I was talking with a friend recently and she asked me where I plan to be in a year. The question wasn't of physical location, but how I envision my life in a year. When I told her, she asked how I plan to accomplish my ambitious goals. For each goal, I said that I would continue to work towards it.
It's hardly as if I set goals and then sit around hoping that they'll happen. I've been working for these goals for years.
But my friend pushed me further. Citing a common phrase, she said that persisting in the same behaviors and expecting different results is insanity. I don't quite agree, so I guess it's time for me to confront conventional wisdom.
Actually, I agree that we should change if we want different results. The problem is when we take this generally wise statement and try to make it a maxim.
In a year, I imagine that I'll be dating someone seriously. This isn't a prediction of the future; relationships can start and end rather quickly and on February 28th of 2014, anything could happen. The same, of course, is true of February 27th. But I do expect to be progressing towards my most important goal: having a happy, stable family of my own.
How will I accomplish this? By continuing to date. This sounds like much of the same, but allow me to explain further. I will keep putting forth the effort to date. I will keep asking hard questions so I can change the faulty assumptions that I make about myself, others, and about dating. I will keep putting my best efforts into improving myself and improving the way that I go about dating.
But if these are things I've been doing for some time and I haven't seen much in the way of results, aren't I doing the same thing and expecting different results? Doesn't that make me insane?
Maybe. My possible insanity is something we can't discount.
But if a sane person tries to accomplish things by changing, doesn't that mean that a person can't remain sane indefinitely? By continuing to change, I expect to continue to see different results. I'm doing the same thing, so I should see the same results – either that or I'm nuts.
I could try changing how I change, but the same problem happens. I can go down this rabbit hole as far as I like and I'll keep on hitting the same wall.
More fundamentally, the world is a stupefyingly complex system, full of intelligent, autonomous, sentient agents (we usually just call them people). When my expectations involve other people – and virtually every worthwhile expectation does – I must remember that other people can choose what they will and won't do. In many cases, I am morally or ethically obligated to continue in the same course of action. In other cases, it just makes sense to keep doing the same thing. Meanwhile, I will continue to hope that other people will choose to do as I would like them to do.
And there is another agent in this system. He usually remains unseen, but is deeply involved in the circumstances of our lives. God gives me my life as I experience it for my benefit, partially to try my faith. For faith to be tried, I must choose what I believe is right and then experience consequences that do not match my hopes. And then I need to keep choosing what I believe is right, knowing that God will grant me all of the blessings that I need to be happy. They won't necessarily be as I imagine them and they probably won't come exactly when I plan for them, but they will come.
I'm not insane. It's just that I believe.