Stop the Insanity and Ask, “What Will Be Different This Time?”

I’ve been noticing how often people refer to the quote, ”Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results”.  It resonates with all of us, even if we’ve heard it a million times.  We may laugh, but deep down we feel like we’re hitting our heads against a wall.

So why do we keep repeating actions that we know don’t work?  Easy explanations include habit, lack of time or energy, and not knowing what else to do.  Sometimes it’s a case of being endlessly optimistic.  We believe this time will be different because we’ll try harder or work faster.  Sure, it could be true, but it might also be magical thinking.

A more complex possibility is that we are engaging in self-defeating behaviors – actions that work against our objectives.  Research shows that people experiencing depression, low self-esteem or social isolation, are more likely to behave in ways that lead to defeat.  It makes perfect sense.  When you’re depressed or insecure you might lack the confidence – or sometimes even the desire – to risk improving your life.

It’s interesting to note that self-defeating behaviors can also result from poor impulse control.  When you act without much forethought, far too often the results are negative.  Think of the person trying to get out of debt who impulsively spends too much money, only to dig deeper into a financial crisis – a simple yet common example.

Since one of the hallmarks of ADHD is impulsivity, it’s easy to see why those with ADHD can feel particularly stuck.  Making better choices is more difficult when you’re dealing with both impulsivity and weak executive functioning processes such as prioritizing and organizing information.  So start with having compassion for yourself!

Don’t let these challenges be reason for despair.  Most people know when something isn’t working, and that awareness is the first step in creating change.  When we learn to slow down and examine what we’re doing, we can determine whether we’re helping or hurting ourselves and make better choices.

When you feel like you’re spinning your wheels, repeating mistakes or making little headway, try asking yourself, “What will be different this time?”  If you can come up with one small change in approach like… asking for help, taking a class, or deciding to say no – you have stopped the insanity; it’s no longer the same-old, same-old.  Respect yourself for taking action, and know that you are making headway just by trying something new.