Albert Einstein is credited for saying,

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Perhaps this is too simple a definition for such a serious mental illness, but it describes the irrational trap humans fall into when confronted with life challenges.

The important thing to remember about this old pronouncement is that it is not a criticism for taking action. You attain insanity when you expect the results of your efforts to be different though you didn’t change those actions.

The big question to determine your craziness.

When things are not going your way in life, do you resort to the same behavior to get back on track? 

You may not know the answer to this inquiry because so much of our under-stress-behavior is unconscious, we are not aware we are doing it. This is because we are using coping behaviors we developed early in life.

From the time of our birth, our human nature required us to pursue routine in search of “predictability” and “security” in our lives. This led us to create habits and regularity into our everyday activities. This also happened at the emotional level; our coping mechanism are habits created to bring us emotional stability. It would be great if life worked that way, but as we all learned, security and stability are an illusion.

Reliance on childhood coping mechanism to solve problems is crazy. 

Fear of the unknown makes it challenging to try different approaches to problem solving. This is true if the chosen method has worked for us so far.

We adopted our emotional coping strategies because they helped us reduce or avoid pain altogether. The problem with relying on these habits is that we based them on faulty thinking we had as children.

For example, I grew up with abusive parents. In my childish reasoning, I assumed they didn’t like me because I was less than a perfect little boy. To minimize the abuse, I spent a lot of time trying to please them. This worked, and over time, I transferred this behavior to other people. I have gone through great lengths as an adult to please people, so they will like me.

What makes our reliance on childhood coping behaviors crazy is that they don’t apply to all adult situations. You can see how my people pleasing tendencies wouldn’t work well in many circumstances. But that didn’t stop me from trying them even when the people involved became more abusive. Why didn’t I try other solutions that might have worked better? Ding, dong, I was crazy!

Crazy shit people do when things are not going their way.

People pleasing is a common coping mechanism. Here are other crazy strategies people use that don’t work to solve adult problems either.

1)        Find a distraction. This happens when you allow your attention to meander to some unrelated activity rather than deal with the challenge at hand.

A college friend and I had arranged to get together to study for a big final on the night before the test, but he never showed up. The next day in the classroom I could see he was all stressed out because he didn’t feel prepared. When I asked him why he cancelled our meeting, he told me he had cleaned his house and didn’t get done in time to study.

There are many ways in which we distract ourselves. Binge TV watching, overindulge playing video games, spending too much time at work, extra-marital affairs, etc.

2)        Avoid or procrastinate.  An old funny saying summarizes this strategy well; “when the going gets tough, the tough go shopping.” People who rely on avoidance to solve their problems think if they ignore things long enough, it will go away.  This is why they don’t show up to a controversial meeting, or they disappear for a few days without warning in the middle of a crisis. This never works.

 3)       Engage in obsessive control.  Starts with the belief that if one can control all the parameters, the problem gets resolved. Controlling people don’t want to risk doing things in different way than what they are used to, so they take the posture that “no one can do this but me.” The net effect of excessive control is that you push away legitimate solutions and help that could solve the crisis.

 4)        Take up an addiction. We are all familiar with drugs and alcohol addiction, but people can also become addicted to sex, work, exercise, etc. The difference between addiction and distraction is that when a person suffers from an addiction, they have transferred the focus of their lives to their reliance on their addiction. Nothing else is as important. Addictions simply delay action. Recovering addicts often find that their problems were only made worse while they pursued their obsession.

5)          Blame others. One way of shirking responsibility for your life is to blame others for your problems. When you make someone else responsible, you let yourself off the hook by believing you don’t have to fix your problem because it was someone else fault. You remain unhappy because the problem never gets fixed.


It is hard to give up your coping mechanism because the things you did yesterday brought you the life you have today. But if you want tomorrow to be different, then you have to try distinctive approaches from what you have done in the past. No other way to get there.

So, what kind of life do you want to create? It’s up to you.

Reach Deeper

If you are ready to trade in your humdrum life for one of meaning and purpose, subscribe to my free weekly newsletter on my website and receive motivation and encouragement to help you on your way. Share it to help family and friends.

You can also find how to get my books, choose me as your mentor, or have me speak to your organization.

 Going through a difficult life transition?

You might enjoy reading my latest memoir, Catch and Release: One Man’s Improbable Search for True Love and the Meaning of Life. Download a PDF of the first 5 chapters of Catch and Release free.  To order your inscribed copy in either hardcover or paperback, click here ( Catch and Release is also available on Kindle here (  Happy reading!