechanism. It comes from fear. Rather than facing their fears of possible failure, pain or rejection, they simply use the quote to avoid having to take responsibility of their fears.

Also, it is important to understand that some forms of dementia, traumatic brain injury, anxiety and OCD can cause some people to repeat or prolong an action, thought, or utterance after the stimulus that prompted it has ceased, which is the definition of perseverate - not insanity. Those who perseverate use repetition as a way to solve those problems that they do not fully understand. Of course, the repetition does little to solve the problem.

There are instances where repetition can be useful. As a writer, at times I will not be able to recall a particular word that I want to use, such as perseverate in the previous paragraph. I have found that if I repeat, "people who repeat or prolong an action are given to..." several times the word will come to me, as it did in this instance.

There is another term that was part of my socialism classes in university - repetition compulsion. It is used to describe people who in an attempt to rid themselves of feelings of rejection. This brings us to another well-known saying about persistence, that too, has become an energyless cliché, "If at first you do not succeed, try again." It was first mentioned in writing by  Canadian humorist Stephen Leacock, in his essay, “Simple Stories of Success or How to Succeed in Life” published in 1917 that only attributes to "an old motto".

"According to all the legends and story books the principal factor in success is perseverance. Personally, I think there is nothing in it. If anything, the truth lies the other way.

There is an old motto that runs, 'If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.' This is nonsense. It ought to read—'If at first you don’t succeed, quit, quit at once.'

If you can’t do a thing, more or less, the first time you try, you will never do it. Try something else while there is yet time."

It is natural for individuals to want to finish unfinished business. They will often re-create old, unresolved problems for the potential of a better outcome. A person who has failed in business will open another business, in spite of the fact that they have no sense of business. A woman who has suffered rejection in her adolescence will seek out attachments, but live in fear of rejection, which keeps her from having a fulfilling relationship. A person who is apathetic will surround themselves with other apathetic individuals. It further promotes repetition and upholds the "Law Of Attraction."

The law of attraction states that “like attracts like.” This means that people with a low frequency — people who are insecure and self-abandoning — attract each other, while people with a high frequency — people who love and value themselves — also attract each other. People who are positive, open, secure, giving, caring and kind to themselves and others are not attracted to people who are closed, negative and needy of approval and attention.

While no one deliberately seeks out someone who is closed, negative and needy, there are those who possess these traits and tend to attract similar individuals into their life. And they keep placing themselves into relationship that can never have a decent ending. That is unless they wake up one morning and realize that they no longer want to live without a partner in life begin the task of learning how to take emotional responsibility.

Now, we are back to , “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results." and the question of whom first utter the statement. It has been erroneously attributed to Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, and Mark Twain, but there is no written record published these individual. The mystery writer Rita Mae Brown is also attributed as she used the phrase in her 1983 novel, "Sudden Death."

But, the first written instance of the phrase was in the publication, Narcotics Anonymous: Approved Literature (also known as the Red Book). The original preview of the NA handbook was issued in 1981, but was written in the 1979 manuscript of the publication. The phrase from NA handbook was, “Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results.” I repeat the definition of insanity here...

Insanity. n. mental illness of such a severe nature that a person cannot distinguish fantasy from reality, cannot conduct her/his affairs due to psychosis, or is subject to uncontrollable impulsive behavior.

Yes, this does seem to fit well with those who are addicted to narcotics and their uncontrollable impulsive behavior.

So, who really know today, when the phrase was first used. It may have very well been Sun Tzu!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *