The Difference That Really Makes a Difference

"If you want something different, you have to do something different." This seems like a straight-forward aphorism, doesn't it? But there's an important corollary to this rule, which is that not every difference makes a difference

It's probably fair to say that anyone who walks into a counselor's office wants something to be different: to be less depressed, have a better marriage, break free of a destructive addiction, and on and on.

Albert Einstein is purported to have defined insanity as "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." I'm not sure I agree with the "insanity" part but it's a perfect working definition of futility. The problem isn't so much that people don't try something different: most of my clients have already attempted to make changes or one sort or the other. But not every difference makes a difference!

The person wanting a better relationship may try very hard to get his or her partner to change. But (as I've emphasized before), the difference that makes a difference is to work on changing oneself. The desire to avoid a panic attack may cause a phobic person to stay away from the source of that anxiety rather than learning and putting into practice ways to gain a sense of safety, competence and comfort in such a situation. A frustrated parent may stop yelling at a child without realizing that the withholding of affection can also be damaging. Repeated efforts to lose weight through dieting may be ineffective until they are accompanied by exercise.  Someone who just takes a pill for depression may not experience the greatest benefits without finding ways to both break through isolation and address the underlying roots of the problem.  The examples can go on and on.

Another of my posts set forth the challenging question of what you are truly willing to do in order to achieve your most desired result in life. Sometimes (as I've also previously discussed) small changes can lead to big results, and fundamentally any difference provides useful information (which I've also commented upon). But very often the real difference you seek requires a willingness to engage in some degree of significantly different behavior to achieve your goal. This can be difficult to determine or accomplish on your own, which is why all of us need sources of help and guidance to reach our highest goals.


Bill Herring provides counseling and psychotherapy in Atlanta, helping individuals and couples resolve difficult life issues to live happier lives.