Banning the Word 'Try' and Never Giving Up

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Over the last few years, yoga has evolved from a relaxing fitness pursuit to a passion and way of life for me. I practice daily in some form, I teach classes, and I live my life by the principles of the practice.

I emphasized "in some form" because while I don't spend hours on my mat every day, I do practice yoga daily. Whether it's a few minutes spent meditating or doing breathing exercises in the morning, some mindful stretching before bed, or an actual full asana (physical) practice, I am doing yoga.

"Do or do not do, there is no try."

Though most of us know those words from the sage Yoda in the "Star Wars" movies, I hear them most often in yoga classes. The woman who trained me repeated those words, which she heard from her teachers, throughout our practices. Do a pose or don't do it--whether your pose looks like it should be on a Yoga Journal cover, whether you hold it for five breaths or a fraction of one, whether you modify or take it a step further--it doesn't matter. What matters is that you're doing it. Trying it gives you an out, carte blanche to give up or quit.

When I stopped trying to do things and just started doing them, much of the guilt that my Type A perfectionist personality imparted upon my practice vanished.

Each day, each pose, each practice is different. A pose that feels strong and balanced one day (or on one side) might feel  tight or unbalanced the next. Sometimes you go all the way and sometimes your body or mind resists. But you don't give up. You keep doing it.

One of the most challenging standing poses in the primary series of Ashtanga yoga, the traditional branch that I practice, is ardha baddha paddmottanasana, or standing half lotus forward fold.

We begin poses on the right side. Here, you start by shifting the weight to the left leg. The right leg assumes lotus position. The right hand reaches behind the back and binds, catching the right big toe with the first two fingers and thumb. You lean forward, keeping strong at the core and engaging the bandhas (energy locks) and your left hand comes in close to the standing left foot. Nose meets knee; forehead or even chin reaches for the shin. We come out as carefully as we moved into the pose: We lift the head, coming halfway up. We stand tall, bring the left hand to the hip. We undo the lotus leg, extend it long in front of us, and we float it down to the ground before repeating the pose on the other side.

It is challenging, requiring balance, strength in that standing leg, an open hip, and trust in yourself. Many days I can bind my hand and foot and reach for the floor with chin to shin. Sometimes I stay in the pose calmly and strongly for five breaths. Sometimes my mind reminds me I'm upside down or my knee acts up, and I fight the pose. When I transition into this pose, I know not how my body and mind will react. I breathe, take the familiar steps to get into the pose, and focus on what I'm feeling at that very moment. I can't predict the future, and there's no use in crafting an escape plan. I know that I'm there for five breaths regardless of how the pose looks. Sometimes I give up the bind. Others, I inch my standing hand closer to my standing foot. Always, I breathe.

Four weeks ago, my yoga practice changed drastically. I went from practicing most evenings after to work to mornings at 6:30 or 7, a more traditional time. While I enjoy the flexibility in my schedule that this new practice affords me, my body hasn't quite caught up. At 6:30 a.m., my body feels like it belongs to someone else, and poses that seem comfortable and "easy" are suddenly a challenge to my not-quite-awake body. Poses like the one I described above are unpredictable. Some days they are physically attainable; most days they challenge me.

This riles my ego. I think:  I'm strong. I'm flexible. I've been doing this a long time. I should be able to nail this pose--all the poses.

The perfectionist in me is angry. She wants to impress her teacher, her fellow students, herself. She wants to go further, deeper, longer in poses, burn more calories, build more muscle. She wants more, more, more!

Then I am reminded: That's not what yoga is all about. That's not what life is all about.

This is a practice, one that we'll never master fully. It's a reminder that life is always changing, evolving, and we can't count on anything in life ever staying the same.

“The depth of the practice can’t be seen in asana. Somebody that can do a backbend and grab onto their ankles isn’t going to be further ahead in their practice than somebody who has trouble forward bending or is stiff. That doesn’t make a difference- that’s not what the practice is about.” -- Ashtanga Yoga Centre of Toronto teacher David Robson.

We can and should set goals in life, but when things don't go as planned, when our timeline proves unattainable, it's not a reason to get mad, quit, or cast blame. It's a reason to keep going, keep doing--not trying. These times when things don't go as we planned, when they're downright bad, when you're sore, cranky, tired and ready to give up--that's not life going awry. That's life.

"Things are always in transition, if only we could realize it. Nothing ever sums itself up in the way that we like to dream about. The off-center, in-between state is an ideal situation, a situation in which we don't get caught and we can open our hearts and mind beyond limit." Pema Chodron, "When Things Fall Apart"

Do you agree that "trying" should be banned from our vocabulary, that instead we should focus on varying degrees of "doing"? Do you have a story to share about "doing"?

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LOSER05 11/8/2019
Thanks Report
DGRIFFITH51 9/14/2019
Just getting into yoga, I have a lot to learn! Report
No where in the definition of try does it say fake it, or make a half attempt, trying is just that attempting to accomplish something, it only becomes evil when people use it to lie to others or most importantly to themselves. When you give up trying you are dead. Why make a word to blame when the real problem is lack of responsibility on the part of the user. Report
GEORGE815 5/23/2019
Great advice for all levels Report
ANHELIC 3/28/2019
Thank you for the great information. Report
Excellent Report
Thanks for the great article :) Report
No, i do not agree. Not for everyone. I have suffered from anxiety and depression for most of my life and when I say I am going to try something, it means it is ok if I start it and don't like it or feel it is right for me. "I am going to try a new exercise/meal" means I will take baby steps to doing it, i will give it a shot, and if it doesnt feel right for me, I can move on without berating or shaming myself. And if there's something I really want to do and I try to do it but dont immediately succeed, i have learned something in the process of trying. There is value in the process, not only in an outcome measure. Report
I gotta say, the word "try" is one of my favorite words, and it is something I absolutely must change about myself. Trying something means that if you fail, you accept it. And when you do something, whether you fail or not, you DID it and that is what matters. I am learning this, but it is still a pain the butt to get myself out of the habit of saying "try" when I should just be doing. Thank you for the post, everything you said hits home. I am glad I found it. Report
and here I thought that was a line from STAR WARS!!! Report
I appreciate the mantra: Do or do not do, there is no try. I will share that with my perfectionist husband!! ....and I just might hold that thought for myself as well!! Thank you! Report
I understand what the author was trying to say...oops... I mean saying. But I agree with the other side of the argument too. At least for me. It's easy for me to throw that little statement out there every day, "I'm trying to lose this weight", or "I'm trying to get started on an exercise program". And then sit on my duff and not do a thing about what I just said.

So I guess I just need to remember that the word try is an action word.

Remember... Once you take that first little step, often times you become motivated to keep on going.
"Try" is the launchpad to "do".

If we never try, we will never do. You say "I don't know if I can do this, but I'm going to try." When I started walking, I didn't know if I could walk a 5k. So I tried it and I did it. I could not have done it without trying. However, if I had tried and failed, that still would have been okay, because I tried. I started. If you follow the "do or do not", then frequently you just will not. Trying allows for both success and failure. To simply go out and "do" is to naively bulldoze over things that you should not be doing. Report
Seems like this blog has sparked some debate! I like the idea of doing instead of trying myself. Report
I agree with Laurance's post completely!

I TRY every day. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I don't....but I always start over and TRY again. Nothing wrong with that. No one is perfect, and trying is NOT a cop out. Report
This really irritates me. Yoda was a fictional character, and his advice is bogus. To try is to attempt, to endeavor, to make an effort. AND SOMETIMES WE FAIL! Sometimes we fail, and I object to these superior people who come on with bloviation about "trying". I had a therapist who said that Try is a weasel word. That was so abusive! I quit going. Trying is not wrong. Report
I'm with Leslie56 and others, trying to do things. I do yoga regularly and I know my form is lousy and I continue to try to improve my poses, but I have physical problems and there are many things I cannot do.

I don't fare well with all or nothing statements or demands. If you tell me "Do or don't do," I am much more likely to just walk away and not do. If I can try and acknowledge I might not be able to do something or I may have some other reason to stop but it's acceptable to attempt something, I am more likely to try.

If banning the word "try" works for you, go for it. It does not work for me. Report
Outstanding! I'm "doing" from here on out. "Trying" really is a cop-out. However, I needed somebody to explain that "doing" doesn't have a qualitative implication. Thanks for this. Report
With my arthritic body, I must say, I do try the poses. Sometimes I do succeed in doing them, but a lot of times, it's trying. There is nothing wrong with the word, Try! I say keep trying, until you succeed. When I ride my fitness, bike, I do ride, but I try, to add more time, each week. Report
I agree. Ditch "try" as a verb and noun in the weight loss world.

I don't "try" to do a dumbbell chest press... I DO a dumbbell chest press, whether right or wrong in my attempt. Whether or not I am actually successful with that attempt does not mean I "tried", it means that I 'DID' it.

In exercise, I don't think there is a try... we DO. we don't TRY spinning, we SPIN and determine whether or not we like it and keep DOING it if you do... we don't TRY yoga, we DO yoga and determine whether or not to keep going with it.

You don't TRY an exercise... you either DO it or you DON'T. You don't TRY to move your arm... you either do it or you don't. THAT is what I think the point of the blog was... to try allows you to give up. I will TRY to do a yoga exercise, but if I can't do it right, I will quit... Or I will DO the yoga exercise, HOPE i get it right, and will FINISH the pose to the best of my ability and decide later whether or not I will DO it again. Sure, I may have "tried" it by some people's definition, but by MY definition, I DID it. Report
gurjii would say "do" you do, makes sense to me. Love to read your blog. Thank you. Report
A blog with substance and meaning! Reading the comments, I notice a lot of people have missed the point of this message. It's not that "trying" is a bad thing. It's not that you don't deserve kudos for trying. And it certainly is not that trying does not yield results. It can and it does, but not by itself. The problem is that most people say they will "try" to do this or that and then, not follow through with real, consistent effort, discipline and patience to accomplish their goal and then quit.

I go further. I not only think the word "try" should be replaced with "will" but also the word "hope." Both of these words put fate outside of our hands and do exactly what Stepfanie says in her blog, "Trying gives you an out, carte blanche to give up or quit" and that is just too easy when the going gets tough! Report
I'm with some of the others that posted. I'm willing try a new vegetable or other dish. When it comes to workouts, I just do it. No trying. Report
Norwich University's (America's oldest military college) motto is "I will try" and they mean you give it your all and see where it takes you. I think this is a great philosophy though i agree most people say "try" when they don't mean to try very hard. Report
In high school, I had a coach that banned the word try. It was hard at first to cheer on my teammates who attempted something great, but didn't quite make it. I settled on "good effort" to replace "good try," and realized that we can celebrate those attempts at success -- the work behind it -- even if it didn't quite work out. ;) Report
Banning which noun or verb?
As a noun, try means to attempt. As a verb it means to test or experiment. Either way it is a means by which to expand our horizon.

Do is a verb relating to an action taken or not.

Each has it's place. What is relevant is what we practice. Report
In my work when people tell me they will "try" I mentally write them off as failures right away. It's only when people say "I'll do it!" that I feel confident they will. Let's ban "trying" and in the words of Nike "Just Do It!" Report
I totally understand the premiss do rather than try as I am a perfectionist myself. However I think it is easier to take that stance when you have already achieved some of the goals which some of us mere mortals dream about.

I am learning many lessons here on SP and although I have achieved a great deal already I need to try everyday. Just trying can sometimes be the spark to starting something new and worthwhile. The do can come later when my body is more like I wish it was. Report
I agree totally with this. In fact, when I was training for my first 1/2 marathon and things got hard, that was the mantra I repeated to myself, and it worked. I did it.

Trying allows for failure. I don't do failure. Maybe I won't do something perfectly every time all the time, but I do it. Maybe I need to build up to my goal of 21.1 km over time, but I did it. If I was only trying, I think I may have allowed myself to be overwhelmed and quit.

I'm with Yoda on this one.
I think more people need to TRY rather than worrying about DO. I've been a Sparker for over 4 years now, and most people who start give up, and the ones who keep TRYING to me are the ones who deserve credit. I'm no where near my goal of "doing" but I keep TRYING.
Remember, in STAR WARS, they had the FORCE to help them. Report
I think doing is the thing here, a lot of people put too many preconceived notions on what doing is. They think that walking is not working out, it doesn't 'count' but if that is all you can do it does count. Yoga is about finding this, for me it is really important as an exercise of self love, I've pushed my body to hard and hurt my knees, they were still recovering. I have to work to remember that the process of yoga, and all processes in life are something which we must keep the middle ground. If only for our own happiness. Report
I fall on the side of thinking "try" and "trying" are fine as part of our vocabulary when used properly. It means solely "to attempt to do". If we do not attempt, then we are even further from doing than if we attempt and fall short.

When setting goals, there are some goals which are appropriately stated in firm terms:

I ~will~ drink 8 glasses of water or more each day.
I ~will~ exercise 10 minutes every night.

Those are things that, barring extreme circumstances, are very doable in the short term. All it takes is making the time or effort and doing.

Then there are other goals that are longer term, less clearly defined:

I ~will~ lose a pound or more every single week.
I ~will~ get a better job and make more money.

We can "do" all we want, but if we plateau for a few weeks, now we have "failed" that goal. We can "do" all we want, but if no one hires us for months or the only offer we get is lower pay but we'd be happy with the job, we have "failed".

Instead, if we "try" to lose a pound or more a week, we "do" actions that contribute to that - keep our calories and nutrition in line, keep our calorie burning adequate, changing things up. We may STILL not lose that week, but we didn't fail for not trying.

And maybe that's the key. If the goal is the doingness itself - do the yoga pose - there's no error is simply saying you will do it. If the goal is something the doingness leads to - do the yoga pose perfectly with attention on breathing and hold the full length of time - then each time we do that pose, we are building toward the goal we are trying to achieve. Report
sounds like discussions I've had with my children, but I didn't know that I was being influenced by Yoda. Good article Report
Heyyy, I du and I tri - athlons that is. Report
I don't believe that trying should be banned from our vocabulary. If I never "tried", I would have never started to succeed! You will never know if you can succeed at something unless you give it a try first. Report
I LOVE the Yoda quote! Sometimes I think saying you are going to "try" something gives you room to back out. You either do it or you don't........doing it doesn't mean you will be as successful as you want to be but it probably means you are doing your best. We are all a work in progress.

I think JGROTH51 (the 7th comment) really hit the nail on the head.

For months I said I was going to try running......I'd get 100 yards and walk the rest of the way. The day I told myself I was going to do it I jogged three miles without stopping.

Thanks for a terrific blog! Report
It's funny, because that's actually my least favorite quote ever. I think it takes away the credit of doing the best you can. Sometimes you can try and try and try to do something and it just doesn't happen for one reason or another. Should you not get the credit for all of that effort? That's what "trying" things out means! It's a great word.

I give myself a pat on the back for every time I'm willing to "try" something new, whether or not I achieve the end goal. Trying is my middle name! :) Report
Thank you so much for posting this! I too am in the same similar situation.... there are days I am strong & confident in my poses & am able to hold them for a long time, and there are others where my body is fighting almost every one. I try to keep a consistent schedule as far as practicing in the morning or evening, but it doesn't always work out that way. Some poses I typically do in the morning I'll try at night and vice versa, and like you, I find that it's more difficult in some ways. Thank you for the reminder that everything is ever changing, and to take out the word "try". It is something that I think could help me & I will definitely be giving it a try in the next week! Report
I have never seen star wars. But I love the quote. Report
Yoda's sage advice has been my mantra for several years now. Your blog reminded me to apply that not only to my weight loss, but for many aspects everyday. You reminded me that "We can and should set goals in life, but when things don't go as planned, when our timeline proves unattainable, it's not a reason to get mad, quit, or cast blame. It's a reason to keep going, keep doing--not trying. These times when things don't go as we planned, when they're downright bad, when you're sore, cranky, tired and ready to give up--that's not life going awry. That's life." Report
What a great post for me to read, I went to my first yoga class yesterday. I was so relieved to see the class was made up of all types of people and I did not feel judged. The instructor was wonderful and very helpful with a very calming voice. I went through most poses with my eyes closed, I don't know if that is normal but it just felt natural to me. Report
I can't say that because when I say that I am going to try something it obligates me. When I tell family and friends that I am going to try something it lets them know that I am putting forth an actual effort within my power. Report
yoga is called a practice for a reason - no one is ever perfect every day. just breathe and relax. P S Yoda isn't real Report
I often find when my students say they will "try" to do something, that is a passive-aggressive way of saying that they actually will not. Long ago I lost that word as part of any response as to whether I was going to actually do something or not. My life is much improved. Report
I have the Yoda quote in my SP photos, on my desk at work and on my Vision Collage. I have done a great job of deleting try from my vocabulary. What I have replaced it with is: "I will do my best." Report
I'm also a perfectionist, with a fear of failure. If I don't allow myself the option of attempting something new, I oftentimes won't try it, and that's unacceptable. I see your point, but we all do what works for us and I totally enjoyed this blog! It's wonderful to read insightful and thought-provoking ideas! Report
Thank you, I needed to hear this today. Report
Stepfanie, this is a great post. I loved your overall message and I totally agree that we have to stop saying "try." I have become a huge believer in the way we talk to ourselves - if we speak in definite, absolute language we accomplish more. Using wishy-washy language (like "try") allows for quitting and giving up, just like you said.

Change the way you talk to yourself and you change your life.

Thanks for this post!!! Report
Sorry, don't agree. Nice idea, but there's nothing wrong with 'trying.' (Though I like 'endeavor' or 'venture' better.) If one doesn't 'try' at all, that would be like giving up on living. You could say that if you're 'trying' something, you ARE actually 'doing' it as you are 'trying' it - but is that splitting hairs? Report
I'm a type A too and I can completely relate to this blog. thank for this. Report