Insanity: A New Definition


[This is a post by Alan Allard, he is a writer, author, and consultant. He recently released a new book titled Seven Secrets to Enlightened Happiness: Your Guide To The Life You Were Meant To Live. Check out his site by clicking here and make sure to connect with him on Twitter.]

You know the classic defintion of insanity: “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”Albert Einstein

However, I think Einstein missed something important. I think we do something else that is more “insane” than what he pointed out. In a nutshell:

We do something that gets results for us.

We fail to notice what worked, nurture it and keep it up.

In my former life as a psychotherapist and now, in my years of coaching, consulting and training, I’ve noticed something about positive behavior, positive change and transformation. That is, it’s easy for many of us (as individuals or organizations) to engage in a positive behavior, create some level of positive change or transformation and then we :

1) Fail to notice what we did; or it barely gets our attention.

2) Fail to give ourselves credit for what we did.

3) Give our power away by crediting others for what we did. (“My coach changed my life.” Really? I play a significant role in my client’s transformation, but I certainly don’t do the work for them.)

4) Dismiss what we did. (“That was a fluke, I can’t keep it up.” “That was no big deal, anyone could do it.”)

5) Forget what we did. (We notice what we did, but then forget about it and therefore don’t keep it up.)

Many of us notice what we do “wrong” far more often than we notice what we do “right.” That, by the way, is another form of insanity.

We also over think our mistakes and failures. When something isn’t going well, we ask, “Why is this happening?” We analyze what’s wrong to death, so to speak. That is another form of insanity.

What if we paid far more attention to what is going well (even if it seems small and sporadic) and give that our full attention? What if we asked ourselves, “How did I do that?”

In my book, “Seven Secrets to Enlightened Happiness, I point out what we all know: What we focus on tends to get repeated. If we want to avoid the New Definition of Insanity (Doing what works and failing to notice it, nurture it and keep it up.) we need to make a big deal out of the fact that we did something that worked and then do it again. “Rinse and Repeat.”

Forget about your mistakes and failures. Okay, learn from them first; then keep the lessons and then forget to get upset about them.

Focus on what you do that works, even in a small way. Allow yourself to feel good about doing something that worked. Honor yourself, give yourself credit and feel good about yourself for doing what worked. Instead of minimizing what you did or forgetting that you did it, recognize and reward yourself and then remember what you did. Simply “rinse and repeat.”

Questions: Do you tend to focus on what you did “right” or “wrong” most of the time? What can you do this week to begin to give your self credit for what you did right?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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36 thoughts on “Insanity: A New Definition

  1. I am trying to get back into exercise so I am starting to walk before I eat breakfast because I want to clean up the mess from fixing breakfast which only makes me put off walking sometimes all together for I can always find other things that need clean. Another little thing I decided was to not put my spiritual reads on my kindle, too much trouble to under line and make notes. I tried using a different note book with each book, again too much trouble. I love underlining sentences and putting the “good” beside something that stood out to me and want to use again. So I have on purpose went back to old fashion paper books. It works best for me and that all that counts. Just a couple of “right” things I did this week. Small but important to my well being. Good post.

    • Betty, those are great examples of paying attention to anything we do that indicates progress. I like your two phrases, “small but important.” and “It works best for me and that’s all that counts.”

    • That’s a good point Jon. Writing down what has gone well that day, how we’ve made progress, owning our strengths and what we’ve done, etc, is a great way to keep our focus in the right places.

  2. Alan, thanks for this intriguing post. I definitely tend to focus on what I need to improve, as opposed to what’s working well. I also notice this trend in the academic world (I’m a college prof.) — we’ve all grown up with a system that mainly points out the flaws in our work (i.e. the infamous red pen).

    • Kent, yes, the infamous red pen. We have a natural drive within us to learn, grow and transform and that is easily seen in the early stages of life. We are learning savants when we come into this life, but then the criticism begins and we begin to learn less and play it safe more. Criticism promotes shame and shame is a life killer. However, as adults, we can go back to being children again, at least in our ability to amaze ourselves with what we are capable of being and doing.

      • Good thoughts Alan, thanks. I wonder how we can begin to reinforce positive behavior in more direct ways in education, instead of putting the focus on things students get wrong?

  3. ‘Many of us notice what we do “wrong” far more often than we notice what we do “right.”’ – this is so, so true.

    I read recently that it’s a cognitive habit, the way our brain is wired. I think unless we are intentional about cultivating a positive mindset and response to our own successful behaviours and achievements we won’t grow. One method I’ve found very helpful in this respect is actually writing things down, taking an inventory of qualities, traits and achievements so that I can work deliberately and intentionally from a position of strength on developing further. Great post!

    • Micah, working from a position of strength is key, as you mentioned. Thanks for adding that. And I agree, writing things down is very effective, for many reasons. The very act of documenting a strength, progress or a good idea communicates to us that it is important enough to single out and document.

  4. I read this post earlier but did not get to respond on it. But I have to say that I mostly focus on what I did wrong. I am always working to improve what I did wrong instead of what I did right. Thanks for sharing such a great message Alan.

    • I think most people tend to do that, we have to shift toward what we did right, which can be difficult but its essential that we do. Thank you for commenting.

  5. Lincoln, thanks for taking the time to come back and share what you did. Growing up, most of us learned to focus on what we did wrong, to focus on and work on our weaknesses and to feel conflicted about our successes. In other words, it’s fine to succeed and do well as long as you don’t “let it go to your head.” My experience as a former psychotherapist and now as a coach tells me that most people don’t struggle with thinking too highly of themselves; they have a difficult time understanding their self-worth, their strengths and they don’t know how to own their success.

    • Lawrence, I like that term, “small adjustment” because we hear all too often that change is hard and that people resist change. Human being love change and seek it all the time and would do so more if they only remembered that small adjustments lead to big changes over time.

      • True Alan. It’s amazing how just five minutes a day of say daily positive loud proclamations would help change a life and impact others…small adjustments are a ‘secret’.

  6. Good points. I would add that sometimes we find something we are good at, and get comfortable. We don’t challenge ourselves to grow. We stop analyzing the right we are doing as well as the wrong. We just accept the status quo.

    But to answer your question, I know I’m guilty of reflecting more on what I’m doing wrong than right. Good reminders. Thanks!

    • You’re right, complacency is also a common problem. However, I believe that we don’t challenge ourselves more because of the things I write about in this post. Noticing what we do, owning it and celebrating it gives us positive energy. It gives us a sense of our real power, what we’re truly capable of and it reinforces our self-worth–and all these things make it easier to challenge ourselves. Thanks for bringing up the matter of complacency.

  7. I’ve decided to try and celebrate success more often at work and at home. It can be as simple as a dance (potty training our youngest), to words of affirmation, a meal, or other. All too often we go through life accomplishing tasks without taking time say “well-done”.

    • I agree DS, we go far to long without saying “Well done” to ourselves. I often give my clients a coaching assignment of sending themselves a congratulations note or a card or letter saying what they would say if they were sending it to another person who has similar qualities or who had a similar achievement. Almost always, this is something they struggle with, even thinking about.

  8. I actually focus on the right more than the wrong. I’m creative and my creative works are motivational and inspiring. When I write a song or a poem that I believe is good, I will use that model to produce another of similar quality.

    • That’s GREAT Dan!!! It’s always the best type of thinking. It’s something that can become easier as we focus on the good or right choice we make. Thank you for adding to the discussion.

    • That’s very inspiring to hear Dan. Especially this:
      “When I write a song or a poem that I believe is good, I will use that model to produce another of similar quality.”

  9. I like this post, Alan. It’s way too easy to focus on what we don’t have or what we don’t do well. But realizing our strengths allows us to leverage them – and it also gives us a lot of hope and encouragement.

  10. Thank you for this reminder Alan to be more observant of what we do right in our life. And to look at even the things we do wrong and learn the lessons from them. I think a daily gratitude practice can help us be more mindful of the positive circumstances and our own positive actions we take each day.

    • Great point about a “daily gratitude practice.” I’ve found that allows me to have a positive and fresh perspective about life. Thank you for adding to the discussion.

    • Vishnu, yes, a daily gratitude practice is life changing. Regarding gratitude, I encourage my clients to express gratitude to self, and not just to others and God. Even God doesn’t do for us what we have to do for ourselves, yet I often hear others “giving God all the credit.” God doesn’t even claim all the credit for himself. We are partners with God and partners share in the credit.Thanks for your comments Vishnu.