The other day I heard someone ask their sidekick friend, in that way where they already know the answer to their own question, “What’s the definition of insanity, dude?” Before his friend could reply, he answered his own question, “It’s doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result!”
Many of us have heard this line numerous times. And any quote that usually gets attributed to Einstein, we’re not going to question. But, as soon as this guy finished his teachable moment, I found myself annoyed.
A pet peeve of mine is ideas that are like Hall and Oates tunes: the reality that they are known by the masses gets confused with them actually being of substance and legit. “Private Eyes” is a god-awful song, and Guy’s idea of what it means to do something over and over is dead wrong. Why? Because this false definition of insanity robs us of the only true way we learn: repetitive experiences over time. And when we preach that repetitive experiences are insane, we start measuring ourselves by the opposite; speed. How fast can you get “there?”
The idea that life is being continually sped up is not new. Just doing a Google search for “life hacks” yields endless results on how to do things quicker and easier, with all of it aimed at lessening our frustration. Which is fine. But, when the message is a kind of war on things that take time or that cause frustration, we are leaving out the main ingredients to how the body learns, not to mention the creative process. Be it a business, a child, your free throw, or a sonnet, time and frustration are non-negotiables. And there are examples everywhere of products that suffer when those two things get left out. Take writing. Today instead of people putting in the time to truly develop a thought, more and more articles have becomes nothing more than bullet points; authors avoiding the frustration of the work needed to craft a flowing beginning middle and end, and instead subbing it for idea 1, 2 and 3. Why is this happening?
Here are my 2 reasons: (see what I did there?)
REASON 1: STUDIES
An insult gaining ground more and more is the idea that there are those that are anti-science. Just writing this sentence makes me want to jerk my head around to see if anyone is mocking me. So, of course, I love science. We live longer and healthier because of science. But it was also science that supported eugenics. And it was science and “testing” that James Watson, one of the discoverers of DNA, used to support his racism. So science can come to wrong conclusions just as anti-science can. But when we make science the authority we can no longer question, we revere the studies it produces. Without realizing it, asking what the “studies say” is an attempt at a life hack that doesn’t work. Stopping at the study stops us from thinking, either in the micro, macro or both. And it is our thinking and experiencing over time that leads to our wisdom. A patient of mine wanted to know if the science was true: could walking and listening to calming music give him the same effects of anti-depressants? Try it for 6 months, I told him. The science means nothing to us. What your body needs is the wisdom of whether or not this idea could be helpful. That wisdom can only come from experience over a long period of time. Studies stop us from thinking experientially, and logging those long experiences. In essence I was asking my patient to do something over and over, and see if over time it did indeed produce a different result.
REASON 2: MONTAGES
This is a tough one for me to write because I’m guilty; I loooooooove a good montage. If you don’t get the torment in Rocky’s soul as No Easy Way Out plays while we see flashes of his life as lover and fighter while he contemplates whether or not to fight this killer-Russian!…there’s something wrong with you. Montages tap into that adrenal part of us that loves to be inspired while the rational/hipster part of our brain says “I can’t believe you are falling for this.” But it is too late, the montage got us!
Montages give us the false belief that anything worth doing should be done once, and that one time should feel amazing. Even mistakes are a good time in a montage. I know the last time all my friends and I got together to save the community center, and I was using the paint roller to paint the wall and I didn’t notice the doorway OR my friend standing in said doorway and so I paint rolled right over his face…it was a gas.
We can’t help that we grew up on montages. And I’m not going to blame the montage, a thing that gave me so much joy as kid, (okay fine and it still does.) But many seem to be concerned that their life is not a rockin’ frolickin’ montage. And because montages have getting good at something and feeling good sharing the same air, we have a lot of bummed out confused people who OD’d on vitamin M.
There is one thing that by their very nature life hacks and montages cannot contain: Quantity. Quantity itself is a quality, and it is a quality that is the missing ingredient in so many of the things that we want and that matter to us. Ted Williams was known to spend countless hours everyday working to perfect his swing. A brilliant guitarist I know played scales every night in his room growing up until his fingers bled; I’m sure we all have many other examples. These guys were doing something repetitively expecting a different result; they were expecting to get better. I don’t think either of these guys were insane. I’m all for finding quicker ways to do things, but it should not be the enemy of quantity. And it certainly shouldn’t stop us from doing something over and over and expecting a different result.
Because doing something over and over is not the definition of insanity. It’s the description of pursuing mastery.