Wednesday, April 28, 2010


Or do not.
There is no try.
- Yoda

Warning: This post may land on you harshly as I may crush one of your most cherished defense mechanisms so if you aren't at a good place to be challenged - skip this post! If not, steel thyself and continue reading.

I was listening to a tape series on solution focused counselling a few weeks ago and really enjoyed it. The speaker worked with angry adolescents and had a very practical approach. One of the things that I remembered (and which we talked about in my small group last night) was the word "try." This speaker said that the words we use are very important. For instance, when we say the word 'but' what we really are saying is "whatever I said previous to 'but" isn't what I believe to be true, what I say after 'but' is what I really think is true (I catch myself doing this all the time by the way).

The same is very true of the word "try." According to this therapist, when we say "I tried" what we really mean is that "I chose not to _______." We use 'try' to justify to ourselves or to others that we did our best but were overcome by circumstances, our lack of self control, the futility of challenging fate, etc. It's a word we use to try to tell people we want to change but aren't. The truth is that we didn't really "try," we choose not to do the things we tell ourselves we want to do. When I tell people "I'm trying to get to bed at a decent time but haven't been successful" what I really mean is "I chose not to go to bed at a decent time." When we tell people we are trying to spend more time with our kids what we are really saying is "I'm choosing not to spend more time with our kids."

At our small group we were discussing this interesting concept and I said "When we say 'I am trying to lose weight' what we really mean is we are choosing not to do what it takes to lose weight.' " At this point I was warned to be careful! Here is where we get sensitive. "Mark," you may say, "You don't know how hard it is to ______, I really am trying." It is true, what you may be "trying" to do may be extremely difficult and sometimes we can't change certain things in our lives. I simply point out to you that when you use the word 'try' you probably aren't being honest with yourself. We use "try" as a means to protect ourselves from the truth. The harsh reality is that we all have free will to choose our own destiny or accept where we are at. The behaviors we choose (or don't choose) determine that reality.

Alas, the truth is the truth no matter how we try and phrase it. If you are 'trying' to stop a bad habit (or addiction), lose excess weight, be a better spouse, not get mad at your kids, plant a garden, etc and it's not working then perhaps it's time to admit the truth. To say you 'tried' means you chose not to do what it actually takes. Personally I find this truth to be freeing. I can keep 'trying' to stop a bad habit (even for several years as I look for compassion for others) or choose the difficult new behaviors necessary to rid myself of it. You can too.

This is fairly radical thinking. What do you think of it?


Keith said...

I do the 'but' all the time.. and yes it means I hear what you said (or what I said) but this is what I mean... doh!

As for 'try' it comes into play when I ask someone (or someone asks me) to do something. If the answer is I'll try to make it (or do it).. then that tells me .. it doesn't have a good chance of working out ;)

Another one I catch myself is 'should' as in when I fix something at work and I send an email I catch myself saying 'this should work now...' where is the confidence in that ;)


Moxymama said...

I am definitely guilty of the 'but' and I agree. It's almost like the portion before the 'but' is just to placate someone else and the true feelings come after the 'but.'
I entirely agree also with the use of the word 'try.' Either do it or don't but to say you are going to "try" is meaningless to me. I would hate, when I was teaching, for students to use the "but I tried excuse" as in they "tried to do their homework" or they "tried to come to class on time"...bottom line: you didn't.

Jenn said...

This was very freeing and motivating for me to read. Thanks for sharing!

Terry L said...

I appreciate where you're going with this, but I do also think that we need to accept that we aren't in control of everything.

An example today, my wife made supper for a couple at our church. All finished and ahead of schedule, she brought it outside to the car so she could deliver it to them. Then a sudden gust of wind blew, causing the baking pan the food was in to tip, spilling half of it on the ground.

She 'tried' to make dinner and deliver it. In the end, it was something outside of her scope of control that did not allow her to complete that task.

So like I said, I do appreciate the psychology behind recognition of how much control we have over our own success. But we are human. And if we really can control everything, where does God fit in?


Anonymous said...

Great post. I agree with the little green man. "Do or Do not. There is no try." The truth hurts at times. But it is freeing as well as you said.


Mark said...

Terry: Thanks for your thoughts! I'm still thinking through this concept but I will playfully attempt to defend the theory. I would agree that "tried" is a word that does have a proper and helpful use but the fact is that most of the time we have kidnapped it and use it to justify our lack of results. What then is the proper use of the word and when is it a copout? My guess is that we use it as a copout at least 90-95 percent of the time. In your wife's case (my condolences on the lost food - that must have really sucked), you could say she really tried and most people would agree. On the other hand you could argue that if she had chose to do a few things differently she could still have delivered the items safely. We rarely say "I chose to be hot today" but the truth is we have because we have the power to live in a cool or hot climate, have the power to wear more or less clothes, have the power to purchase air conditioning, etc. Of course acts of randomness (like a gust of wind) are different then an alcoholic saying he tried not to go to the bar! Yet is there not choices involved in these things too?

I agree with you that not everything is under our control. But why do we use the word try at all then? The only people we can control is ourselves and too often as we put the responsibility for our failures on people and things we can't control.

These are just a few random thoughts, I'm going to have to reflect on your comments a bit more. Thanks for making me think!

Lindsey Dueck said...

I do agree that we overuse the word try, and this post really made me think about it! I can relate to it. I can say I tried to loose weight, but in my heart I know I did not make the right choices to do it!

But I don't think the work "try" can be eliminated all together. There is a use for it. Take our situation for example. Eric and I are trying to have a baby. We have done and are doing everything we possibly can and still we have been unsuccessful for 2.5 years. Would you say that we are really just choosing to not have a baby?

Anonymous said...

hey Mark, I'm a friend of Marc and Dixie's and I happened upon your blog not too long ago.

I am glad you write your blog. thank you.

tomorrow at work I am either going to let things get to me, or I'm not. I am going to "try" to not let things get to me, but ultimately I'll either let them get to me or I won't. I can consciously make that decision.

it's so tempting to toss that little three letter word of doom in there, though, isn't it? in my head I keep thinking "yes! good post! okay, I'm in control. I'll try to remember this...ugh, okay, I mean I will remember this lesson tomorrow. I will try to...oh I mean okay I WILL spend the whole day not letting things get to me."

it's really hard to believe I'll actually manage it all day. I still want to temper my enthusiasm now with the phrase "I'll do my best!"

I realized a couple of weeks ago, and I echoed it in a post of mine, that a lot of the time I am grumpy it's because I haven't done the things I know I need to do to be happy. I know I need to meditate, I know I need sleep, I know that I need to keep getting stuff done around my house, et cetera, and I know that if I don't do that stuff, I get grumpy and things become difficult again. your thoughts on the word try compliment what I learned.

so again, thank you.

(also, since I'm here, you mentioned the book Divorce Busting in your last post. I loved that book! it didn't stop my divorce, but I remember learning quite a lot anyway. I think it might be in a box downstairs but I think of it often. I may go dig it out soon. even though I'm not in a relationship right now, it seems to me that book generally had some good stuff.)