Just who was it that said, “insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result”?
According to wikiquote, this quip is most often misattributed to:
• Benjamin Franklin (perhaps because he was insane for flying a metallicized kite in a lightning storm),
• Mark Twain (maybe because he had the same hairdresser as Einstein and we get the men mixed up).
But no, sorry, none of those wise men said it.
Don’t Seek and You Won’t Find
Seriously, according to wikiquote, the earliest occurrence of this quote is a 1981 Narcotics Anonymous booklet, and might have come from Alcoholics Anonymous. Next, it can be found in the writing of Rita Mae Brown, but to be polite we will not ask her where she got it.
This quote works when we are in denial or stuck in a negative loop, doing the same thing over and over, wishing our problem would magically go away. In this case, it is time for new tactics.
We could rewrite the quote in a catchy new phrase: “When your steps go round and round, another option must be found.”
Or make a great T-shirt out of: “Wishing is for fairy godmothers. Move your a$$.
A New Meaning
But hang on. Is it in fact nuts to keep doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result?
Maybe not. Not always, anyway.
In fact, I find we often need more of this kind of persistence-against-all-odds in our lives. Instead sapping our mental health, doing the same thing over and over while hoping for a new result can be an expression of our highest goals: healing, trust, and faith.
To attain healing, for example, you must think beyond the current situation and the results you expect to get. You must leap beyond them and expect, even if you don’t know what it looks like, a very different result — something new.
We celebrate the fact that Mark Twain, after receiving tons of rejections, sent out even more letters trying to publish his writing, expecting a different result from those same tactics. Today, over 100 years after his death, his books are still required reading in high schools and sell like ice cream on a hot summer’s day.
Hooray for Einstein persisting in sharing his inside-out ideas until others could see the world through his eyes and physics could evolve forward into a radical new paradigm that gave birth to quantum physics.
Thank goodness Annie Sullivan kept trying, over and over, against all odds and expectations, to help the deaf and blind child Helen Keller to understand sign language! By doing so, she helped enable Helen Keller to become a beloved writer and lecturer, winner of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, member of the National Women’s Hall of Fame, and the face on Alabama’s 2003 quarter coin.
Make the Leap, Step by Step
What kept them going? Hope? An inner knowing? Love? Inspiration?
Something did, something that helped them transcend all those rejections and failures, and shift into a new and better unexpected outcome. Add this magic into the mix and you no longer have insanity. You have faith, transcendence, and healing.
How about you? What new goal are you currently stretching for, or would like to reach? Do you need encouragement to keep going, to send out a few letters, or try one more time, even if your dream results feel impossibly far away?
Find the faith or a spiritual principle to hang it on. Identify a motive, a higher ideal, a reason why, source of curiosity, a reminder quote, or other fount of inspiration.
For me, I just reread Helen Keller’s story again. Wow. That helped me immensely. Where can you find your magic fairy dust to help you fly over the rainbow?
Yes, as you reach for your goal, it may be wise to learn and refine how you write those letters/teach your pupil/share your vision. But the advice is the same:
To create miracles, connect to the Potential within your dream (not the specifics) and take ordinary actions, over and over, while solidly and unfailingly expecting a surprising result, even a miraculous one.
This is what creates healing.
© 2012 Daria Boissonnas
What has helped you to transcend rejections or overcome old expectations? Share your story and wisdom with us in the comments!