More on why trying is bad

My cliff notes for “There is no try“, an especially closely-related follow up to the last post in this series:

When we are conscious of trying, the possibility of failure is implicit, and thus more likely than when instead we are in a mode where we’re simply going about our work, doing the most likely successful approach before we move on to the next most likely if necessary.

When we fail, the ability to say “well, I tried” is an excuse; being in “try” mode pre-determines that excuse will be within easy reach. When you are trying, doubt is on the table.

And ironically, again when failure is an option because trying may not work out, we can wear ourselves out focusing on the very hard work of not failing — instead of simply doing what success requires. This is like a person “trying sprint up and down a soccer field as much as they can, rather than the playing soccer”.

“I am trying X” is a answer to the question “What are you doing?” A better answer is a description of your specific action steps, or simply “I am doing X”.

Beware of faking it until you make it: If your dishonest answer to the question is “I’m doing”, then “I’m trying… but don’t know how” may serve you better in that situation. In this situation, it can be useful to reframe the question: If you’re trying to solve a big problem X that you’re barely able to grasp how to tackle, perhaps you can instead be doing the first small activity you’ve thought of that you hope will take you in a production direction. Label your actions with granularity.

Spending a few weeks refusing to use the word “try” is useful exercise to shift into this mindset. Force yourself to substitute the concrete actions you are taking, instead.

This post is part of the thread: Replacing Guilt Cliffs Notes – an ongoing story on this site. View the thread timeline for more context on this post.

Set human expectations for yourself

My cliff notes from “Working yourself ragged is not a virtue”:

At this point in the series, we have something to fight for (something to change in the world), and we are free of obligations (we do things because we want/decide to). Now, to begin to actually remove guilt-based motivation.

Most guilt comes from people deciding to do one thing, but doing something different. For example, staying up late to binge on tv, after intending to go to bed early.

This post covers the tool for dealing with this kind of guilt, one form in particular: Having a lot to do, working as hard as you can to accomplish it all, and only stopping work before you are physically forced to drop — which makes you “bad” because you weren’t good enough to keep going.

This can stem from confusing an external standard of quality for one’s own (summarized in the Avoiding the Slacker/Tryer Dichotomy). But not always: Sometimes people do this to themselves over something truly important to them.

Their error is in maximizing your productivity today — “local velocity” — instead of over time. The goal should be maximizing the total difference your efforts make.

(When all is said and done, and Nature passes her final judgement, you will not be measured by the number of moments in which you worked as hard as you could. You will be measured by what actually happened, as will we all.

You lose points for effort; you gain points for improving the world.

Sometimes you do need to push yourself to the limit, but before you do, acknowledge the costs and weigh the tradeoffs, while keeping your long-term goals in view.

We are humans with human limitations; acting as though we are gods who can transcend our ape backgrounds isn’t admirable, but foolish.

[Damn, I need this reminder all too often!]

The point is not that you should restrict yourself (say, to 40 hours/week), or to stop when it gets hard.

The point is, you should pace yourself (“Do as much as you can, but don’t be constantly taking damage”), and you should incur soreness from effort, without strain and damage. Train to push your limits in a disciplined way, without excess.

Please treat yourself well today; doing so is an important component of long-term productivity.

This post is part of the thread: Replacing Guilt Cliffs Notes – an ongoing story on this site. View the thread timeline for more context on this post.