try |trʌɪ| verb
1 [ no obj. ] make an attempt or effort to do something.
Happy Star Wars Day!
May The Fourth Be With You and all that.
And what better day to take a look at exactly why Yoda was wrong and Homer was right…
Whether you are a fan or not of the Star Wars series of films, you have probably hear some of the famous quotes from it. I don’t just mean “May the Force be with you”.
In particular there is a quote which is often re-quoted time and time again around the planet, from the best of intentions. Sadly, this particular quote is actually not only wrong but very damaging in its implications.
I am referring to the famous quote from Yoda who tells us “Do or do not; there is no try.”
Of course, he is wrong.
Allow me to demonstrate.
Right now I invite you to try to raise your right arm? Go ahead, try to raise it, I’ll wait…
So, what happened? If you actually raised it, if your arm actually moved, then you failed in your task because you were not trying to raise it but rather you were raising it. Trying to raise it causes no action to happen. Have another go – try to raise your arm, try to raise it, only try, don’t actually raise it, but rather try to raise it. Remember that the instant you do raise it, you are not trying, you are doing. So go ahead and try.
See what I mean?
The intention behind Yoda’s quote when it is used in personal development or business development environments is a powerful enough one; when one tries, one isn’t actually doing.
Which is a powerful realisation in itself – how often do we say we will try to do something, but we never actually do it?
When we say we will try, we are really not committing to doing it; indeed, we are very often indicating (either consciously or unconsciously) that we won’t actually do it, we’ll just try.
Eliminating Try From Your Vocabulary.
There is a popular thing in many persona development and business circles which says that the way to overcome this is simply to banish the word “try” from our vocabulary. The idea is that by banishing the word “try” from one’s vocabulary one achieves better results.
However, there is a major problem with that, which simply removing the word “try” form one’s vocabulary does not address.
You see, whenever we attempt to deny the existence of something by pretending it doesn’t exist, we simply drive it underground. It doesn’t go away, it doesn’t disappear, and sooner or later it simply grows more powerful out of sight.
And so it is when we say “There is no such thing as try”.
Because clearly there is – if there was no concept of “try” then the word would never have existed; the existence of the word means that the concept exists, no matter how much we attempt to deny it.
The concept of trying very much exists. When we simply remove the word “try” from our vocabulary, we don’t actually eliminate the concept of trying from our repertoire.
Indeed, many people slip effortlessly into the habit of using alternative words such as attempt, endeavor, seek, strive, do my best, etc. Which is a very cute way of avoiding actually saying try – but the problem is that they all mean try!
Which means those people are still trying, but they now think they are not trying, so they don’t even spot that they have fallen into the very trap they were trying (see what I did there?) to avoid in the first place!
Simply pretending that the word does not exist serves no positive benefit, and actually enables us to fool ourselves into thinking we are better off than we actually are.
So what about Homer?
Homer expressed it very well (albeit inadvertently) dispensing some fatherly advise to Bart when he said “You tried your best and you failed miserably; the lesson is – never try”. I am, of course, referring to Homer Simpson rather than the classical Greek poet, but even dysfunctional yellow cartoon characters can occasionally stumble upon wisdom!
As Homer says, “the lesson – is never try“.
By which I mean don’t pretend that try doesn’t exist – instead fully acknowledge that try is a very real concept, not one to be ignored and swept under the carpet but rather one to be continually monitored and watched out for.
Instead of pretending that try doesn’t exist, and just using words like attempt as replacements, the most successful people maintain an awareness of the concept of try, and keep it very much in mind and make sure that they never express or embody try, attempt, seek etc.
What Can You Say Instead?
Now, if you like me want to avoid making commitments which you can’t be sure of fulfilling, how do you avoid even the concept of try?
Let’s take the example of being asked to attend an important meeting but your calendar is already filled.
In the past, our immediate response might have been “I’ll try to reschedule my calendar”. This is, of course, laden with the inbuilt expectation of failure, so those who eradicate “try” from their vocabulary sooner or later fall into the practice of saying “I’ll attempt to reschedule my calendar”. Great, no use of the dreaded word “try”, but the word “attempt” means the same thing!
And you want to avoid saying “I’ll reschedule my calendar” because, a this stage, you don’t know whether that will be possible (perhaps you have another vital meeting and you don’t know whether the other participants will be open to rescheduling, and you do not want to make a commitment you don’t know you can meet).
So what do you say?!
We make the commitment which we know we can meet. You might say “I will contact my other meetings and ask if they will agree to reschedule, and I’ll get back to you”.
Certainly it is longer than “I’ll try”. But it is something which you can guarantee you will do. It lets everyone know where they stand and sets expectations accordingly.
All whilst not sweeping “try” under the carpet and disguising it as “attempt”. Definitely a winning situation.
Remember, when Yoda says “There is no try”, he is wrong. Utterly, completely and dangerously wrong. As Homer Simpson rightly says, “The lesson is – never try”!