Why 'Try' is Your Biggest Lie

Why 'try' is your biggest lie


'Tis the season of new year resolutions...

You may be adding the finishing touches to your annual life plan and audit career path right now or perhaps you’re striving for a dry January, maybe virtuously sustaining those twice weekly gym sessions.

But here's a little tip: take out the word try from any and all of your goals, targets or objectives, whether they be enduring aspirations from your audit performance appraisal or small intentions like going to bed before midnight or being on time your client meetings.  Face it: 'I'll try to improve my billing targets' or 'I'll try and look at changing my job this year', are just not going to cut it.

Why? Well firstly, as Jurek Leon points out in his Terrific Tips Newsletter:

Let’s say you are holding a BBQ at home or arranging a staff function for work. You say to a colleague, 'will you be coming on Saturday?'; their response is, 'I’ll try'. Do you expect them to attend? No, I didn’t think so. What ‘I’ll try’ typically means is, 'I’m too embarrassed to tell you I won’t be coming. I can’t think of a plausible excuse right now but this should let me off the hook!'

Ummmm. Are you squirming? He's horribly right isn't he?

But this is not just about how we talk to other people; for goal-setting, at best, try is the weakest level of commitment and at worst it opens up a whole world of excuses, removing any pretence of ownership or accountability. It simply offers a universal get out clause.

This is not just anecdotal; what we now know from brain science supports the importance of the language that we use. Not only does the language provide a precise instruction to the brain (note precise, so write down those goals!) but it also contributes to shaping our thinking and our emotions.

When you set yourself up to try and lose weight or try to use a coaching style in managing your audit team, you might be instructing your conscious mind to have a go, but your subconscious mind won’t respond to that flaky approach and will just flip back to well-trodden neural pathways and familiar ways of doing things.

So eliminate the ‘try’ and instead, use the PPP acronym for objective setting:

  • Positive: state what you want rather than what you don’t want – remember the brain can’t process negatives (If I say 'don’t think of an elephant'…you can’t NOT think of an elephant!);
  • Personal: make it a strong intent to encourage focus, indicated by the use of ‘I’;
  • Present: word your intentions in the present tense – as if they are already happening; the subconscious brain can’t distinguish between the real and the imagined, so using ‘future memory’ can really help with motivation.

In other words:

  • Instead of: I will try to not eat chocolate
  • Use: I choose snacks for their nutritional content
  • Instead of: I will try to look at changing my job this year
  • Use: I will update my CV and apply for at least one suitable job each week

Back to Jurek again with a timely reminder of the wise words of Yoda:

'Do, or do not. There is no try'.

But that’s with one last postscript; you can always save try for a polite (if less than honest) way of saying no to those social invitations you'd rather not attend!


Back to article list