I love words, love their roots, love their meanings. So, here’s a bit about the word ‘try.’ It comes from an old French word ‘trier’ which means ‘to sort’. So think of a legal trial. It’s how we sort out the evidence and sort out who’s guilty and who’s innocent (not always accurately, mind). Think of the hospital triage. It’s how they sort out which patient most urgently needs to be seen based on the type of illness or injury. And think of a try in sport – it sorts out who gets the point for their team.
The modern definition of ‘to try’ is ‘to make an effort or attempt’ (thanks again Mr. Collins Dictionary). Let’s break this down. To qualify as trying, there has to be some sort of effort or attempt going on – in other words, you’ve got to take action.
When we take action, we sort stuff out – what we like and don’t like, what tastes good and what doesn’t, what hurts and what feels good etc. But without action, you’ll never know. That’s why children need to explore their environment to learn – because you come to know things through experiencing them, not through simply being told how something is.
So, we need action to sort our world out. And this is called trying. Do you like mushrooms? How do you know? Have you tried them? Like that. But another meaning has been attached to the word, ‘trying,’ where we attempt to explain what our goal is. To give you an example: “I’m gonna try and give up smoking.” So, you’ve heard enough evidence to convince you that smoking is terrible for your health, it’s heavy on the wallet and you’re getting funny looks when you get too close to people (read: halitosis). You decide to quit smoking. You tell yourself and others, “I’m gonna try and give up smoking.” That’s how trying is associating with the goal of giving up smoking. But according to the real meaning of trying being a non-smoker, an effort or attempt is required. And once you take action, you’ve really already done what you say you’re trying to do.
If you say ‘no’ to just one cigarette, you’ve already stopped smoking. You’ve succeeded. That action recurs every time you say ‘no’ to another cigarette. So you don’t need to ‘try.’ You just need to do. The point isn’t whether or not you start smoking again the next day. In your mind, you made the decision to quit and you took direct action. This direct action of not having a cigarette, when you want one or would normally reach for one, is what brings success, not the thought that preceeded the action.
Here’s the thing. Most of us say we’ll try something as a way to avoid taking direct action. Have you said any of these?
- I’ll try to finish my assignment tomorrow
- I’ll try to remember to bring the washing in
- I’ll try to come to the party
- I’ll try to get to the doctor this week
- I’ll try to lose weight (ouch)
- I’ll try to get to the gym/go for a walk today
- I’ll try to get more organised
- I’ll try not to swear anymore
If you answered yes, welcome to the Gunna-do club we’ve all visited from time to time.
The suggested alternative to trying
There are lots of responses you could think of to the statements above. Here’s a couple:
- what will you be doing more of or less of to trim down?
- what time are you going to the gym today?
- what needs to happen to help you prepare for your busy week?
They’re great, but in the name of simplifying, here’s my one key alternative response that you can use for any “I’ll try” statement. Ready?
Q: What will you do to make this [goal] happen?
A: I’ll do [action] to make [goal] happen.
In other words, I’ll take direct (and where possible, immediate) action to ensure the goal is attempted in some shape or form, however well I can.
There’s no in-between. There cannot be ‘trying’ without effort, and once you exert the effort, you’ve taken action – in other words, you’ve moved towards your desired outcome. You might need help, practice, up-skilling, multiple attempts – whatever. The point is, you’re doing. And that is the only way to succeed at anything.
You know the old saying, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again? What about…
If at first you don’t succeed, stop ‘trying’ (or talking about doing) and start taking more action, different action, and keep taking action until you reach your goals, fulfil your dreams, and transform your life!