So this is gonna be a reflective post, rather that an update post. But I’ve been getting a lot of the same advice across the board recently–singing lessons, Meisner classes, from my mother… all variations of the Nike trademark “just do it.” Sometimes even “stop trying so hard!” Which, I’ll admit, to my over-achiever brain, blows my mind. How can you do something without trying?
But you know what, damn it, they had a point. When I think about “doing my best” vs. “trying to be my best,” there’s a subtle but major difference between the two. Failure.
There is no way to fail at doing my best. Whatever I do, however well I do it, that was the best I could do at that moment in time in that situation. Just by doing something, just by completing the action, I succeeded. The quality with which I completed the action is another, related story, but not the point. Now, exceptions might include self-sabotaging habits and choices, but lets assume for the most part you are a healthy, sane-ish person who wants to do well. By focusing on the action and not the outcome, I usually get a much better outcome! And am a much happier person in the meanwhile.
But with trying, you introduce the option of failure. If you try to do something, you can either succeed or fail. You bring failing into the picture, sometimes even (if you’re like me) fixate on it. Some study somewhere on the internet shows if you say “don’t look!” to someone, all their brain really hears is “look” with the filter of “don’t” applied in a delayed manner later (I read it somewhere, don’t quote me on it). The pressure, and the focus, is now on the outcome, not the process, which usually decreases the quality of the outcome and your enjoyment of the process.
If you’re a singer, you know pushing and tension = bad singing and openness and vocal freedom = good singing. When I “try” to sing something right, I usually end up pushing, over-focusing on every little thing internally, my voice becomes strident. Sometimes nothing is technically “wrong” with my performance, it’s just not as pleasant for the audience. When I just “do” it, my brain is style hyper-actively trying to do everything I’ve learned to do about quality singing, but I’m not focusing on that part. It still happens, but I’m counterbalancing it with being in my moment and being proud of myself for just doing what I’m supposed to be doing. The same thing happens with my acting when I’m “trying” to nail it; only instead of my voice, I’m pushing my emotions (in your FACE audience!) instead of just letting them happen.
So for me (that’s a big catch! if these words don’t have these connotations for you, then none of this applies!), just doing something makes me focus on the action, the process, and more importantly allows me to subconsciously define success as having completed an action that was meaningful and important to me. Trying something makes me focus on right vs. wrong, mistake and failure vs. success and achievement, pushing to make the one happen and avoid the other. You know what they say, you subconsciously bring things into your life when you obsess over them. So when I bring the fear of failure into my life, I’m actually bringing failure with it, spending my mental and emotional energy on it.
But if these words don’t subconsciously mean the same things to you, or come with the same emotional baggage, then your words will be different. The phrase you whisper to yourself when you’re nervous and you need to center will be different. This is no prescription for how to “think right.” It’s just my way of admitting I’m ready to let go of the “trying” crutch that I’ve held onto for so long.
So I owe you one mom, and mentors, and shoe commercials and tiny green fictional characters–the less I try, the more I succeed. Not because I work any less hard, but because I stop worrying about failing and start worrying about doing.