The Contradiction of “Trying”

I’ve become convinced that positive self-talk is the foundation of success.  Words are powerful, and I think we underestimate how influential they can be.  There’s an obvious taboo on the word “can’t.”  It’s common sense to know that if you tell yourself you can’t do something, you probably aren’t going to go out and prove yourself wrong.

A more insidiuous word is “try.”  I suppose that “try” is a step up from “can’t.”  At least you are willing to put forth some effort before giving up, but I’ve realized that “try” for me is still the same thing as saying “can’t.”  “Trying” to me says, “I wish I could accomplish this, but I don’t think I can.  I’m going to make a half-assed attempt anyway so I can console myself by saying I tried.”

In the context of hindsight, trying is almost always associated with failure.  If I win first place at my figure competition in November, I will look back and think, I competed in my first figure competition and I won.  If, however, in two weeks, I decide that doing all of this is too much and that I would rather watch Jersey Shore and eat pizza every night, I will say, I tried to compete in figure, but I dropped out before the show.  Think about it – when you succeed at something, do you ever say that you “tried” and you succeeded?  Or is the phrase “I tried” only applicable when you didn’t meet your goal?

I recently discovered the difference between the two words.  For the longest time, I would go to happy hour with the intention of “trying not to drink.”  Guess what?  I ALWAYS drank – alot.  When I first started training with Nicole Wilkins, I started about a week earlier than I had planned – bad news, I was officially in contest prep the week before my birthday!  My sister had already planned a limo birthday bar crawl in Tucson that I was committed to attending.  I did consider backing out because I was so sure I didn’t have the willpower not to drink in that situation, but I didn’t want to live with the guilt of binge drinking during my first week of contest prep.  I started to fall into the “I’ll try not to drink” mentality.  Then it clicked.  It’s my choice.  No one can force me to drink – my success is 100% contingent on my choices.  It’s as simple as just not drinking.  So I changed my mindset to “I am not drinking tonight.”  I said that to myself over and over in my head.

Step 1 is adjusting how you talk to yourself.  Step 2 is adjusting how you talk to others.  How you say things changes other people’s responses too.  Any time you’re in a social setting, particularly one centered around drinking, you will inevitably get questioned if you aren’t drinking and subsequently pressured to drink.  In the past when I was “trying” not to drink, I would tell people “I can’t drink” or “I really shouldn’t drink.”  When I put it that way, it implied that I did want to drink, but something else was making me feel like I couldn’t or shouldn’t.  And that opens the door for other people to continue to hound you and pressure you, to convince you that just one is okay, that you can just work out extra the next day, and a long list of other excuses for why it’s okay to make an exception and indulge.  However, on limo birthday bar crawl night, my response was “No thanks, I’m not drinking tonight.  Maybe you can buy me a Diet Coke later.”  When you are confident and assertive in your response, and you make it clear that you aren’t drinking because you don’t want to, then it shuts people down in trying to derail you from your commitment.  And you know what, it was true.  I didn’t want to drink that night.  I wanted to know that I didn’t cheat on my meal plan, wake up feeling refreshed and rested, and not have any regrets.  And that is exactly what happened.  I was so incredibly proud of myself.

I recognize the danger of “try,” but I’ve still been tripped up by it.  The next weekend, I had a BBQ for my birthday and told myself I would “try” not to drink with my friends, and although I delayed my first drink by a few hours, I ended up caving in – and it’s because I didn’t clearly state my intention to myself or my friends.  I’m about to head out on my first outdoor run in a while, and the first thing I said in my mind was, “I’m going to try to run 6 miles.”  Oops.  I’m either going to run 6 miles or I’m not.  If 6 miles is a lofty goal, and I really just want to run 3 miles, then I should say, “I’m going to run 3 miles” instead of “I’m going to try to run 6 miles.”  By saying the latter, I’m giving myself permission to give up at mile 4 because I only said that I would “try” to run 6 miles.

Lesson learned:  Don’t try, just do.


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