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'Try harder' is not a plan and it will never work for you

McKinley Valentine — 2 min read
'Try harder' is not a plan and it will never work for you
Photo by Jordan Whitfield / Unsplash

If you have made a mistake - either hurt somebody else, or just caused some hassles for yourself that you'd rather not experience again - you might feel really upset with yourself. You might want to try harder next time!

This is a mistake. Because verrrrry few screw-ups in any adult's life comes from not trying.* If you didn't have enough willpower to stop yourself from doing x then, where are you imagining this new store will come from?

If you hear yourself say, out loud or just to yourself, "I'll try harder", you need to STOP because that means "I am definitely going to do this again" no matter how sincere your intentions are. And then instead, think of a strategy to avoid the situation next time, or respond better. IF-THEN structures are good.

Like, say you have a tendency to get into pointless twitter arguments that waste time and sour your mood. You think "I need to try harder not to get engaged in those arguments". STOP! Not a plan! A plan: IF I feel that skull-tightening, eyebrow-scrunchy sensation of irration when I'm typing a twitter reply, THEN I will immediately log out of twitter.

If you've cheated on your partner and you don't want to do it again, you need to look at the circumstances and avoid them. Like you can't just use sheer willpower, because clearly that doesn't work for you. Maybe: IF I'm super-attracted to someone THEN I will not have more than two drinks around them. Or IF I end up alone in a room with Person, THEN I will immediately leave the room and go mingle. Or whatever would help.

I use that example because this "strategies, not trying harder" is also important when building trust back in a relationship. If someone (friend, romantic partner, business partner) has broken trust, and they seem genuinely sorry and you've decided you want to keep the relationship, you totally can and should ask them what their actual strategies are for not doing the thing again.

If you are like, "I am trying as hard as I can [to be better] but my partner is still mad at me!", maybe they are unreasonable, or maybe it's because "try harder" looks to your partner like "repeat the same pattern but hope something is magically different this time". Come up with strategies and tell your partner about them and it will probably make them feel more like there's progress.

Additionally: If you, in the past, have made a mistake, 'tried harder', and then made the mistake again, you probably have a lot of self-loathing about that. Please let go of it! You didn't not try hard enough, you were doomed to fail from the start. Don't beat yourself up, come up with a strategy.

*Maybe you think, "No, I know I didn't try hard enough. Because I remember thinking there might be a problem and saying 'ahh it'll be fine'. So I kinda knew, but I was being lazy."

The strategy for this is still not Try Harder. It's IF you hear yourself think "ahh, it'll be fine", THEN stop, re-assess, and do whatever it is properly.

This piece was originally published in The Whippet #62 – subscribe to get the next one in your inbox!

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