I’ve heard it said on many occasions that “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome”.
The first thing that I think when I hear this is: “that’s not the definition of insanity”. A review through the various online dictionaries confirms my belief.
The second thing I think of is practice. Practice, whether it be for sports, performing arts, etc., is repeating the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome. And guess what? It works!
Insanity is where you have a model of reality in your head that doesn’t correspond with your actual experiences of reality.
In a world where there is a lot of social pressure to embrace a model of reality that doesn’t fit actual experiences, it is damn difficult to not be insane. You don’t get useful validation / feedback from other people, those little reality-checks that tell you that no, you haven’t stepped off into nonsensical belief systems. Instead you get multiple flavors of insanity: the conformist flavor and zillions of nonconformist flavors.
When you practice, you’re either not doing the same thing or not expecting a different result.
It’s said often that “practice makes perfect” is wrong–it’s “perfect practice makes perfect”.
The goal of practicing is to train your body to do it perfectly each time–if that’s what you’re doing, then you should expect the same (perfect) outcome of each perfect try.
If the outcome isn’t perfect, then something along the line is going wrong–and if you keep doing the exact same thing over & over again without figuring out what that thing is & correcting it, you’re training your body to do the wrong thing. That’s (perhaps ironically) the exact situation the phrase you’re quoting is warning against.
For example, let’s say I’m practicing free throws. If I’m doing the same exact thing each time, then each shot should (barring external factors) have the exact same result. If I’m not getting the same result, then I’m not doing the same exact thing.
Insanity is majority rules. If a million people believe in the same crazy thing, they are not insane.
For example: religion. There are hundreds of millions of people who believe there’s an invisible man in the sky who knows everything and sees everything you do. And this invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do, and if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever 'til the end of time. (But he loves you.) As crazy as this sounds, the mere fact that so many people believe it means they are not insane.
I heard the same thing growing up. There’s a big difference between the point of the quote about the definition of insanity is trying to make and the whole difference is, as pointed out in the full quoted post, is that practice is making subtle adjustments.
As an example, as a pianist, I’m trying to learn something. If I go in and just try to learn it by trying to play all the parts at full speed all in a row, doing that over and over is going to result in nothing. Instead, I study it, break it down into smaller parts and practice them individually and practice them combined in certain ways and I start slower and work my way up.
In fact, it seems to me that’s the whole point of the “insanity” quote. Some people learn from their mistakes, they make adjustments, and try again. That’s pretty much the exactly opposite of trying the same thing over and over again.
In case no one has said it or linked to it yet, the phrase appeared in a 1981 brochure put out by Narcotics Anonymous, and not “credited” (seems the wrong word for such a dumb phrase) there to Einstein. Doing the same thing over and over because it fails, that’s a sign of insanity.