December 10, 2012

After a few weeks of conducting a personal experiment, I am here to report my findings: “Trying” dooms my efforts to failure. “Trying” shows a lack of confidence.

This discovery process started a few weeks ago when I was overwhelmed by Superstorm Sandy. After the electricity was restored in early November, I was swamped with things to do. From juggling a busy work schedule to dealing with household tasks, the demands on my time were piling up. It took me forever just to clean the spoiled food from the fridge and then restock our groceries.

Even though I tried to be efficient, I kept falling behind. Then one day a few weeks ago, I just decided that the word “try” was part of my problem. Since then, I’ve eliminated “try” and “trying” from my vocabulary. Now life is better!

Don’t: I tried calling you.  I used to say this a lot and write it in emails. The more I thought about it, the more stupid that sentence sounded. Did I call or not? I did. Well, if that’s the case, then why say “tried?” There’s no good answer to that, which is why I now write or say: “I called you.” Okay, so maybe I didn’t get the response I wanted. But that’s another issue. The point is, I accomplished what I set out to do. I called.

Don’t: I try to exercise a few times a week. Of course, getting to the gym is a constant, uphill battle. The days fly by but what’s the point of guilting myself about that? Instead, I’m retraining my head as well as body. The new line: “I do my best to get to the gym a few times a week.” Or maybe: “My goal is to get in a half-hour swim a few times a week.”

Do: I’m working on (fill in the blank). “I’m trying to get a new job.” “I’m trying to get into grad school.” I’m hearing these lines a lot lately from friends. Their phrasing instantly reveals anxiety. If they had said, “I’m working on getting a new job” or “I’m applying to grad school,” that would be better. It would show they viewed themselves as part of an on-going process. Staying positive is the hardest thing in the world. Practice in even small ways can help.

Here’s another example…when I returned to a full-time reporter’s job after a 16-year haitus, I struggled to find my 21st century game. In the beginning, I felt very small. My insecurity showed. I would tell my editors, “I’m trying to do a story on X” or “I’m trying to get an interview with so-and-so.” But in the interest of preserving my reputation and everyone’s sanity, I learned to rephrase: “I heard about blah blah, which might be a good story. ” And this: “I called so-and-so about XYZ; he’s getting back to me tomorrow with his answer.” Don’t I sound more in control?

Do: I am (fill in the blank). Even after I was a professional journalist, it took me ages to say with confidence: “I am a writer.” That’s because journalism is quite formulaic and I used to hold creative writers in higher esteem. Once again, we’re talking about a confidence issue. In time, I learned to look people in the eye as I told them, “I’m a writer.” In recent years, I moved onto redefining myself in other ways. When I began painting classes, I initially explained that I was trying to paint. Forget that! Ask me now and I will tell you with no hesitation that I am an artist. Period.


I often think of another example I read long ago in a self-help book. Hey, speaking of books, please go get one now. Aha! You’re holding a book in your hand, right? You didn’t tell me, “Okay, Betty, I’m gonna try to pick up a book.” You can’t try to pick up a book. Either you’ve picked it up or not. This is true even if you’re in physical therapy recovering from a hand injury. (In which case, it’s not about trying to pick up a book but recovering skills. You are working on your skills. See the difference?)

We become self-fulfilling prophecies. This is the deeper conclusion from my “trying” experiment. If I look in the mirror and see someone who is always trying, trying, trying, trying, well, that’s too sad because I will never catch up.

Better to view myself as a doer. Yes, I am fulfilling my dreams.

We’re almost at the end of 2012. Let’s not look back and feel it was the year we tried to do this or that. Please stop and reflect. Stuff actually happened. Let’s acknowledge our (incremental) accomplishments!

And now I am going downstairs to putter in the kitchen. It’s become an even cozier space, thanks to the Christmas tree. Last December, we tried (!) to pull our fake wonder out of the basement and put it up — and failed, of course. This year, we simply decided to do it. The animals are thoroughly enjoying our efforts too.  Every morning, I find a few ornaments from the tree on the floor. The cats didn’t try to play with them or break them. They just went ahead and did both. Meow.