I’m trying to write a blog about why considerate Aussies say ‘try’ all the time. No I’m not. I’m doing it!
Over the last few years I’ve been steadily eradicating the word “try” from my vocabulary.
It’s a soft useless word, with girly-man arms.
Compare the statements:
“I am trying to build a high-performance portfolio.”
“I am building a high-performance portfolio.”
What does “trying to” add to this? “High performance portfolio” is the object. “Building” is the verb. “I” is the subject.
What is “trying” doing there? All it does bring a bit of a downer to the whole story. It sneaks into the party, steals a few beers, and then pisses in the corner on the carpet.
It’s a “softener”. It gives the whole sentence a softer edge. But why do we need a softener? I’m talking about my financial future. I’m talking laser-like focus and clear intention. I’m talking action.
I’m not talking about washing towels.
Language is a powerful tool, but it also has its limitations.
There are 170,000 words in the Oxford dictionary. There are millions of possible combinations. We can describe complex and difficult abstract concepts, like “sex appeal” or “goofy”.
But for all its power, language barely holds a candle to the great ocean of human communication.
And so we have these things that work as ‘nuancers’. (See, 170,000 words and I still have to make them up.)
“Trying” brings a certain nuance to that sentence. Like if you said, “There’s room for improvement there.” It’s not as full-on as, “What a steaming pile of poop.” The nuance allows us to be a bit softer.
So the question is why would you use a softener in a sentence like “I’m trying to build a high-performance portfolio.”
(My theory is that it’s a bit of an Aussie thing. Now I’ve put you on to it, look out for it. You’ll notice it’s everywhere!)
Partly I think it comes back to politeness.
Say you call up the council, you might say, “I’m trying to find out how big my back-yard shark-tank feature can be.”
Really, what you’re saying is, “I want to find out…” But if you say ‘want’, it’s a bit strong. You’re placing the onus on them to meet your demand.
“Trying” makes it softer. It says you won’t hold it against them if they can’t give you an answer. “It’s ok, I was only trying. I was always going to be ok with failing.”
It’s not nice manners to put firm demands on people (in Australian culture), and so ‘trying’ as a softener makes it seem more polite.
It seems more polite because “trying” softens your commitment and allows space for other people’s needs.
I’m trying to stop smoking, I’m trying to exercise more, I’m trying to not spend too long on the computer. However, if you have a really good reason, I’m not totally committed to that preference. I can be a little flexible.
Allowing space for other people’s needs is what we mean by considerate. Generally, I’d say, that’s a good thing.
But we don’t want to bring a soft, girly-man arms commitment to everything in life.
Some things we want to be rock solid about.
Like stopping smoking. Don’t say, “I am trying to stop smoking.” Say I am stopping smoking. Better yet, say, I have stopped smoking.
“Trying” describes a mental state. We’re still in that space of shaping intention, figuring out our course of action. We’re feeling out the barriers that are holding us back and looking for that way towards our goal.
But as much as we can, we want to spend as little time here as possible.
We want to get out of the mental, and into the world of action.
I am saving more. I have quit sugar. I drink less than I used to.
If we use language like this, that’s anchored in the world of action, then our mental state is forced to catch up.
If you say, “I have quit sugar” enough times, then you start to believe it. You mentality adjusts. In your new world-view – you no longer eat sugar. The next time someone offers you a jelly doughnut, you don’t even have to think about it. There’s no temptation. In your mind, you just don’t eat stuff like that.
But if you say “I’m trying to quit sugar,” you’re still in that preparation phase. At some point soon, you will have quit sugar. But right now, you haven’t. Right now, you still eat sugar.
And if someone offers you a jelly doughnut, you have to make a choice. Choices involve will-power. We don’t always have as much will-power as we’d like.
And this, for me, is the power of language. We can form a picture of ourselves with our words. With that picture, we naturally include the things that fit that picture, or exclude the ones that don’t.
And that frees up mental energy. We’re not having to decide everything in any given moment. We don’t have to consider the jelly doughnut, we don’t have to weigh up the pros and cons. We don’t have to summon the will-power to say no.
It just becomes as simple as “I don’t eat that. Bang. Let’s move on. I’ve got blogs to write.”
As you set out on the course towards achieving more with your life, you come to appreciate how valuable your mental energy is.
You want to spend it on designing dazzling strategies for achieving your goals, not on fighting doughnuts.
Shifting from ‘try’ to ‘do’ wins all those battles before they’ve even begun.
I think Aussie culture makes us one of the most considerate people on the planet. That’s awesome. It means our teenagers can walk into jobs at pubs in any part of England.
But we need to make sure that politeness isn’t trapping us in ‘try’.
No one’s got energy for that.
And to finish off, I'll leave you with a famous American philosopher's words…
Do or do not, there is NO TRY.
Why do you think we default to the word, try?