There is a famous quote by Albert Einstein in which he defines insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Many people quote this as a call for change.
But I think that this may be simplifying things a bit. I don’t think he meant to constantly move to different things, but rather to understand when something isn’t working and to move on.
Most successful individuals didn’t achieve instant success. They worked and worked and had some luck thrown in to help them reach their goals. It wasn’t that they just kept quitting and trying new things to be successful.
To me this is what Einstein was referring to when he talked about insanity. In another Einstein quote he says, “Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value.”
To me this is equivalent to focusing on the process not the outcome. If we focus on the process and continue to make progress then we can grow and become someone of value.
If we only focus on the end result, we can easily get sidetracked or relax our morals in order to reach an award or prize at the end. But if we focus on becoming valuable we can continue to grow and improve.
Another famous Einstein quote is “You have to learn the rules of the game. And then you have to play better than anyone else.”
This is where the insanity quote really makes sense. The rules of the game are the systems that are already in place. Many people dislike the way things are so they assume they don’t have to understand them or play by them. But this will certainly lead to failure. We have to understand the rules, even if we want to change those rules, and it takes times to learn the rules.
Whatever we want to achieve there are systems in place that influence that goal. Learn the systems (rules of the game) and then determine ways to improve within those systems.
This is where our habits become important. We can start to see how our habits are driving us towards or away from our goals. While we may want to pay off our debt, our daily, expensive coffee habit might be taking us away from that goal. Or we may want to get a promotion at work, but our tardiness is holding us back.
To me this is truly where the insanity quote makes sense. If we are habitually doing something that is taking us away from our goal we will never improve and make progress. It isn’t that we should quit anything that isn’t an instant success but that we shouldn’t keep doing things that hold us back. Instead focus on small incremental improvements.
If we want different results we have to do things differently. We have to understand the systems and the process and then work to constantly improve. It doesn’t mean results will be immediate, instead it means that we will start to reach new milestones and new growth that will ultimately lead us where we want to go.