Do what works.

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One definition of insanity is the decision to keep doing something that is not working, to do it in the same way, and to expect different results. One definition of sanity, then, is to notice what is not working, change the way you are doing it, and get different results. One definition of sanity is to do what works. – Nancy Kline

All human behavior is goal-directed. Consciously or not, we set our sights on something we want and take the action we think will get it. Simple, right? Sure. Except when it isn’t.

Some things that aren’t supposed to work, work.

Some things that are supposed to work, don’t.

Some things that we don’t want to work, work.

Some things that we want to work, don’t.

It’s easy to decide on a plan of action because “this is what should work.”  Everybody says this should work. In a perfect world, this is what would work. And sometimes everybody is wrong, and the world isn’t perfect. And once we know that we can either try something different, or choose to keep doing what doesn’t work and expect a different result.

Sounds ridiculous. But that’s exactly what many people do, a lot of the time, myself included.

It’s kind of a cop-out to say, “This is what ought to work, so this is what I’ll keep on doing.” It frees you from risk. It frees you from having to.. gasp.. deal with a possible success. And you get to look noble doing it. After all, it’s not your fault that it doesn’t work, is it? Eventually you end up shaking your fist at God and demanding that He make this work instead of what actually does. Very noble, and very unproductive. Like ignoring the law of gravity.

A harder truth is this: if you want something, but aren’t willing to do what works, it may be that you don’t want it as much as you think. It may be that you want something different, or maybe nothing at all. When you figure out what you want, it’s more clear what it takes to get it. But if you really don’t want something, doing what doesn’t work is a sure-fire way to keep from getting it.

One of Bobby Kennedy’s most famous quotes goes: “There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why. I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?” I admire Bobby: he’s one of the greatest and most compassionate leaders of my lifetime. But there’s limits to that idea, and I think Bobby knew that. When you dream of things that never were and ask why not, you need to be prepared for the answer. And sometimes the answer is: because they don’t work, that’s why not. Can they be made to work? Maybe they can. And sometimes there’s time to do that, to correct the system, to re-map the universe. But not always. Not without a lot of failure. ‘You can’t defy the laws of physics,” as Mr. Scott often told Captain Kirk.

Observe, take notes, ask questions, see what works and what doesn’t. Then do what works, or don’t. (“There is no try,” said Yoda.) It’s up to you, but understand that a choice is being made. Once you know that something works, you can’t un-know it: however, you can choose a different act. Just don’t expect success. Or figure out if you really want this thing enough to do what works to get it.

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One Comment on “Do what works.”

  1. […] it takes to be “all right, right now.” I think that if you’re not willing to do what it takes to achieve something, you may not want it as much as you think you do. I believe that life will […]


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