Albert Einstein? Al-Anon? narcotics Anonymous? Max Nordau? George bernard Shaw? Samuel Beckett? George A. Kelly? Rita Mae Brown? john Larroquette? Jessie Potter? Werner Erhard?

Dear Quote Investigator: It’s foolish come repeat ineffective actions. One popular formulation presents this point harshly:

The definition of insanity is law the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

You are watching: Doing the same thing over and over word

These words space usually attributed to the acclaimed genius Albert Einstein. What execute you think?

Quote Investigator: there is no substantive proof that Einstein composed or speak the declare above. It is listed within a section dubbed “Misattributed to Einstein” in the substantial reference “The can be fried Quotable Einstein” from Princeton college Press. 1

The earliest solid match well-known to QI showed up in October 1981 in ~ a Knoxville, Tennessee newspaper post describing a meeting of Al-Anon, an organization designed to aid the families of alcoholics. The journalist explained the “Twelve Steps” the Al-Anon which are based on comparable steps to work in Alcoholics Anonymous. The newspaper started with these two steps: 2

Step 1: we admitted us were powerless end alcohol – the our resides had become unmanageable.

Step 2: came to think that a Power better than ourselves might restore us to sanity

One of the attendees at the meeting hesitated to accept the accuracy of second step. Emphasis added to excerpts through QI:

Not all the women space willing to admit they required to it is in “restored to sanity.” In fact, among them adamantly maintains the she had never got to a point of insanity. But one more remarks, “Insanity is law the exact same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

The 2nd earliest solid match well-known to QI appeared in a pamphlet printed by the medicine Anonymous organization in November 1981: 3

The price may seem higher for the addict who prostitutes because that a solve than that is for the addict who just lies to a doctor, but ultimately both pay through their lives. Insanity is repeating the very same mistakes and also expecting various results.

Below are extr selected citations in chronological order.The linkage between insanity and repetition has actually a long history. The controversial publication “Degeneration” by Max Nordau was published in German in 1892 and translated into English by 1895. Nordau check the functions of a selection of artists and also savagely attacked those that contained repetition which he thought evinced a psychological defect in the creator. For example, he criticize Maurice Maeterlinck’s “La Princesse Maleine”: 4

Has anyone everywhere in the poetry of the two people ever viewed such complete idiocy? these ‘Ahs’ and ‘Ohs,’ this want of understanding of the simplest remarks, this repetition four or 5 times of the very same imbecile expressions, offers the truest conceivable clinical snapshot of incurable cretinism. These parts are specifically those most extolled by Maeterlinck’s admirers.

When George Bernard shaw reviewed Nordau’s opus the turned the criticism that repetition back upon the author and also suggested the Nordau might diagnose himself as mentally unsound: 5

I have actually read Max Nordau’s “Degeneration” at her request,—two hundred and sixty thousands mortal words, saying the very same thing over and also over again. That, together you know, is the way to drive a thing into the mental of the world, though Nordau considers the a symptom that insane “obsession” ~ above the part of authors who do not re-superstructure his very own opinions. His blog post to the people is that all our characteristically modern-day works the art room symptoms of condition in the artists, and that this diseased artists are themselves symptom of the nervous exhaustion of the gyeongju by overwork.

The 1955 publication “The Psychology of an individual Constructs” through George A. Kelly contained a an interpretation that coincided to the saying under examination although that employed a various vocabulary: 6

From the standpoint that the psychology of an individual constructs we may define a disorder as any an individual construction i m sorry is used repeatedly in despite the of continual invalidation. This is an unexplained definition, as psychological thinking ordinarily goes.

In October 1981 an educator and counselor on family members relationships ceded a speech containing a thematically connected adage: 7

“If you always do what you’ve always done, you always get what you’ve always gotten.” the was the advice that Jessie Potter, the featured speaker at Friday’s opened of the seventh annual Woman to woman conference.

More information around the quotation above is easily accessible here.

In October 1981 the saying was talked by an attendee of an Al-Anon conference as detailed previously:

Insanity is act the same thing over and also over again and also expecting various results.

In November 1981 a pamphlet from narcotics Anonymous consisted of a close complement as provided previously:

Insanity is repeating the very same mistakes and also expecting different results.

The 1983 novel “Sudden Death” by Rita Mae Brown included an instance credited to woman Fulton who was a character within the book: 8

The trouble with Susan was that she make the very same mistakes repeatedly. She’d loss in love through a woman and also consume her. Susan assumed that her mere presence was enough. What an ext was there to give? when she tired, commonly after a year or so, she’d find another woman.

Unfortunately, Susan didn’t remember what woman Fulton once said. “Insanity is act the same thing over and also over again, but expecting different results.”

A June 1983 book review the “Sudden Death” in “The Clarion-Ledger” of Jackson, Mississippi reprinted the saying: 9

Women’s tennis gets a thorough dissecting in this story. Jane Fulton is the an important sports writer who contends “Modern skilled sports rewards players for duty instead the character. Responsibility is normally identified as doing a job much better than everyone else.” She look at askance at professional tennis and says “Win and become a god. Lose and also be forgotten.” lastly after adhering to the lives and careers of the players, and the game itself, she concludes, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and over again, yet expecting different results.”

Also in 1983 Samuel Beckett, winner that the Nobel compensation in Literature, offered a counterpoint view in his occupational “Worstward Ho”: 10

All the old. Nothing rather ever. Ever tried. Ever before failed. No matter. Shot again. Fail again. Failure better.

In January 1986 the Emmy-winning actor john Larroquette who was a star in the tv comedy collection “Night Court” mutual the meaning during a newspaper interview: 11

He pops in a definition the insanity“It’s the repeat of the same action expecting various results. favor jumping out of a 40-storey building, breaking every bone, spending six months in hospital, going ago to the very same building, up to the 39th floor, jumping and also expecting it to it is in different. The is never different.”

In April 1986 one opinion item by Baltazar A. Acevedo Jr in “The Dallas Morning News” the Texas included the saying: 12

I as soon as heard insanity defined together a procedure by i m sorry an individual or a device does something over and also over again in the same means while however expecting various results. To continue to evaluate and resolve issues in our community strictly along ethnic, rather of human, considerations is insane if just for one reason: that will bring about the polarization that is the standard of paranoid societies.

The 1988 publication “Raising Self-Reliant kids in a Self-Indulgent World” had an instance: 13

Flexibility is the capability to bend when we uncover ourselves in unworkable positions. A universal characteristic of insanity is inflexibly act the exact same thing over and also over while hoping for various results. adaptability in the confront of transforming circumstances, through contrast, is a hallmark of psychological health.

By 1990 the saying to be being attributed to Einstein. Because that example, the “Austin American-Statesman” that Austin, Texas published the adhering to remark make by Travis County district Attorney Ronnie Earle: 14

Einstein once said the insanity is doing the very same thing over and also over and also expecting a different result.

In 1991 “The Seattle Times” printed the think of one Indiana judge who ascribed an additional version the the saying to Einstein: 15

The jurist from the Hoosier State subscribes to Albert Einstein’s meaning of insanity: “doing the same thing over and also over and expecting a various outcome.”

In 2000 a columnist working for the items Ridder News company ascribed a variation of the speak to the influential lecturer and also trainer Werner Erhard back the surname was misspelled as “Erhart”: 16

Werner Erhart explained insanity together ‘repeating the same behavior and expecting a various result.’ If we continuously have challenges in an area the life, doesn’t it make sense that our behaviors cause the problems?

In 2016 the webcomic “xkcd” portrayed two characters conversing; the an initial mentioned the currently well-known definition of insanity, and also the 2nd replied v a remark that implicitly and also cleverly used the reasonable of the definition to his companion: 17

You’ve been quoting the cliché for years. Has it encouraged anyone to readjust their psychic yet?

In conclusion, based on current evidence the speak originated in among the twelve-step communities. Anonymity is greatly valued in this communities, and also no certain author has actually been established by the countless researchers who have actually explored the provenance the this adage. The linkage to Albert Einstein arisen many years after his death and also is unsupported.

Image Notes: 2 arrows pointing at one another from OpenClipart-Vectors in ~ Pixabay. Portrait that Albert Einstein circa 1921 by Ferdinand Schmutzer accessed via Wikimedia Commons. Images have been retouched, cropped and resized.

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(Great many thanks to MJ Redman, Kevin Ashton, Melinda Denson, Linda Sternhill Davis, The Muser, Mededitor, Santanu Vasant, Simon Lancaster, Michael Cochran, David Meadows, J Carson, Guilherme Simões, Ed Darrell, Lee Winkelman, and Fabius Maximus (Ed.) who inquiries led QI to build this question and perform this exploration. Special many thanks to the volunteer researchers Quora and Wikiquote who discussed the Narcotics cotton citation. Also, many thanks to the valuable research carried out by Barry Popik, Ben Zimmer, and also Daniel Gackle. Countless thanks to invoice Mullins who located the necessary October 11, 1981 citation.)

Update History: on July 31, 2019 the October 11, 1981 citation was added to the article.