Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results
What does an athlete do when they are working very hard and their performance is not improving? The answer of course depends a lot on what they are doing. Let’s assume for a moment that they are doing the right physical training, they are even doing some mental training. We can look at their diet and make sure that is headed in the right direction. We can do an analysis with their coaches and see if it is a mechanical issue or not. If all of these things are in alignment, then what do we do?
I have come across this many times both in sports and in business. An athlete and their support are doing everything the way they should be done. I’ve seen many business approach things the same way. Everything we are doing is right based on research and experience. We just can figure out what is wrong. Einstein wrote that; “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” This can be true in both sports and business. Sometimes all of the right things are not right for an individual. Sometimes our best research model does not fit the subject. So what do we do is this instance.
It seems to me we have three choices. First choice and while it is rather negative, sometimes in athletics you have to throw in the towel and say it is time to retire. This is always the hard choice. I spend my life trying to keep people from quitting, but on occasion, given circumstances it is the right choice. Maybe the body just isn’t recovering like it used to. Sometimes life moves on. The same in business can also e true. Sometimes the star business person needs to move on either to another business or to count their money. Maybe they burned out or are so entrenched in their business model that this is a needed step.
Choice two is perhaps an easier one to stomach. Bring in someone new to help evaluate the situation. Maybe an outside set of eyes can help determine the right direction. We see this in both the sport and business world. It is especially prevalent in sports. The solution is of course fire the coach or manager. Sometimes that step alone changes the dynamic of the athlete’s situation and performance improves. It may provide a different sort of motivation or perhaps the communication just changes and everyone hears better. This is often the solution that works. So what is the third choice?
Solution three might just be viewed as different. What it involves is change. Maybe for this particular athlete, team or business the right thing was right after all. Maybe breaking some of the training rules is needed. Reexamining training methods and then going against the norm might be the best thing for an individual. Looking back at diets and saying maybe the body needs more junk (not a popular notion), but maybe they just need a little food break. An athlete might even be too focused. All of the mental training they have been doing (this is of course more on the rare side) may mean they need to take a break. I worked with an athlete whom I won’t name that set a world record for his event in the nude. It was just a way for him and his team mates to blow off some steam. Another world class distance runner I worked with we had to force time off. He just needed a change. He wasn’t over training. He felt good, but he wasn’t making progress. So we did the opposite and shut him down for three weeks. Toughest three weeks of his life he said. Came back and won his next race with a PR. Did his body or mind need the rest? The answer is perhaps. I think more he needed a change. He needed a change to refocus his energy. He needed a change to perhaps rekindle his motivation for running. He trained as hard as any athlete I ever knew, but maybe it was out of habit and not out of passion. Forcing change made him refocus on himself. He had to decide what to do next.
I have had a conversation a dozen or so times with athletes towards the ends of their careers. Performance had leveled off and they were not sure what the right thing to do was. In these instances I forced a mental shift. I suggested that they quit. I forced them to think about change. In the end most of them rededicated themselves and continued till they felt the time was right. On two occasions the athletes retired. Years later they said they knew it was the right thing to do. Of course they didn’t talk to me for years because of my suggestion. They were angry at the forced change. They were angry at having to look so deeply into themselves. Sometimes change causes pain, mostly it brings about enlightenment.
So what does an athlete do when their work is taking them nowhere fast? They look to change as the agent to move forward. Einstein had so many answers to many of life’s issues. Of course he had his issues as well. He loved to sail. He would sail for hours yet have difficulty finding his way back home. Seems the laws of physics and mathematics didn’t apply to little sail boats on small lakes. Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.