It happens quite often that when I ask my community or clients, what their self-care commitment is for the week, I get a lot of answers like, “I’m going to ‘try’ to fit in X” or “I’m going to ‘try’ to do “Y.”
I’ve come to loathe the word “try.”
Why? Because “try” is not a commitment. It’s a way to hold yourself back. By putting the word “try” in there, you’re giving yourself an excuse and an out to not do something that could be nourishing or powerful for your healing. And, unfortunately, the people who “try” to heal are most often the people who stay stuck.
It’s like the wise and wonderful Yoda said: “Do or do not. There is no try.” That little 900-year-old alien was right! You have to eliminate the word ‘try’ from your vocabulary in order to truly commit to yourself and get the results you want.
What does it mean to “try”?
I think part of the problem is that we’ve changed the way we use the word, “try.”
I ran across the PBS kid’s show WordWorld years ago, and there was an episode about trying. Sheep was trying to ride a bike and having some trouble so the characters were singing, “Don’t give up, the more you try, the better you’ll get, the better you’ll get, the closer you’ll be to doing it right. Keep trying, you’ll see…don’t give up!” And after trying a few more times, Sheep got it.
The show was clearly trying to demonstrate to the kids that it’s OK — expected, even! — for them not to get things right the first time, but that they will improve with practice.
But as adults, I all too often see people use the word ‘try’ in a completely different way. They are not saying they’ll try because they don’t know how to do something. People are using it because they are not ready to commit to something. They don’t want to make a promise to themselves or others that they can’t keep so instead of making a commitment, they say they’ll “try” to make a certain change. That doesn’t serve them or their health.
But going back to my WordWorld example, many adults often “try” something once (like giving up coffee or sugar or gluten), not succeed initially, and give up. Part of it is that we’re overextended, overwhelmed and just plain exhausted but another part is that we’ve become such a society of perfectionists that we’ve forgotten that a big part of trying is trying again — and again, and again.
If a client came to me and said that she tried to go to the gym every day, but only made it three days, that’s one thing. If she said she tried to go to the gym every day, and never made it at all, that’s something else entirely!
It’s like that famous quote from Samuel Beckett: “Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.” We don’t make progress unless we keep trying, and too often, people use the word “try” to rationalize not trying at all. The important thing is to notice how the language you use affects your actions and your outcomes. The word “try” can hold you back in healing and in life. So how can we remove this obstacle to healing?
Create a powerful shift in your mindset with SMART language.
The language we use when setting a goal is hugely important.
If you say, “I will walk for 10 minutes after lunch with my buddy, Jill, every work day this week,” you know exactly when, where, and how you’re going to achieve the goal.
If, on the other hand, you say, “I will try to get some exercise in,” you don’t have any kind of plan to help make it happen.
If you’ve ever been in a corporate management training seminar, you’ve probably heard of SMART goals, but there’s a reason the idea is so pervasive: it works. Your goal should be:
So, with our walking analogy, we’ve been very specific, we’ve determined how much walking (10 minutes) to shoot for, and we know when we’ll do it and with whom. It’s very actionable, and very relevant to our bigger goal of feeling healthy.
But that one little word, “try,” can throw a big kink in the works. It makes it no longer very specific, less measurable (how do you measure a try?), and less actionable.
So, I want you to completely eliminate the word “try” from your vocabulary for now, and start using some of these strategies for making better commitments to yourself.
10 more strategies for improving and keeping your goals.
Apart from making sure your goals are SMART, there are other strategies you can use to overcome the “try” mentality and start doing:
1. Break your goal down into its tiniest parts.
If you’re having trouble achieving a goal, sometimes the best thing you can do is make it smaller. Research by psychologist James O. Prochaska, Ph.D shows that change happens in stages. So, with our exercise goal, maybe walking 10 minutes is hard, so you break it down into an even smaller stage: Bringing your walking shoes to work (or setting them out by your bed, or putting them on). The idea is that doing that one thing will encourage you to do the next, and that small successes lead to bigger ones.
2. Reward yourself.
B.F. Skinner’s early research showed quite strongly that the carrot is better than the stick when making change. Devise a rewards system for yourself and stick to it! Find what motivates you — some people like a gold star on the calendar, others need $20 in their Hawaii vacation fund. Sometimes the best reward is just admiring the outcome; try keeping a journal of your successes instead of focusing on your failures.
3. Prepare for problems.
If you’re resisting a particular change, you can probably predict what problems might arise. For example, you might “forget” your shoes if you plan to go walking, decide it’s too hot, or your friend might not show up. Research has found that “cuing” yourself up by imagining how you will overcome problems is a great way to increase success. Buy an extra pair of shoes to keep at work, walk the halls when it’s too hot or cold out, and have a backup buddy for days when plans go awry.
4. Appreciate the journey.
Ursula LeGuin once said, “It’s good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” Rather than focusing on some end result (like losing weight or walking a 5k) try focusing instead on the journey. In our walking example, you might focus on enjoying the scenery, watching the seasons change, or spending time chatting with your friend.
5. Monitor what you want to change.
A study in the British Journal of Psychology showed that reflecting on change was a powerful predictor of success. Keeping a log of how often you complete your goal is one good way, but so is talking to others about it. For walking, you might choose to time your walks or use a pedometer to count your steps. You might also ask your friend to let you know if she sees improvement.
6. Upgrade your friends list.
There’s that wonderful quote from Jim Rohn, “You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.” So who is adding up to your average? It’s important to find friends, supporters, and communities that will affect you positively. If your walking buddy is always late or down in the dumps, it might be wise to find someone more positive to walk with. If you surround yourself with people who are victims, who choose to blame others for their lack of health or a fulfilling life or who like to sabatoge your efforts to improve your own circumstances, it can really keep you stuck.
7. Add structure to your goals.
Research by Daniel Willingham, Ph.D. found that creating a structure is important for learning a new behavior. This means identifying what works and what doesn’t (walking at lunch works better than walking after work) and putting a logical sequence of events in your plan (eat lunch, go to the restroom, change shoes, meet Jill to walk). Be sure to revisit your plan often, though; just because something worked before doesn’t mean it will continue to work when circumstances change — your plan doesn’t have to be set in stone!
8. Practice in different situations.
If you want to make a goal more of a habit, it’s important to practice in lots of situations. For our walking goal, we might add in parking at the far end of the parking lot at the grocery store and walking in, or taking a 10 minute walk on weekends.
9. Use memory aids.
I’m a big fan of setting alarms and reminders on my phone to help me remember to do self-care at specific times. Especially if you’re dealing with thyroid-related brain fog, these kinds of reminders can be extremely important. Our walker might ask her friend to text her a few minutes before their walk to remind her to get ready, or might put an alarm in her work calendar or a note in her lunch box.
10. Map out your success.
Especially when we’re taking baby steps towards a goal, it’s important to remind ourselves how far we’ve come. Those gold stars on your calendar can be a great visual cue of how many days you have achieved your goal — instead of focusing on how many you haven’t. Our walker might keep track of the miles she’s accumulated and plug them into Google maps to see how far she’s walked across the country, or around the world!
Which of these strategies will work best for you?
The only way to find out is to DO (not TRY) these strategies. So, which strategy will you commit to this week with your goals? Come over to the Facebook group and let us know! (Because public accountability is another great way to stay on track!)