The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.
The first time I heard these words come out my dad’s mouth, I was four.
My dad’s not the cliché type; he’s not a philosopher nor a counselor. He never quotes anyone, let alone Einstein.
But, for some reason or another, defining insanity was to him, one of the most valuable pieces of life advice he could share with his children — so he did, often.
For a long time, I wasn’t quite sure what he meant, so I would just smile and nod in agreement. After all, if my dad said it, it must be true.
I never questioned his catch phrase until he used it against me. It was my 9th birthday, and I was insistent on inviting the boy who lived two houses down from me to my party.
This was the same boy who avoided me on the school playground, told others not to play with me and had his mom lie for him when I rang the doorbell to ask if he wanted to play outside.
My dad looked at my proposed guest list, took the pencil out of my hand and erased his name from the list. He said, “Adalay, you can’t do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result — that, my love, is the definition of insanity.”
I angrily snatched the list from his hands and ran to our orange bubble Apple computer. Within a few minutes, I had all the proof I needed: The definition of insanity is madness, or the state of being seriously mentally ill.
My dad was wrong, and being the stubborn 9-year-old that I was, I was ready to shut down this insanity business.
I told him, “Dad, I have consulted my sources and the definition of insanity is not [in air quotes] ‘doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results,’ so I would like you to stop saying that, since it is a lie. I think it’s insane that you keep lying and expect people to believe you.”
My small research project didn’t stop him, though. Since that day, I’ve had the term “insanity” defined to me a 100 times.
When I moved out of my parents’ house to go away to college, I found myself reciting the lines mentally in the absence of my dad’s advice.
Why do I do things over and over again and expect different results? Why am I disappointed when the same actions don’t produce the outcome I desire? Why don’t I change my actions? Why do I do things I know will make me unhappy?
I’m not insane, but I can be irrational. My actions are often innocent and well-intentioned, but my expectations are foolish.
For the most part, no one wants to be unhappy, and yet many of us continue to be the only common denominator in our unhappiness. We let negative thoughts carry us away; we engage in activities that lead us to feel upset or guilty, and we avoid situations that could bring us a greater sense of happiness.
I always overlooked my dad’s warning. “Insanity” refers only to the seriously ill, and I am luckily I’m not in such a circumstance or state.
But, it’s the small negative things we do and say — the seemingly insignificant and unnoticeable — that become damaging patterns in our lives. We let them happen because they seem harmless; we’ve forgotten that hurting ourselves means we are hurting someone.
I point fingers; I blame my past; I shut down my goals, and then I go home and lie in bed and wonder when things are going to change for me.
Nothing is ever going to change for me. Thinking so is, well, insane.
It has taken me 21 years of hearing my dad’s favorite epigram to realize the insanity lies not in my mind’s mental state and capacities, but the fact that I willingly sabotage myself.
I sabotage myself, and sadly, it happens more than I’d like to admit:
1. I complain about my weight while eating cookies and ice cream.
2. I compare myself to everyone and anyone.
3. I say I am a realist when I am a negative Nancy.
4. When I am overwhelmed or upset, I take it out on others.
5. I do my hair when it is raining outside.
6. When I am upset, I don’t allow myself to do anything but think of the negativity at hand.
7. I refuse to acknowledge my positive traits and accomplishments.
8. I forget I am allowed to make mistakes.
9. I don’t make an effort to keep in touch with my friends and family.
10. I leave things for “tomorrow.”
11. I get upset with my reflection.
12. I don’t go on dates or give guys a chance, and then I complain about my love life.
13. I set unrealistic goals.
14. I don’t go to office hours because I’m afraid my professors will find me dull-minded.
15. I compulsively make lists.
16. I wait until I have no clean underwear left to do laundry.
17. I think about where I want to be months from now, not where I want to be tomorrow.
18. I am embarrassed to cry.
19. I assume anyone of the opposite sex would only be with me if a better option weren’t available.
20. I second-guess everything I do.
21. I tune people out and then expect others to listen to me.
22. I let my opportunity costs hang over my head.
23. I think about all the things I regret when I lie down to sleep.
24. I eat when I’m not hungry.
25. I never put the cap back on my toothpaste.
26. I make plans with people with whom I don’t want to spend time.
27. I don’t talk to or flirt with guys I find attractive.
28. I assume others would rather not be my friend.
29. I write letters and never send them.
30. I never smile with my teeth.
31. I hold back my sexuality because I am embarrassed of what I look like naked.
32. I keep toxic people in my life.
33. I say “what if” about the past, not the future.
34. I buy clothes that will fit me “when I lose 10 lbs.”
35. I am constantly counting down for something.
36. I avoid fighting by saying nothing at all.
37. I check up on my ex’s social media sites, every week.
38. I am embarrassed to ask for help.
39. I don’t text people back.
40. I never carry an emergency tampon.
41. I wish I were as pretty as my sister.
42. I say things I don’t mean.
43. I punish myself for wasting time.
44. I’m polite to people who make me uncomfortable.
45. I avoid situations where I could fail.
46. I never carry a hair tie.
47. I don’t throw things away.
48. I go to bed with my makeup on.
49. I get defensive when others offer me constructive criticism.
50. I tell myself I’ll never find anyone better than my ex.
51. I discredit my knowledge.
52. I say “I’m sorry” for everything I do.
53. I don’t say “I’m sorry” for the things I don’t do.
54. I assume my life would be better or I would be happier if I were prettier.
55. I tell myself things will be different, but don’t do anything to make them different.