The cure for insanity

People seem to have this weird tendency to run face-first into the same wall again and again. It doesn’t seem to matter whether it’s about the girl who falls for the wrong guys, the guy who keeps failing fad diets or the student who gets stressed out because he never starts on his assignments in time.

Perhaps it’s the whole “short-term gratification vs. long-term gratification” thing, after all, there is always the quick and easy temptation of enjoying those cupcakes or free time now – even if it means getting fat or dealing with stressful deadlines later down the road. Perhaps there is some psychological, Freudian or behavioral explanation rooted in people’s childhoods. I’m sure most of us heard of the cliché ‘daddy treated me bad so I’m attracted to guys that treat me bad’.

Whatever the reason, we all do it to some extent and it tends to keep happening, over and over. In college I was constantly fed the idea that ‘making mistakes is a good thing, because you learn from it’. I don’t subscribe to that train of thought. I do not think that making mistakes is a good thing because I do not think I have to stab myself in the balls with a fork to know that it hurts. I can learn from other people’s mistakes just fine. That doesn’t mean you can’t make mistakes, of course you can and that’s fine if you learn from it, but if people keep making the same mistake? Apparently we don’t always learn from it and perhaps this whole mistake-glorifying hippie rah-rah bullshit gets exaggerated too much. (In hindsight, I have no idea how I got my degree, my teachers would scold me if I ever said something like this in their presence) My opinion in this is probably not a popular one and especially not one that people like to hear, but if people keep making the same mistakes without learning from it, perhaps there is some merit to this way of thinking.

I believe this is where a mentor-pupil relationship shows its worth. Yes, friends and peers can be valuable assets in dealing with issues like these, but for some reason it’s easier to disregard a close loved one’s advice than that of someone you look up to, someone who teaches you or someone whose vision and opinion you otherwise hold in high esteem. When your friend tells you to put down the cupcake, it’s easy to laugh it off and say that “it’s just one cupcake”. A mentor, like a coach, personal trainer or experienced athlete may see right through you and tell you that it’s not about that cupcake, it’s about that one cupcake easily turning into two or three cupcakes. It’s about that one cupcake breaking a healthy habit, possibly leading to a bad habit. It’s not that much different from your friend warning you about “that guy not being right for you”, or about your teacher warning you to start your assignment in time. We can love our friends dearly yet tell ourselves that “they simply don’t see/feel/know what you know”, perhaps because we see no reason to hold their insights in higher esteem than our own. In much the same way, I feel we don’t really respect teachers in school that much. Looking back on my modest 26 years of life experience (ahem), I get the idea that we never admired school teachers or respected their visions that much. We did what we could not to attend class, we hurt teachers if we could (Bunch of fucking 14 year olds driving an adult man to tears? Seen it happen.), we talked shit behind their backs and it was a rare occasion when we took a teacher’s lesson to heart rather than accepting their teachings as mandatory bullshit like we usually did. This whole thing was often different when I was at places where people voluntarily went to. In martial arts classes for example, people respected the teachers, listened, did their best and wanted to achieve something. I’m not sure whether this is because of the emphasis on respect in those classes or simply because the people that went there (both kids and adults) were there because they wanted to, not because they had to.

There are, unfortunately, two hurdles to overcome when you want to start a mentor-pupil relationship. The first one is simple, though not always easily overcome. You have to find a mentor and start that relationship. Finding a mentor can be hard. Are you looking for a life coach? How can you tell that this person actually has insight in behavioral psychology, any life experience or even much empathy at all? Are you looking for a personal trainer? Same thing. Are you looking for a therapist? Once again, same thing. Hell, I spent 4 years getting my degree in social work, pedagogy and community development and it seemed like social workers were the people with the most issues in their head. That can be both a good thing (experience) or a bad thing (how are you going to help someone if you’re unstable as fuck yourself?).

So even if you find someone appropriate who gives you the idea that he/she can help, why would he/she? Sometimes you just pay the person. Pay the therapist or trainer an hourly rate and it’s fine, assuming you can afford it. Other times, it may not be this person’s profession but you do feel that this person has a lot to teach you. You could go for something like an internship that you set up yourself, interview the person, see if you can work together with this person, or just appeal to their willingness to do something for someone who needs help. Most of all this is just practical and most people can figure this out ASSUMING THAT THEY TAKE ACTION. And we all love to analyze, we love to make ourselves feel good with information and we love to make up excuses to ‘take action in the future’, but actually taking action is actually a hurdle for many people, one that I’m not going to go into right now because that’s outside the scope of this post.

The second hurdle I mentioned is a lot more complex: you have to let go of your ego. Walking up to someone and asking for help can be hard, especially if this person might have to correct you a lot. Psychologically speaking, it’s a common thing that you’re open to learn if it’s about something you know nothing about, but you get very defensive when someone tries to correct a belief you have already formed. If someone tries to teach me about the mating habits of the South-Uzbekistan dragon pelican in autumn, I will believe them in a heartbeat. If someone tells me that squats are bad for your knees, I will automatically believe they lack proper knowledge on exercise physiology and related subjects. This is completely normal, but counterproductive when you realize something needs to change and you are somehow reluctant to. Nobody likes to walk up to a coach, therapist or trainer and get told that what you’ve been doing all this time was wrong or. You have to -gasp- let go of your ego. Something so hard that there are people like monks, buddhists and other spiritually enlightened (?) types devoting a significant part of their life to it. And you have to walk up to someone and pay that person to hear that you’ve been wrong all this time and need to do things differently? And everytime you want to get defensive and blurt out some excuse -regardless if it’s bullshit or not- you have to force yourself to accept that it’s probably not relevant to your learning experience at hand. And you constantly have to remind yourself why you’re there; because what you’ve been doing before was apparently not working.

Remember what Einstein said?
“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results.”
Sure, I don’t like it when someone I consider a mentor or hold in high esteem tells me that I’m doing something wrong, and I don’t like questioning things that I thought were right, but I’m pretty sure Einstein knew a thing or two. I have someone who coaches me in weightlifting, someone who teaches me about injuries and someone who coaches me in entrepeneuring. I’ve learned from them and I’m grateful for what I’ve learned. I’ve trained people professionally and in my private life and sometimes had to tell them things they weren’t eager to hear. That they had to change behavioral patterns, that they had to put in effort… Some of them listened and are garnering some pretty awesome results. Others ignored it, perhaps because I was wrong and they knew better than I did… Or perhaps they were suffering from insanity, as Albert would put it.

“You can’t make people smarter. You can expose them to information, but your responsibility stops there.” – Mark Rippetoe