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The Definition of Insanity is...

I hear this every week, sometimes twice a day: "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results." No, it isn't. Read More

real Deal or Raw Deal?

Feel good psychology, is starting to wear thin. It appears to be great for lecturers whipping up a crowd, or to say to get an article published nowadays, but for many people, especially those like me the unemployed kind of like to hear this stuff. Academia loves it, and so does a lot of news channels.

Have you often wondered though how does the trouble person on the street takes it? For me at least, it is like a trickle of influence. For the real issues facing unemployed workers, adjusting one’s outlook by well intended self-help speeches, is like giving a tire wrench to an Eskimo that needs to find a fish to eat. Oh, my comments sounds revolutionary and non-conventional and sounds almost anti-American. Especially, when you quote a famous president that seems to backup your premise.

I'm trying hard to keep an open mind, reading and studying positive psychology and uplifting messages that try to give hope and understanding, but its getting harder and harder to hear. Spend some time in the dungeons, and the trenches of job seeking and you'll know exactly what I'm talking about.

Here’s my invitation to all that offer insights on how getting your mind right, will change your circumstances. Interact with me, just for 4 weeks, as I tackle different tasks to try to get to my first income goal of making just net $300 per week. I will give your briefings, and you can analyze, what
Ever aspect of my thoughts, actions etc. It’s an open invitation. Ask away.

Real Deal or Raw Deal

Hang in there mate. I saw your comment, real and gritty, and then read the comments following, expecting some response to your heart felt statement, only to find professionals and apparently learned people hairsplitting over whether Edison used gnat hair or tungsten in order to gain a different result. And, yes, that was a random absurd example, but my point is that I think I may understand a little of what you were saying. You are an MBA trying to find a job where you will bring home at least $300 a week. A little better than minimum wage. Were you downsized, new graduate with student debt, ...

Raw deal

And now I have just seen that your comment was three years ago!!How are you now!!??

Perserverance versus Perserveration

John Sherman MBA wrote:

I'm trying hard to keep an open mind, reading and studying positive psychology and uplifting messages that try to give hope and understanding, but its getting harder and harder to hear. Spend some time in the dungeons, and the trenches of job seeking and you'll know exactly what I'm talking about.

I took the quote quite literally when I heard it. I am guilty of avoidance on occasion, but I keep trying. But there's no sense trying the same thing over again.

For example, the job hunt. Let's say you repeatedly get rejected. Dogged determination might not yield results, because the methods are wrong. You should definitely have something to do, just as you should definitely have someone to love in life. But if you show up every time at a employment bureau, and they are ineffective, it is senseless to keep using them. Use phone, or email to get in touch with potential job leads. If you are bad with dealing with people, try different approaches, or simply say "screw the employer, I'm gonna work for myself." Launch your own business and do freelance work.

This is perservence, trying different things to see what out of those actually has value. And it's different for every person. What he suggested is unnatural for many people, plowing ahead despite failures. Resistance can be overcome, but outright failure usually is a cue that something is wrong about the approach. This should not be used to excuse sitting in one's room alone rather than going out and finding a job. But if you suck at being hired (improper decorum, weird manners, or something people just don't like about you), setting yourself up for a cycle of abuse is not a healthy solution. Figure out what you are doing wrong, and do it right.

At the end of the day, I still believe this "quaint expression" has merit. It just shouldn't be used to excuse running away from problems. Try another path, see what works, this is sanity. Insanity is trying to change people through means that have been shown NOT to work.

...is it, really? I mean

...is it, really?

I mean repeating the same thing over and over and expecting a different result may well be insane (putting aside the argument as to what the definition of 'insane' is...) but in no way does that mean it is the definition of it! [It may well be but its about as well reasoned as saying "grass is green therefore the definition of 'green' is...grass]

There are many 'insane' things in this world you could do (and even then we have the problem of "one mans "insane" is another mans, umm... "hobby?"...).
Its also contextual, no doubt attempting to fly was 'insane' in its time? "Listen here old bean, we've been trying to build these 'flying contraptions' for quite some time now, you keep expecting to fly but even that euro chap Da Vinci couldn't crack it so lets bin this folly and really get stuck in to this phrenology marvel"!!

Everyone's personal and mankind's global insistence in attempting to alter an unalterable (or always altering) physical environment may be another...therefore perhaps I could as easily state that the definition of "Insanity" is "attempting to alter the unalterable"....or, "to proceed in endeavour without tools, understanding or capacity".

Furthermore how do we even delineate it?
Commentators here have used Edison's experiments as example, things that by their very nature require accuracy in their miniature. To do these over and over again is an extremely detailed and precisely measured small event and its definition fits this. Is this the only way to describe how to repeat a result? NO of course it isn't...it suits these commentators arguments (in fact most arguments) because it is what we can term as a 'pure' event. It is quantifiable, measurable and singular in its focus.
However why can we not use the argument of humans flying as above? This is not as minutely measurable but it is still a singular concept...just one painted with a broader brush. Of course we know that by trying different machines of flight, failing or succeeding and learning these lessons we advanced, so we can argue that as we delve down levels we can then find a level where the same processes weren't repeated over and over and therefore this doesn't qualify? Yet the essence is that we tried over and over again to fly - something we couldn't (and can't) naturally do yet despite hundreds of years of failure (and all the evidence that provides) we still expected a different result! Insanity? Clearly not.
Can we not do this anywhere though?
Was the air humidity constant in Edison's lab every time, were chemicals from the same country/source/factory/batch/bottle, were they kept in exactly the same conditions, exposed to the same amount of air...for the same amount of time, at the same temperature or by the same person? How precise exactly were the measurements, did the same person do it every time, in the exact same way, in the exact same health or condition? When we get down far enough almost everything is immensely variable and therefore 'technically' you are not doing the same thing.

Also who/what/where is the reference point?
For example, if I only date blonde hairdressers with big boobs and all my relationships end in disaster and I keep doing it then to you I am an almost textbook definition of this quote. However perhaps I so enjoy the company of these people whilst I'm with them that I have decided it outweighs the inevitable break up...and because we are talking about humans here I hope for (and expect) one day to get a different result. Without inside understanding the outsider labels the behaviour insane when it quite clearly isn't.

The truth is that we draw that line and it is a line that is subjective.
"Insanity" with regards to this quote then also depends on this. With the right (broad enough) brush we can easily interpret it as "insane" yet get a result that's patently not insane. In reality it comes back to the first point, to do something already termed "insane" by most will almost certainly result in that outcome. Yet with different events and criteria we find that by doing the exact opposite of this quote have we advanced.

In almost every case we only know it is "insane" already because it has been tested repeatedly and found to be so. Its not "insanity" to expect a different result in that case, its a lack of knowledge...or the inability to assimilate the knowledge that may quite literally be smacking you in the face.

Blog Post

This is a thoughtful and informative blog. Our society values instant gratification and persistence is undervalued. As a therapist, even repetition compulsion, if opened up to insight can glean awareness and therefore help someone grow. If I point it out to my clients and work with what arises, it has value. With the exception of dementia and brain injury, anxiety drives most compulsive behaviors. By dealing directly with the fears and anxiety the behaviors can often, at the very least, soften.

It takes persistence for most of us to achieve the deeper calling that feeds our soul. When you leave no stone unturned in life’s problem, not only does it usually transform but you feel great satisfaction and empowered in the pursuit.

Dr. Jennifer Howard
http://www.DrJenniferHoward.com

You can misapply any quote.

You can misapply any quote. This article is complete garbage. It is far from thoughtful OR informative.

The fact of the matter is, it IS complete insanity in business to keep doing the same failed method expecting a different result. If you are treating patients using transorbital lobotomy in this day and age, then that is a perfect example of insanity using THIS VERY QUOTE! If so it would mean you are continuing to treat patients with a "proven" failed method. Proven is the key word there that was left completely out of the article and is readily assumed by anyone using the quote properly.

If you think differently, I'm sorry but your medical degree would have been better written on toilet paper. Geez... I can't believe anyone would even need to explain this quote to someone with a degree, let alone a doctorate!

"Anonymous" tries to add

"Anonymous"

It was a nice try at a a misdirected attack. People who have been trained to think well and for themselves can easily see through your attempt.

1) The addition of "failed method" makes an assumptive addition to the original quote. People often 'repeat the same thing expecting a different result.' Ever hear of Thomas Edison and his thousands of failed experiments?

2) The extrapolation of "If you are treating patients using transorbital lobotomy"

3) The fallicious arguments using ad_hominem (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ad_hominem) attacks are at the very least and non-sequitors.

4) You did not address even ONE item the writer presented and instead generalized "This article is complete garbage." exposes both your bias and ignor-ance.

Your response your anger, misdirection and need to be "Anonymous". I would be all those too if that is how my mind worked.

I know this is late but you

I know this is late but you don't think that Edison did the exact same experiment thousands of times using the exact same combinations and formulas while seeking a different result, do you? Your example of using Edison's experiments only show that it is you that don't understand and that the first poster was 100% correct in his/her rant that this article was pure garbage.

If Edison had done exactly the same thing thousands of times we would not even know his name today and he would not have invented anything. What he did was tried thousands of different combination and formulas in an attempt to achieve a goal. And that's how its done. That's smart. "Anything else would be uncivilized"!

Is this 'AssumptiveToday.com' or 'PsychologyToday.com'?

LOL "but you don't think"
I hope you enjoy friendly ribbing!
You might find this quote appropriate after reading my below reply.
"I have had to eat my own words many times, and I have found it a very nourishing diet." Winston Churchill

"you don't think that Edison did the exact same experiment thousands of times using the exact same combinations and formulas while seeking a different result, do you?"
Yes I DO "think" and RESEARCH... and No Edison did not "do the exact same experiment" using the "exact same combinations"!!!
Edison used SEVERAL problem-solving methods ("combinations") which is what helped him progress instead of being some kind of worker drone on an assembly line or some kind of non-researching confirmation biased assumer!
It may be much more helpful if you check your FACTS and HISTORY ("And that's how its done.") before making assumptive/guessing remarks as in "only show that it is you that don't understand" and "If Edison had done exactly the same thing" and "he would not have invented anything."

You can start your outside of your assumption and/or biases by doing some searching (and reading > understanding) for "Edisonian approach" or the "Edison's method"... careful though it may detach several confirmation biased entangled synapses! ;-)

You are an idiot. You said

You are an idiot. You said Edison's thousands of light bulb experiments was an example of "repeating the same thing expecting the same result", which is an absolutely terrible example. Edison tried thousands of combinations, which is the exact opposite of "repeating the same thing", which was Khazeem's entire point.

What's that you say... Ad Hominem fallacy?

Anonymous2 wrote:
You are an idiot. You said Edison's thousands of light bulb experiments was an example of "repeating the same thing expecting the same result", which is an absolutely terrible example. Edison tried thousands of combinations, which is the exact opposite of "repeating the same thing", which was Khazeem's entire point.

I understand that you believe my example of Edison repeating the same experiment using different combinations makes it an "absolutely terrible example" and thus I am an idiot.

So if anyone sees things different than your perspective then they too are and idiot? Have you given much thought to that communication, reasoning and critical thinking process you have!

No, you're an idiot because

No, you're an idiot because the example you used to try to prove your point actually contradicts it, and when Khazeem called you out on it, you said he would have to "eat his own words" and went off on some rant that only further contradicted your point.

You said:
"1) The addition of "failed method" makes an assumptive addition to the original quote. People often 'repeat the same thing expecting a different result.' Ever hear of Thomas Edison and his thousands of failed experiments?"

Edison's "thousands of failed experiments" would only support your argument of people often repeating the same thing expecting a different result if Edison had tried the exact same experiment in the exact same conditions over and over again. But you yourself insist that he DIDN'T do that, and had thousands of experiments where he constantly tried new combinations. If you have any grasp of science, you'd realize this is absolutely does not support "doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results".

You can't, or refuse to, realize this simple concept. Either way, this makes you an idiot.

By the way, this is not an ad hominem attack, it's a scientific conclusion. I'm not saying you're wrong because you're an idiot (ad hominem), I'm saying you're an idiot because of how wrong you are and refusal to admit otherwise.

I'm a part-to-whole fallacy of division label because...

1) I see you missed pointing out the I used the incorrect punctuation at the end of my question: "Have you given much thought to that communication, reasoning and critical thinking process you have!"

So if I (or we) understand you correctly:
Q1) you do not perceive Edison's experiments as 'doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results' because you wish to include the idea that Edison 'always' changed the conditions of his experiments and
Q2) my use of Edison's experiments contradicted my premise and
Q3) you believe my response to Khazeem was a "rant", and
Q4) you would like us to agree that your definition of "ad hominem attack" is correct and
Q5) you would like us to agree that your of me being an "idiot" is a valid logical implication of your "scientific conclusion" and not a part-to-whole fallacy of division label?

Q6) Can you tell us more about the specific methodologies that you apply to reach your "scientific conclusion"?

Q7) Would you like us to understand the fear you that makes you hide behind the name "Anonymous2"?

idiot, no you are!

So, dude. Mr. Anonymous2? everyone knows you are posting as Khazeem as well.

jackass.

I don't think you get the

I don't think you get the point of this article. The author is trying to address the misuse of the word "insanity."

Although you may think that behaving in the way described is crazy, it's not the DEFINITION of insanity.

I fear the day that we begin to define personal mental wellness by using business criteria.

You have taken this off-topic and have used your anonymity to boost your bravado.

You're a dummy.

"You can misapply any quote"

I agree 100% with this reply. The use of proven facts makes this saying completely legit.

You can misapply any quote.

You can misapply any quote. This article is complete garbage. It is far from thoughtful OR informative.

The fact of the matter is, it IS complete insanity in business to keep doing the same failed method expecting a different result. If you are treating patients using transorbital lobotomy in this day and age, then that is a perfect example of insanity using THIS VERY QUOTE! If so it would mean you are continuing to treat patients with a "proven" failed method. Proven is the key word there that was left completely out of the article and is readily assumed by anyone using the quote properly.

If you think differently, I'm sorry but your medical degree would have been better written on toilet paper. Geez... I can't believe anyone would even need to explain this quote to someone with a degree, let alone a doctorate!

Agreed.

You're absolutely right. With accomplishment comes increased responsibility and, therefor, ever-changing duties. Truth is, you can't do the same EXACT thing everyday and expect DIFFERENT results. It simply goes against the fact of the matter. If you think something 'magical' is going to arise from no progress, then good luck saving lives. Keep your head in the books, you should lay low on the whole 'free thought' thing...or write what you think on a piece of paper, and throw it in the garbage. I'm 16 and you're giving me a migraine

I realise you're both

I realise you're both deliberately being somewhat silly and tit for tat(ish) but you make some valid points.

I think you both however fall into the trap of only looking at 'change' or 'new/positive' results as a "result" so to speak. By repeating the exact same thing (with zero deviation in any factor) over and over again we do produce a result...a negative is a "result" in as many ways as a positive can be. It is not insane to completely rule something out by repeatedly doing the same thing and expecting a different result.
Most of modern theoritical, quantum (and classic) physics would have been abandoned some time ago if we could not prove the negative of the expected result. Einsteins experiments in time/space would be a classic example, it just seems impossible to the human brain to accept that...only by repeatedly proving that it is in fact the case have we been able to extrapolate out from the theory.

I'm not saying your points are wrong, far from it, I think you are correct...I just believe there is an unconsidered dimension in your reasoning.

I do however hate this quote and thank the author for if nothing else bringing the spotlight of debate to its existence and reasoning. In actuality what I really hate its apparent unquestioning and universal acceptance at all levels of society. Journalists claiming it a 'fact' to prove a point or underline their story without question for example.

The real quote should replace the word 'insanity' with the word 'stupidity'....
...although the reality is that thinking one can define either of these two by some all encompassing and pithy quote is verging on....

You can misapply any quote.

You can misapply any quote. This article is complete garbage. It is far from thoughtful OR informative.

The fact of the matter is, it IS complete insanity in business to keep doing the same failed method expecting a different result. If you are treating patients using transorbital lobotomy in this day and age, then that is a perfect example of insanity using THIS VERY QUOTE! If so it would mean you are continuing to treat patients with a PROVEN failed method. Proven is the key word there that was left completely out of the article and is readily assumed by anyone using the quote properly.

If you think differently, I'm sorry but your medical degree would have been better written on toilet paper. Geez... I can't believe anyone would even need to explain this quote to someone with a degree, let alone a doctorate!

Bravo! Finally someone exposing the INSANITY of this quote...

Bravo!!! Someone who actually questions and thinks, among a sea of sheeple floating wherever the wind of memes take them!

Thank you for your fuller explanation, examples of types of repetition and finally exposing this quote for what it really is!!!

1) Not of the origin people have assumed
2) Not the true definition of "Insanity"
3) A misunderstanding of the principles of learned repetition
4) Repeated (regurgitated) misdirection of expectations

Leave itto a shrink

Leave it to a shrink to complicate a simple and effective concept.

I think he's right

It's not a "simple concept". It's a complete distortion of what is true. What's happened is that a famous person (Einstein) made a statement and people have been quoting it for generations, without realizing that what they are saying simply ISN'T true.

Another thing I REALLY hate is when people call DID (Multiple Personality) "schizophrenia". Another complete UNTRUTH. They are absolutely NOT the same thing.

Does it matter?

I mean, really? It's just a quote. I don't think that the person who said it was trying to bash perseverance, nor do I believe they were trying to indicate the true definition of the word "insane." Adlai E. Stevenson once said: “My definition of a free society is a society where it is safe to be unpopular.” Is that the true definition of a free society? No, it isn't. But did she make a point? Sure. Whoever said that the definition of insanity was to repeat the same action over and over, each time expecting a different result was probably just making a point. Not trying to be accurate in their definition.
If it makes anyone feel better, I'm sure insanity, in it's "true" definition doesn't exist in the real world anyway. Just in the pseudoscience we call "psychology."

The metaphor tells us; common

The metaphor tells us; common sense dictates we try a new approach if our current approach is not working. In the business world, a company that does not innovate (doing the same thing over and over) will not survive in a competitive environment. Thus the leadership of that company must lack common sense (insanity).

The definition of insanity

The definition of insanity has nothing to do with a lack of common sense.

Common sense would be to look at a dictionary for the definition of a word.

So, you aren't using common sense. Are you insane? Probably not, but you certainly aren't thinking clearly.

Lighten Up Francis!!

Lighten Up Francis!!

It is not that the definition

It is not that the definition of insanity is, rather it is insane to do the same thing over and over expecting something different to happen. This is all true from a rational mathematical perspective. You just cannot throw an apple up in the air 1000 times expecting that it will somehow just stay up in the air, and if you do that in public you will be declared insane for sure. On the other hand I try to speak very gently to my 3 year old daughter over and over again regardless of her sane or insane state of mind expecting that one day she would understand that being mad at things would never resolve issues, but again, this is education and that is not changing anything in her behavior, at least for now, she is 3 year old and I expect her to be nothing less or more than what she is.

thank you...

I think this article hits the nail on the head. I've been thinking about this for a long time and am so tired of hearing this quote.

First of all, I would love to know the original source of it, and agree its probably not Einstein or Franklin, but we'll probably never know as it is now so ingrained in urban legend it will never be properly attributed.

Second, it is disingenuous at best and downright ignorant and insensitive to people with real mental health challenges to throw a statement around like this, and...

Third, its not accurate, either. It doesn't hold up over time. My work is in helping business leaders improve the results they achieve in their business by creating a more motivated, positive work environment.

And, I've seen too many business leaders continue to do the same thing over and over again in marketing their businesses and in motivating their people EXPECTING to get similar results and they are failing miserably because times change, people change and if you don't change with the times and you are not open and aware of changes in people (including yourself) and continue to do the same thing expecting the same results, you will fail. (Think in terms of marketing and advertising a business the same way in 2011 as someone did in 1950, ain't gonna get similar results, likewise, if you try to motivate someone who is 50 years old the same way you did when you hired them 20 years ago, chances are you will not be successful and create a negative, unmotivated employee).

It is a paradox that can not be easily thrown around without more assessment. Every situation is different and must be evaluate for its validity and application. it is commendable that we as human beings try to continually simplify things and explain them away, but this should not be one of them, it takes a little more nuance and thought.

just my 2 cents...

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Ryan Howes, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, writer, musician and professor at Fuller Graduate School of Psychology in Pasadena, California.

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