We’ve all heard that definition of insanity: “doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.” But if that same thing, done over and over again, is a healthy activity for everyone else, why is it insanity for me? The key is two-fold: motive and measure of success.
THE MOTIVE: Many individuals, though driven and quite successful in various areas of their lives, are in fact motivated by fear: fear of failure, judgment, rejection, loneliness, physical pain, death, or in some cases, the great unknown. There are times when fear should motivate us. Fear might motivate us to take a cab rather than ride with a drunk driver. Fear might lead us to lock our doors and set the alarm when we leave for an extended vacation. In both of these instances, the fear is brief and serves as a reminder to do something smart. Once the action is completed, we can release the fear fairly easily. The fear serves to keep us on track with our main goals, motives, and objectives. You don’t get in the car with a drunk driver because you could die and never fulfill your dream of becoming a world-famous ballet dancer (I didn’t say it was my dream!). You lock your doors and set the alarm because you don’t want a thief stealing your Russian nesting doll collection, the one you plan to sell on the Antique Road Show exhibit when you return. The fear is subservient to the greater purpose of your life. For individuals with unhealthy fear, the fear itself is the motive. “I don’t want to be afraid. Therefore, I will do X, Y, Z and maybe X, Y, Z again…and again and again!” The goal is simply to keep fear at bay. This is when our motives become toxic to our existence.
THE MEASURE OF SUCCESS: How do you know when a thought or behavior is enough? I admit the question doesn’t have an exact measurable answer. Healthy thoughts and behaviors lie on a continuous spectrum. This makes it difficult to challenge an anxious person on their fear-based activities. But at some point, the behavior ceases to be a healthy means to a purposeful end and becomes a meaningless end to an unhealthy purpose. Here are some examples:
- Diet and Exercise: Healthy when we are staying in shape to accomplish our goal of running a marathon, playing with the grandkids, or looking good for our spouse. Unhealthy when we are afraid of getting fat or failing to live up to an ideal, afraid of losing someone’s love or being rejected by a stranger.
- Safety: Healthy when we recognize carelessness and fix it. Unhealthy when we believe we can control the uncontrollable events in our lives.
- Religious practices: Healthy when they draw us closer to God and to others. Unhealthy when they push us away from the true tenets of the faith.
- Maybe everyone else is dieting and exercising and you need to eat more and rest!
- Maybe you need to stop being so responsible and trying to control all the events of your life.
- Maybe you need to throw out some of those valuable trinkets or paperwork you’ve been holding onto for years.
- Maybe you are so structured in your life that you need to allow for some messiness.
- Maybe God wants you to stop confessing your sins for a while and start basking in His Grace.
Whatever needs to change, remember to check your motive and your measure of success and remind yourself that sometimes more isn’t better. Sometimes it’s just more!
Questions: What are some things that you think you should do that would be hard for you to stop? How can you change your perspective and try something different?