Mad Hatter looking red haired man with blue flowers in his hat

Insanity Explained By A Madman

Mike Mather

Insanity Definition

Insanity refers to the condition of being seriously mentally ill, such that a person is incapable of distinguishing between right and wrong or is otherwise unable to form the criminal intent necessary for legal responsibility.*

However, the definition of insanity that has been shoved down my throat for over a decade is “Doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results”.

Insanity Is Doing the Same Thing Over and Over Again and Expecting Different Results

In modern ‘social media’ times, this quip is often attributed to Einstein, though no record of him saying this was found by moi. George Bernard Shaw did say this about a peer he had been reviewing -

“Has anyone anywhere in the poetry of the two worlds ever seen such complete idiocy? These ‘Ah's’ and ‘Ohs,’ this want of comprehension of the simplest remarks, this repetition four or five times of the same imbecile expressions, gives the truest conceivable clinical picture of incurable cretinism.”*

Rita Mae Brown has sometimes been given the honour of the originator of this term. She is also quoted as having said, “One of the keys to happiness is a bad memory”. I’ll back Ms Brown on both counts.


IRL (In Real Life, explanation for those born before ‘64), insanity is not a diagnostic term in medicine or psychiatry but more of a legal term. Those of us who are found insane by order of the Law may have been given a custodial term, or more favourably, a pension and prescription. I received the latter.

When King Alcohol comes visiting the mind of a troubled teenager, his entreaties are hard to resist. Whilst the earliest effects are wonderful and uplifting, it’s an impossible quest to recapture that response. I find it akin to First Love. Who can ever revisit that first few weeks of delicious First Love? And for some alcoholics and love addicts, the quest sends them insane as they do the same thing over and over again in vain attempts to get relief from that annoying itch.

A man and woman wearing hessian bags on their heads

Photo by Julio Andres Rosario Ortiz on Unsplash

Other examples of insanity in otherwise ‘normal’ people might include

  • Looking in the fridge for Happiness where it wasn’t before
  • Marrying your mother/father
  • Perfectionism (striving for perfect when it’s not achievable and didn’t make you happy last time anyway)
  • Starting a diet
  • Expectations of any kind
  • Shopping when depressed
  • Listening to Blues for enjoyment


  • When I began my 12-Step Recovery, I was advised that to continue my quest for happiness inside my addiction would result in Jail, Institutions, or Death. I was expecting the latter, as the physician I was seeing told me that ‘He had never seen a liver like mine in a still-living human being’. I was given 6 months to live at the age of 42.
  • That I was still alive and NOT in a prison or mental institution was due in most part to the continual care of my mother and father. I recently read an article entitled, “Heroin saved my life”. I won’t link to it as it may trigger some unwanted emotions in some. But, I identify with that author insomuch as that my caregivers were somewhat culpable for the situation and instrumental in the remedy. My last drink was on the 1st anniversary of my Dad’s passing.
  • In both the USA and UK, around 65% of inmates have addictions.
  • Studies have shown that, on average, the life expectancy of people with alcohol use disorder is reduced by 10–15 years compared to the general population. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), excessive alcohol consumption is associated with an increased risk of premature death from a variety of causes, including liver disease, cardiovascular disease, cancer, accidents, and suicide.*
  • You don’t have to be an addict to be guilty of insanity. You know that, you crazy bastard! Why don’t you put your keys somewhere EVERY TIME, so that you can easily find them?
  • Why do you constantly find yourself voyeuristically trolling celebrities of dubious infamy?
  • Even the seemingly innocuous habit of worrying about the children (even when they’re 35!). We know that everything will be alright and stress is only hurting them and us. Then, by perpetuating this disorder, and Us by shortening our lives through over production of cortisol and other natural drugs.
  • Those other 35% of prisoners without an addiction - what were they thinking???
Brown skinned women, her eyes crying and mouth covered by skarf

Photo by Louis Galvez on Unsplash

Insanity Remedy

You will see from the slightly light-hearted list above that we are having a tiny ‘in-joke’ about insanity, because frankly, we are all in this basket. One of the best-selling books of the last year or two was James Clear’s ‘Atomic Habits’. I loved it. Clear appealed to my perfectionism, and apparently to many others’. There was always a rumour that you can cure or create a habit in 21 days, and for those of us who had tried and failed for half a lifetime, James came along just when we needed him.

The main points of James Clear's Atomic Habits:

  1. Habits are the building blocks of our lives, and they can have a compounding effect over time.
  2. Atomic habits are small, incremental changes that compound over time and lead to significant improvements in our lives.
  3. The four steps to creating a habit are: cue, craving, response, and reward.
  4. To make a habit stick, you need to make it obvious, attractive, easy, and satisfying.
  5. Habits are not just about what we do, but also about who we are. To change our habits, we need to change our identity.
  6. One way to change our identity is to focus on the small wins that lead to the larger goal.
  7. We should also embrace the concept of "never miss twice," which means that even if we slip up once, we should get back on track as soon as possible.
  8. Finally, we should focus on continuous improvement rather than trying to be perfect all the time. Small improvements over time will add up to significant changes in the long run.*

Insanity Prevention

Air, water and nutrients. Can a guy get any simpler? These are the physical things that require attention when tackling any human problem. Breathing more deeply and mindfully can have a huge impact on the quality of our thinking. Hydration has been a buzz for about a decade, but still needs to be mentioned - especially when contrasting water with the alternatives. Soft drinks and alcohol are poor substitutes for good old H2O. Most of the water you drink is used by the brain.

I am not a nutritionist, but I attribute a lot of my increased vitality and health to a minimally altered vegetarian diet. You can argue all you like (see comments section), but by reducing my impact on the environment including other sentient beings, and thoughtfully structuring my daily intake of nutrient, I feel better. The macro-nutrients are Protein, Fats, and Carbohydrates. Think about this when shopping and cooking, and you will save money and add interest to your life.

Exercise, prayer and meditation are the other components to staving off insanity. There are as many variations to these themes that will suit everyone, so take your pick. Having done formally trained Buddhist meditation and secular forms, I enjoy both. Just having ‘Me’ time without distractions is half the battle won. Daily meditation and taking time for longer retreats has enormous effects.

This piece is the opening article in a ten part series on Mental Health and The Baby Boomer. If you’re not receiving The Third Age newsletter, you might miss out on the remaining bits. Until then,

“Here's all you have to know about men and women: women are crazy, men are stupid. And the main reason women are crazy is that men are stupid.” George Carlin, Good Quotes


About the Author Mike Mather

Mike was born in 1963 which technically makes him one of the youngest of the Baby Boomers. An Australian with Indigenous and European heritage, he has been an avid and required student of Buddhism and alcoholism since 2008.

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