They say “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
I have to partially disagree with this take.
The reasons people repeat the same mistakes are far more complicated than that.
Humans are complex creatures.
We duplicate our shortcomings due to a range of psychological factors–and often, they’re so deeply ingrained within us, that it takes some real willpower to control them.
In this article, I’ll walk you through some of the psychological reasons we repeat our mistakes.
Once you get the idea, you can tackle the problem systematically.
Let’s get to it!
1) You’re resistant to change
Some people are naturally defiant to change.
They don’t like the idea of “uncertainty” that comes with the new, generally remaining distrustful of alternative ways of thinking.
This leads them to “play it safe”, even if that behavior is actually detrimental and anything but safe.
An example that comes to mind is how certain politicians treat issues like climate change.
While there’s ample evidence (practically unanimous amongst scientists) that climate change is a man-made, real danger, selfish lawmakers remain averse to altering their views.
They politicize scientific and ethical issues.
The frequency of catastrophic global natural disasters like wildfires, typhoons, and record-setting temperatures is not even proof enough to change their minds.
Hence, these disasters will likely continue–just because a few science-denying (sometimes logic-denying) politicians said so.
2) You’re too comfortable with the familiar
Instinctively, when something gets too comfortable, it’s time for me to reassess the situation.
When we get too deep into comfortability, it can be a Herculean challenge to break this toxic cycle.
Think about it, staying home all day and ordering Uber Eats is comfortable but when drawn out, comes at a cost.
You become sedentary, you tend to eat unhealthy food (not to mention pay overpriced delivery fees), and you become isolated, with little to no human interaction.
All of the latter things can be extremely unhealthy in their own ways.
Yet since this lifestyle requires minimal effort, we don’t feel a sense of urgency.
Last year, I got into a funk.
I was staying home for weeks at a time without really realizing it.
My routine consisted of morning walks to the fridge, work, Netflix, and a diet of Pepsi and kung pao chicken.
Even though this lifestyle actively exacerbated my anxiety and depression, because it was so easy and comfortable, it became difficult to break away from.
Counterproductive, I know.
In life, we should be able to let our guard down, but not to an excessive degree.
3) You suffer from low self-worth
When you’re in a rut and experience low levels of self-worth, sometimes you don’t feel like you deserve better–a mentality that perpetuates repeated, often damaging, mistakes and behaviors.
Maybe you think that you’ve reached your ceiling as a person and feel demotivated and too lazy to pursue more positive paths.
So you stay self-defeatist and resigned to the status quo, helpless for any beneficial change–an energy that can definitely lead to continuously making the same mistakes.
4) You give in to impulsivity
Many of us are genetically impulsive, meaning we take action without much thought behind it.
Maybe you’ve made mistakes in the past and vowed to change.
But when push comes to shove, you revert to your inherent impulsivity and rashness–things that can translate to careless decisions… and sometimes, grim implications.
This is where your self-control and self-awareness should ideally kick in.
When I was in my mid-teens, I was a bit of a reckless delinquent.
I went to a strict Catholic boarding school, where, other than a few hours on Sunday, we were forbidden from leaving the campus.
I’d sneak out after bedtime, go to co-ed parties, and later get in trouble with school authorities.
This happened to me a number of times: I’d slip out undetected, get drunk, and get caught upon returning.
I got suspended three times that school year.
After my first suspension, I remember telling my mom “This is a huge wakeup call.” She bought it.
But a semester later, I did the same thing, fully aware it was wrong.
I was giving into my impulsive nature, allowing the proverbial devil on my shoulder to tempt me: “Get out there! You only live once.”
When the headmaster finally threatened me with expulsion, only then did I take the situation seriously and clean up my act.
But as an impressionable teen, my youthful spontaneity and peer pressure often proved to be too much to overcome.
5) You give in to peer pressure
Speaking of peer pressure, whether young or old, we all want to fit in to some degree.
Hence, going against our respective moral compasses becomes all the more alluring.
Going back to my deviant high school days, I rebelled mainly because I wanted to be considered “cool”… even risking my cushy education just to advance that agenda.
The influence of peers, whether good or bad, is a powerful thing, especially when we’re young and susceptible, or lacking in self-identity.
The person who is able to defy the external, societal pressures to conform is rare.
So if you’re able to manifest this level of strength, you’re in an elite club. Don’t expect to make the same mistakes twice very often.
6) You have unresolved trauma
Trauma isn’t always that straightforward.
Past traumas, whether recent or from childhood, can affect our lives and manifest in myriad toxic ways.
Maybe you grew up around an abusive, philandering, alcoholic father, who would regularly treat women like objects.
Generally, two things happen in cases like this: either you do a complete 180 and become the full opposite of the abuser or you emulate him, whether consciously or not.
For the latter, you might realize deep down that what you’re doing is wrong, such as drinking to oblivion or getting involved with the wrong crowd, but to you, that’s mostly irrelevant.
The venomous stranglehold of trauma is too powerful to confront.
Besides, getting a “quick fix” is an easy and accessible way of coping with unresolved pain, regardless of how self-destructive the ensuing behavior may be.
7) Cognitive dissonance
If you grew up a certain way, perhaps with a rigid and indoctrinated set of values, this too can lead to repeated mistakes in life.
Maybe you now live in a society and culture that has fundamentally different morals from what you are accustomed to.
So you struggle or end up confused, partially clinging to the old ways but simultaneously trying to make it work in your current setting.
Let’s say you were raised in a deeply religious household that condemned things like partying or premarital sex–but now you live in a more modern environment, with peers who take a more liberal approach.
Thus, maybe you feel an ingrained guilt for getting drunk, smoking Mary Jane, or sleeping around.
This is just you struggling to balance your upbringing with new surroundings.
These conflicting feelings are a textbook example of cognitive dissonance.
If this sentiment resonates with you, don’t worry, through enough trial and error, you’ll find your true self.
To sum things up, I’d like to say that mistakes are an unavoidable part of life. It’s how we respond to them that ultimately defines us.
If you’re using your shortcomings and blunders as a platform for growth and improvement, then you’re in a good place.
But if not, and you constantly keep making the same mistakes, then perhaps it’s time for some dedicated self-reflection, because as the age-old adage goes:
“Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”