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The Definition of "Insanity" - Doing What You Always Do - And Expecting A Different Result

Judy Armes

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Seeking coaching or counseling is often the last thing people try before they give up. It's the last attempt because most people repeat the ineffective solutions they've tried before (hoping that “this time it will work"), or they try to change the components of the problem (which solves the problem, in a way) or they give up and ignore the issue hoping time will make it disappear. Finally if a problem persists after these solutions, maybe (just maybe) the brave-hearted seek outside assistance.

The flaw in the process is that a person cannot envision an issue differently without additional or new input. Suppose you thought a flower was “magenta". . . the experience of the color of the flower would become the definition of the color for you. Without new input (or a new way of looking at the flower-or a method of defining the color more precisely), the flower will always be “magenta" to you-because you think so.

This same sort of logic applies when a person perceives a challenge or problem. Without a new perspective to suggest a new way of looking at the issue, a person has only his own belief upon which to rely. It doesn't matter if the belief is self-imposed or if it was gleaned unconsciously or injected by family influences. Whatever you believe, you cannot change that belief or thought without some new frame of reference, some new information or a personal experience that disputes the belief.

Here is where “insanity" is comes in: People often approach coaching or counseling with the thought that the helper is going to support their belief. Why-ever would a person intentionally seek out an opposing opinion? Often the problem or challenge persists with even greater force as its supporter defends his action with “I've always done it that way". Or maybe the complaint will be, “I don't think I can do THAT-it's not like me". And then (unless the coach or counselor is VERY skillful) people leave the session feeling misunderstood and less capable than when they arrived.

This suggests that despite an appointment with a helper or a visit with a friend, most people still want to do the same thing that they are comfortable doing (sometimes with minor variations) and then they hope that something will turn out differently. [That's just “insane". ]

Now, in this article “insanity" is not a therapeutic term. Persons who truly have mental health issues have a harder time changing their behaviors and thinking than regular, plain-ol’ people. However, most people can relate to feeling pressed to behave in a particular way or react in a habitual manner to circumstances that “make them crazy".

So, here is an idea: do something different! Get some new information from a new source. Don't act on it without some careful consideration-but collect the data, make a plan and experiment.

1) Be a scientist: list the issues and options and describe the problem or issue in DETAIL-include as much information as you can, including who, what, where, what happens and what happens next.

2) Then do your research: ask others what they would do (not what YOU should do). Be picky about choosing who to ask-select ONLY people you respect and that you know care about you. Thank them for their input and tell them that you're on a “research mission" to find out as much as you can.

3) Compare and contrast the information you've received. Make a chart. Put (+) or (-) next to the ideas. But don't act on it yet. Let it mull in your mind for a while.

4) Revisit your list and write down the likely outcome for each of the options or solutions-be specific. Include the effect of your action on everyone involved. Also, weigh your own suspicions about how you'll feel if the reactions you suspect were to come to pass.

5) Finally, pick your best option that is most likely to get the result you want-and do it.

This approach reminds us that without outside input or new information, we are not actually making a new decision. Instead, we're just attending to the same issue or problem in the same way we always have.

Oops-there's that pesky definition of “insanity"-do the same thing and expect a different result. So, be brave, think outside the box, research, imagine, be creative and smart. Put conscious intention on the task and then do something differently that you've carefully considered as a viable solution. It might not work just the way you think. But it will likely make a change: the issue or problem might be amended into a more manageable concern. And, you'll always have a new and creative “Plan 2" as a back-up.

Judy Armes is Relationship Coach working primarily with “grown-up" singles struggling with the changing times. The problem-solving techniques in this article will work for many issues-but they are especially useful for folks who are trying to find a new way of relating and establishing satisfying adult relationships. A “new thing" to try is at It suggests looking in before looking out might be a useful first step in applying new notions to an old idea.


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