Ronan Loughney 10 min read

Do Things Differently To How You Have Done Them Before: A Maxim for Freedom

Do Things Differently To How You Have Done Them Before: A Maxim for Freedom
Image from here -

We all know the quote 'Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results'. [Probably originating, in fact, from an AA meeting, not Einstein, as often attributed].

The reason this quote is so memorable is not just because of its truth but because of its universality.

It’s what we all do, all the time. Because we’re mad, yes. Quite mad. All of us. (As made clear in the less famous but equally true Carl Jung quote: “Be silent and listen: have you recognized your madness and do you admit it? Have you noticed that all your foundations are completely mired in madness?”). We are mad because to be human is to be mad.

Here is some artist's depiction of life. Told you. Fuckin mad innit. Image from here. 

And part of what it means to be mad, and part of the human condition therefore, is to repeatedly make the same mistakes, over and over and over again.

Now, on one level, having recognised this madness, it is good to accept it. You are a human. Therefore you are mad. You are, to an extent, doomed to this. Because the universe, of which you are a part, is mad. Simply because of the fact that logic is nothing but a language, rationality is nothing but a net or map. There is no external explicatory overlay to the universe, because there is nothing beyond the universe. It just is, for no reason other than its own being.


This does not mean that you must accept all of the conditions and limitations of your madness. One can, demonstrably, be less mad than another. One can make more sense of the inexplicable than another. There is benefit to improving the map, even if that’s all it is.

And the primary way in which we can reduce our madness, in which we can interrupt this utterly infuriating process of bumping against the same blank walls of our terra cognita, like a computer character glitching between the same rooms of a house, over and over and over again, is very simple:

“Do things differently to how you have done them before”.

I know. I won’t be expecting the quote cognoscenti to hallow and preserve this mundane maxim in the same way that the quote I started this blog with has been.

But its plainness doesn’t stop it being true.

Because again, even if it is bloody obvious, this is what we ALL FAIL TO DO.

Again and again. We find ourselves in the same cycles of joy and depression, openness and closedness, boom and bust. We seem to be buffeted along by a current that is utterly uncontrollable and other to us, driftwood upon its tide.

This is Samsara. This is the human condition.

Notice the eye/I at the centre of Samsara. Image from here. 

But the point about the human condition is that it is of our own creation. Our humanity is a creative, and often destructive act. Our humanity is the participation in the great play of life, the cosmic dance.

And so our humanity involves choice.

And there is no more meaningful choice than to do things differently to how we have always done them before.

This is the only way to stop being sucked into those same old cycles.

The most salient example in my own life, and in many others’ from what I can tell, is the tendency to withdraw in moments of difficulty. To go into ourselves when we feel shame, depression, disappointment, grief and so on.

For most of my life, particularly when feeling shame, I have withdrawn at what I perceive as intolerable difficulty. I have retreated and licked my wounds, until I feel I am strong enough, fit for public life again, until that is, I have learnt from my error and reconstituted myself in a way that means I’ll never feel shame again!

This reminds me of that Simpsons line, where they think their dog, Santa’s Little Helper is going to die from a stomach problem, and Homer reassures the kids: “Don’t worry, next time we’ll get a new dog. One with an untwistable stomach!.

Do we see the problem with this kind of behaviour? Do we see that when we withdraw, we are reifying and even deifying these negative emotions? We are feeling our injured stomachs and vowing to return with untwistable ones! But you will never escape the negative. The negative will seek you out like the shade to the sun.

When you withdraw in this way, you are saying, "These feelings are real and important. They have defeated me. They are bigger than me."

We manage to snatch some false comfort by putting a protective shield around ourselves. We lie in bed, retreat to a faraway fantasy world on our devices, and wait until the feeling passes.

In so doing, we train ourselves to withdraw, to be defeated. Because we load ourselves with cheap dopamine -ie feed the reward network of the brain - each time we wound ourselves, to make up for the pain we feel.

Can we not see therefore that part of us will continue to seek this pain out, will continue to crave after this suffering, because we are associating this suffering with an opportunity to sulk and indulge? Because the more we shroud and confuse our suffering in soft and gentle fabrics the more attractive we will make it, the more we will split ourselves into divided entities which strive against their own wellbeing and betterment.

It is so obvious that these old cycles are counterproductive, but we do not want to see it, because there is pleasure and comfort in our pain. It is only in moments of insight therefore that we can see through this, which is to say, to see that we are agents within this process, not passive witnesses being borne along.

The insight struck me with force recently.

I had been at a wedding, not drinking because of a vow I made at the beginning of the year, and therefore feeling a little cut-off, energetically isolated. The preceding week or weeks (it’s always so hard to remember how long our moods have lasted, since they always seem so permanent!) had been a little flat, old insecurities drifting to the surface, general dissatisfaction lurking in my belly.

I took a psilocybin pill in an attempt to access the altered consciousness of the other guests, which worked about as well as it made sense as an idea: not at all.

Unsurprisingly, rather than drawing me into the common energetic flow of things, the psychedelic magnified my sense of isolation, and I made my excuses to leave, stumbling home through the lonely and sprawling urban expanse. As I wondered, my isolation became existential. What was nothing more than a temporary inability to connect with a bunch of people due to chemical differences in our brains became subverted into a narrative about myself, my identity, my innate and ultimate aloneness.

I yearned for bed, even though I knew there would be no sleep, only an unfiltered exposure to the punishing echoes of my own mind. But this is what I knew. This was safety. Even if safety meant sadness and deeper isolation.

Arriving at the friend’s house I was supposed to stay at though, I found he wasn’t in. He was out at another friend’s. And so, sighing, I hauled myself over to grab the keys.

I found other friends there, in high spirits, wanting to go out despite the late hour. Despite myself, I allowed myself to be pulled along by their momentum. I felt conflicted, but something in me told me not to listen to the voice which insisted on retreat. We ended up taking some MDMA. We went out to an almost tropically hot psychedelic dance party, where the sounds and people and gorgeous ripples of ecstasy melted into one sweating entity.

We watched the sunrise in the park, emerging, sizzling, at 7am and sitting immaculate in the sky all day, as we smoked joints, listened to music, and reflected on all of the times of our youth when we had done the same. I didn’t fall asleep till midnight the next night.

Hello Mr Sun. Image from here.

The point of this story is not to say that you should go out and have a mad one next time you feel depressed, nor to nakedly endorse hedonism, nor to say what a legend I am for pulling an all-nighter (#still-got-it; #comeonthelads).

The point is to say that when you feel like withdrawing to what you know, this is not in and of itself a reliable signal. This is just the ego, which strives not for what is best for you but only for its own survival. Although it seemed, even biologically, that what I needed was rest - it had been a long day after all - in fact, the most restorative thing for me was not to sleep, but to socialise and to lounge underneath the sun. In other words:

To do something differently to what I had done before!

To reset the default mode networks. To send a new signal to myself of who I was and what was possible at that time.

There won’t always be parties to rescue us, friends on hand. But we can always make another choice. To reach out when we would mistrust. To move when we would wallow. To shout when we would sulk.

Whatever we do, we must do something differently to what we had done before!

We must recognise that the voice which calls us back to what we know, to old behaviours that have kept us alive whilst keeping us from really living, are nothing but the ego desperately straining to preserve itself.

Because the ego is nothing but the narrative of your own struggling self. It is the illusion you hold before yourself which tells you that you are something progressing through time, bound by the past and flung inexorably into the future. The sense of comfort that you feel in the very sadness it calls you with is nothing but its relieved sighs as it latches onto its own survival for another day.

When in fact you are an uncontainable aliveness exploding each moment, radically, impossibly, terrifyingly free to be anything you like. Your ego is the cage which binds you which thinks it is the soul it contains. It is a mutant fractal slice of the infinity which is you whose being is a self-refracting madness born of the desperate recognition of its own finitude.

The voice which calls you to comfort, to safety and familiarity, is not your inner guide. It is nothing but the path of least resistance. It is the one you have walked so many times before, and so now can stumble down without fear of getting lost, even if it is just down prison corridors.

Better the maze you know... Image from here.


Underneath there is another voice. Quieter but firmer. Thrumming with conviction.


Rise it says.

To the height of your own power.

Dare to do things differently.

Dare to do what is difficult, frightening, new. And know that it is only difficult and frightening because it is new. Because you have not done it before.

And because this means that the part of you which clings to its own survival must die. But that this is no loss at all and is in fact so that you might live.

There is still space for flow and joy and ease.

This is the default mode of being. The cadence of life itself.

But the habits which bind us cut us off from this flow. And so, perversely, to access ease, we must first choose what is hard.

We must smash the chains which bind us for they are that which stops us living. The price of the familiar is a kind of death. Because that in us which rejects what is hard rejects exactly half of life, since all categories come in pairs: good and bad, easy and hard, strong and weak.

When we choose to move into our fear, we reset our default modes of being. We learn that the difficult is welcome. That we are greater than it, since we are in fact the arena in which it and the whole play of life takes place.

At these forks in the road, when we take the new choice, we crack open the shell which had made us small and cut off from life just a little more, and enter the unimpeded flow of life, where joy and glory and truth and God reside.

What is required therefore is courage. The courage to step into the unknown. What is required is faith. To trust that what lies on the other side is greater than anything we could conceive.

But we also need vigilance. We must spot our old proclivities and even blindspots, and recognise the micro-tremors before the earthquake in order to halt the slide before it has become irreversible.

Know thyself. Know your weaknesses. And refuse to indulge them. This is how you become free.

Do things differently to how you have done them before.

Do not retreat.

Do not complain.

Do not wring your hands and claw your face.

Get up.

Move. For Christ’s sake move.

For life is movement and is ever moving. Through you. As you.

Let it flow through you.

For where there is suffering and fear there is something blocked.

Move towards it if you can,

Into the belly of the beast.

But if you cannot move into its mouth, move however you can.




Do things differently to how you have done them before.

Do not lie down.

Do not tell yourself the story of depression and defeat.

Do things differently to how you have done them before.

This is the contour of each small step you take to become the wholeness that you are.

This is the moving of one rock which forms the dam that blocks the self.

Do things differently to how you have done them before.

And you will know freedom, which is to act just how you want, not how circumstance has told you that you should.

Shed the shackles of permission, and take up the mantle of I can.

Do things differently to how you have done them before.

Ronan Loughney

Ronan Loughney

Ronan is a trainee-Psychotherapist, MDMA Guide and Coach. You can reach him via or email him directly at

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