The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, but expecting different results. This quotation is most often credited to Albert Einstein. I can build no case for or against such an assertion, nor will I try. If this definition established the basis for one’s committal to a psyche ward, we’d all be well on our way. I have expended a great deal of energy lately in trying to identify this pattern in my own life. I have detected its presence in one form or another in almost every area of life where I have not obtained the results I desire. I recently posed the question to myself, “In all your years of indulging perfectionism, how many perfect outcomes have you produced?” The answer is a resounding “zero.” The follow up, somewhat sarcastic, question becomes, “How’s that approach working out for you?” I can only concede that it hasn’t worked out well at all.
Each person has a primary strategy, or repertoire of strategies they employ in the game of life. Our strategies are most often developed as ways of navigating and surviving our childhood. In response to our parents relationship with each other (or lack thereof), the positive and negative feedback we received, and the horrific things that we done to far too many, we developed tactics that served us as well as they could. As children, we subconsciously adapted to our environment, doing our best to thrive, or in many cases, merely survive. As adults, we run into many problems when we continue to employ the same strategies that served us well as children. For me, the primary strategy that I developed as a child was perfectionism. Having grown up in a large family, I perceived that the demands put on my parents, by each other and my siblings were all, or even more than they could handle. Thus, from a very young age, I made the decision to avoid putting any additional strain on my parents, primarily my mother, through the pursuit of perfection. My belief was that if I were perfect, my parents could focus all of their attention on the rest of the family. As I mentioned, that strategy, underpinned by a noble intention, has not served me well in adulthood. Each time I have faced imperfection, or performed at a lower level than I expected of myself, my approach was simply to try harder. I would employ the same strategy in hope of obtaining different results. In sticking with this strategy, I have achieved far less than I might have otherwise. Additionally, I have at times been continuously frustrated, found myself practically devoid of any self-esteem, and taken a critical view of the world and others as a result of extremely black-and-white thinking.
As I’ve woken up to the realization that it is time trade out that old strategies and try out some others, I been able to hear despair knocking at the door. The temptation has been to indulge in even further self-deprecation:
“Why did it take so long for you to realize this?”
“How could you have been so stupid?”
“Imagine if you had realized this sooner?”
I have been able to successfully resist the temptation to dwell on these questions by employing some new strategies:
-Seeking the loving support of my wife and friends.
-Cultivating optimism about the future afforded to me by my newfound understanding
-Reminding myself of the positive intent behind my behavior, that I was doing the best I knew how at the time
Ask yourself where in life you are not obtaining the results you desire. It could be in your work, your relationships, or another area such as diet, health, habits, etc. It is quite possible that you are employing a strategy that you developed at another time in life for a different purpose. Perhaps it is time to abandon an old strategy and experiment with another? The worst that could happen is that you’ll end up in the same place you are now. If that be the case, try another.
Bailey Patrice & Jonathan David