September 27, 2013

'Try' is not always a dirty word

Raise your hadnd if you, like me, have heard a sentence like:

"There is no 'try'; there is either 'do' or 'not.' "

The psychological idea behind this ... kind of a pop psychological idea at times ... is that saying "I'm trying to do X" is in reality some sort of copout.

However, this doesn't look very well at ordinary English language usage.

Many people use a phrase like that second one in a colloquial way. They're referring to their actions in pursuit of some inner goal, or more often, some external expectation coming from another person, in ...
A situation in which significant parts of the "equation," and therefore the result, are outside their control.
People who mean this, if asked to think, and speak, more formally, thus might say something like this:
I am doing 'A,' 'B' and 'C' in pursuit of outcome 'X,' but some items are outside of my control that have influence on how likely 'X' is to happen.
And, this is true of a lot of life's events. As James T. Kirk told orphaned teen Charlie in the Star Trek episode "Charlie's Law" (not exact quote, but very close):
There are about a million things in this world that you want that you can have, and about a billion things that you want that you can't have.
Among that 1,000 to 1 ratio (with due allowance for hyperbole), is control of outcome of events, surely.

That said, I'm not denying many things are in our control, or primarily in our control, at least.

If "X" refers to a bad habit like excessive drinking, smoking, etc., then the use of "try, " especially after someone else mentions the phrase I listed up top, is an attempt to minimize or deny personal responsibility, in all likelihood. That said, when "bad habits" are addictions, while not denying individual responsibility, I'll state that the issue is more complex.

But when the boss wants you to increase sales of widget X, or the local social organzation wants you to increase membership by 20 percent or whatever, these things are less in our control.

Maybe the widget is crappy. Maybe the community organization has an overbearing chapter president nobody likes. Maybe planning for how to meet the goal is inadequate.

Anyway, human behavioral psychology is a bit complex at times.

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