A word about trying

Jedi Master Yoda (or at least George Lucas) was on to something when he said “Do. Or do not. There is no try”.


Just like Luke learning to use The Force, when I ask some of my students to sight-read something, or play something in a different way, I often hear words along the lines of “I’ll try….

Well, let me tell you, that’s one of the most non-committal things you can say and you’re really holding yourself back by approaching something with the attitude of “trying”. By saying that you’ll “try” to do something you’re actually sitting on the fence. You’re actually saying “look, I’m really not sure if I’m going to be able to pull this off and I don’t want to lose face/ embarrass myself/ get laughed at if it doesn’t quite go as planned, so I’ll just hedge my bets here and give myself an “out” just in case, at least I’ll be able to say I tried”.

If that’s what you’re thinking then I can say why you’d want to say “I’ll try” – it’s a lot fewer words so it’s a lot more efficient! However, if you’re serious about learning a new skill or changing an approach to playing something or playing something in a different way then “I’ll try” just isn’t going to cut it. “I’ll try” is hedging your bets in case it doesn’t work out.

And if it doesn’t work out, whatever it is you’re “trying” to do, then so what?! Just give it another go or do it a slightly way different next time. Just decide and commit – am I going to do this? Am I not going to do this?

You’re also actually confusing your brain by saying, or thinking, or coming at something with the attitude of “trying”. Your brain is this awesome goal-chasing machine – it’s looking the whole time to help you at a subconscious level achieve those goals that your conscious mind feeds it, however big or small. Trying is confusing for our poor ol’ brains!

Want an example of that? Well, give this a go.

Place an object in front of you – a pen, a cup, your computer mouse, anything will do. Right, now I want you to pick up that object. Done that? Good. Put it back down again. Excellent. You’re a natural at this!

Now then, take a look at that object again. This time I don’t want you to pick it up. Do not pick up that object. Right. Doing that? Doing “not picking up”? Excellent. You really are very good at this!

Now then, one more instruction for you – I want you to try to pick up the object. No, no. Don’t actually pick it up. That’s not trying. Just really try. And don’t not pick it up, that’s not picking it up. Really try. Come on!

Do you see what I’m getting at here? Asking yourself to committing to picking up that object, and then to not picking up that object, it was very clear what you needed to do and the outcome that was expected. Easy. However, asking you to try to pick it up was a different story, it was quite peculiar. Not really sure what you should be doing?

OK this a reasonably simplistic example, but perhaps the case may be that this is the kind of process going on in your mind (that you’re not even consciously aware of) when you say things like “I’ll try to practice more” or “I’ll try and play that phrase more piano” or “I’ll try this piece of sight-reading”.

So to paraphrase Yoda – Do play. Or do not play. There is no try.




4 thoughts on “A word about trying

  1. Learning is always a matter of try and error. When I “do”, and it doesn’t fit, isn’t it a trial ?
    Sorry, there’s no magic in learning and w’re not on another planet. No Jedi, no force. Only normal people struggling each with the daily problems of life. Learning is a matter of patience and determination. I say “i’ll try” and if I don’t succeed I will give it another try ( perhaps as many as it needs to be learned ). This is my way of learning things. No cheating.

    1. Absolutely! I could not agree with you more! I’m totally with you 100%!

      Learning is most definitely about patience and determination, it’s also about grit and perseverance, flexibility and awareness and a number of other things besides. It is most definitely not about some special magical “force”.

      What I was talking about in the post is the language of these qualities, particularly commitment. I’m not saying that by the mere act of “doing” you’re going to somehow magically suddenly be able to play that piece or that scale you’ve struggled with straight off the bat – absolutely not. This is not what I intended to convey and my apologies if my post was a little too subtle in making this point.

      What my post was angling at is that if we really want to get to grips with something we’ve got to commit to doing what we need to do to “succeed”, in whatever form that may take. We use the language of commitment (doing rather than trying), which then turns into the actions of commitment. And absolutely, we go through phases of trial and error, of testing, of exploring, tweaking, changing, developing, working – we do, we become aware of what is and isn’t working and we tweak what doesn’t work, we do again and so on and so forth until we have achieved precisely what it was we had in mind. No magic. No “force”. No otherworldly interplanetary intervention. Just work. Just commitment. Just doing. And more doing. And then some more…. 😉

      So, yes it may seem very subtle between “doing” and “trying”, but it can make a big difference in approach and outcomes – one is committed, the other is not quite sure. It’s one of those peculiar subtleties of the English language which can translate into a particular message for the brain. “Doing” is like saying “failure is not an option”. It is saying “I’m gonna work at this until I have got the exact outcome I’m looking for”. It is not saying “I’m going to magically produce a result from thin air”. It’s a commitment to doing whatever it takes!

      So, yes, I’m absolutely with you, 100%!

      Good on you, thank you so much for your comment, and thank you for reading my blog 🙂
      And I love your commitment – keep it up!!


  2. Hallo Nicole,
    your reply was very kind and nobody, in earnest, could avoid agreeing with you.
    We come from countries so different in language and behavior that what is “subtle difference” for the one might become “great difference” for the other.
    Let me explain.
    Whe have a joke here, in Italy, that says “Failure is not an option. It is a certainty”.
    You see, we look just from opposite sides of the same landscape.
    What we do, here, is to “give it a try” and see if we can loose the certainty. (We put a special pleasure in violating “that” rule).
    We sustain people, in the way of learning, by helping them to bear the “frustration” given by the feeling that “they are not able to”. When that feeling resolves in “not Yet able to” we have won.
    That’ s all.

    Courage is not being blind in face of difficulties, it’s trying in spite of them. Is it committment ? maybe.

    In the real world, failure is a certainty only if you dont’ try…. isn’t it ?

    Good on you too. It was a pleasure reading from you.


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