According to Albert Einstein, the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
Making the same mistakes and getting the same results has been a bit of a theme of my life. Now, that may sound a little harsh and I don’t mean it in a non-loving way. After all, I’m getting a lot better at accepting myself as I am. But the truth is I have, on occasion, repeated the same behaviours – knowingly or unknowingly – and they’ve had the same, sometimes painful consequences. For example, I’ve overeaten to anaesthetise feelings of sadness, anger or fear but I’ve only ended up feeling worse. Or I’ve got into romantic relationships I knew weren’t right for me or I wasn’t ready for, only to have to go through the pain of getting out of them. Or I’ve procrastinated over my work, left everything until the last minute and ended up suffering for it.
But the good news is the opposite can also be true. That is, if we do things differently to how we’ve always done them we end up with quite different results. Things can indeed change. That’s been my experience of the past few weeks.
I’m not long back from a two-week work trip to Mozambique and I’m pleased to say it was a completely different experience to previous trips and especially to my visit in June, which provoked mixed feelings. By the end of that week, I was exhausted, one of my eyelids was completely swollen because sleeplessness and stress had caused blepharitis – a common and rather annoying eye condition but one I’d never heard of before that week in Maputo – and I was feeling blue because I’d used sugar and excess food to try and offset my tiredness and cushion other uncomfortable feelings throughout the week (which, surprise surprise, hadn’t worked).
This time, however, things were different. Partly due to circumstances outside of my control but also, to a large measure, due to actions I took beforehand and during my time away to take care of myself and make sure I didn’t repeat the same mistakes as before. These actions included successfully negotiating with my employer to fly premium economy rather than economy so I could rest on the long, overnight journey; getting some sleeping tablets from the doctor for the overnight flights, and making sure I was staying in reasonable accommodation while I was there. I had my eye medication to hand in case the blepharitis returned and I also packed plenty of my favourite herbal tea bags just in case they weren’t available where I was going!
While I was away, I made sure I got plenty of rest and exercise – two things that help keep me sane and help me to resist the temptation of excess food or sugar to top up my energy levels. Of course, the different circumstances to my last trip also helped. As before, I was leading a journalism training course for Mozambican journalists but on this occasion, the course was held outside the capital on a beach in Bilene, a few hours up the coast from Maputo.
That beach was my salvation. I woke just before 6 am every morning, went for a walk on the white sand and swam in the salt-water lagoon that was right in front of the hotel. Then, as soon as my course finished, I got straight back into the lagoon to swim off the tension, to clear my head and to recoup lost energy. It’s amazing how expending energy in a positive way such as swimming actually gives us more energy – I love that! I felt rejuvenated and refreshed after my afternoon swim every day. And the very thought that I could dive into the sea after work helped me to avoid the sugary snacks that were on offer daily at 4 pm.
I also made sure I had two days of complete rest after the course before I started working again – researching a few stories I hope to publish. I spent those days of rest in a lovely hotel in Maputo, sleeping late, swimming in the pool and reading in the sunshine.
I also turned down a random invitation to dinner from a good-looking Portuguese businessman who noticed I was alone at the hotel. He’d suggested we share a bottle of wine but my intuition was telling me that wasn’t a good idea. Instead, I stayed in my room, relaxed and watched a movie. I was very proud of myself. And that decision I’d made a few weeks back to call off the search for a husband really helped me to say ‘No’. The previous year in Maputo, I’d accepted an invitation to dinner from a good-looking Israeli businessman who’d also noticed I was alone in the hotel and I ended up in a difficult situation and one I’d have rather avoided. Still, we learn from our mistakes and I’m pleased to say I think I’ve learned that accepting invitations to dinner from random male strangers in Maputo – when I’m alone and feeling a little tired and vulnerable – isn’t good for me. Repeat the same mistakes, get the same results. But do things differently, and the results can be quite different.
This time, then, I returned from Mozambique feeling pleased with how things had gone, proud of how I’d behaved, with my self esteem bolstered rather than depleted, feeling fit from all the exercise rather than sluggish because of the sugar and with my eyes free of that nasty condition.
It’s been a great reminder that I can do things differently and that things can change for the better.