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.

Maybe this is what Yoda meant

My cliff notes for “Stop trying to try and try“:

When we’re in learning mode, our lack of knowledge and skills is in focus, and we may sometimes be painfully aware of how little we know. People imagine mastery is like learning mode, but where you know lots of things. It’s not — it’s more like when you’re in teaching mode, helping others, and their skills are in focus, not yours. Your knowledge in teaching mode, or as a master, is “just unconscious assumptions in the background”.

When you’re a master/in teaching mode, you’re expected to be capable; when you’re in learning mode, your responsibility is to try to be capable.

My advice is simple: notice when you’re expected to try, and consider reframing. It’s much harder to solve a problem when you’re Expected To Do Your Best than it is to solve a problem when you’re immersed in various subtasks, with the assumption that you’re going to solve the problem buried implicitly and unconsciously in the context.

Activities are more difficult when you’re focused on it as work, or as trying. Exercise is a good example: It’s far easier if it’s recreation. Being friends is another: Consider what the phrase “trying to be friends” evokes in you in contrast with “just being with friends”. When you’re trying, the inevitability of failure at some point is implicit, and gnawing at some part of you, wearing you down to the point where you excuse yourself for giving up. [Or, your efforts to try may get in the way of you recognizing you’ve succeeded.]

Switching contexts such that your actual goal is in the background rather than the foreground — such that pursuing it is not a conscious choice that you need to reaffirm every time you find a stopping point — is a powerful tool.

Actually trying to perform some an activity, versus trying to try, is very different. In the latter, you have to doubt your abilities, and stop and ask yourself how to go about it… In the former, you simply do. There’s less mental overhead. It’s like situating yourself in a stream — and now you’re swimming.

“Actually trying” (the former) is not the same as applying extra effort on top of trying to try (the latter). Rather, it’s simply tackling one small task at a time, after another. Identifying the next step, and tackling it. Whether solving problems large or small, it’s the same. Shift from your “expected try” gear to your “I’m competent” gear, and get to work.

So find a way to see the work as one task at a time, instead of a large problem, and find a way to enjoy it.

[I]magine someone who’s “playing soccer” [as opposed to sprinting up and down the field for exercise] with respect to your task or problem, and ask yourself what they might be doing. The key is to make the pursuit of your goal implicit, and spend your focus on the subproblems.

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.