Last week, I found a book by Edward Slingerland with my name on it: Trying Not to Try
You see I’m Sally F. and I’m a try-aholic.
I know that there are some of you out there who’d understand. Here’s how to tell if you’re a try-aholic:
- When confronted with a big goal, you take a catch breath and brace for action.
- You believe that most challenges can be met by doing more.
- You look at your schedule and then add an additional 50% more tasks.
- You’ve mastered the art of working without breathing for minutes (hours?) at a time.
- You’re respond better to the command “Attention!” than to “At Ease!”.
- Suggestions like “try to relax” drive you crazy, especially when prescribed for insomnia.
- Your dentist tells you that you grind your teeth, but he’ll make things better for the mere cost of a trip to Puerto Vallerta (for him).
The first step is to admit the problem. But recovery is not easy.
In today’s culture, the obsession with trying shows up everywhere.
“We Try Harder” Avis Rent a Car
On cheesy motivational posters in your meeting rooms:
“Winning is everything – it’s the only thing.” Vince Lombardi
In popular adages from your Grandmother:
“You won’t get anywhere if you don’t try.”
And messages so pervasive they don’t have a source:
“Success comes to those who try.”
So it’s time to join me and admit the disease. This is a problem you’re going to confront every day of your life, especially if you want to one day experience letting go, working or creating in “the zone”, or “flow”, that mysterious term coined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (I dare you to say his name…).
So in the spirit of recovery, I offer my confessional – a piece of real life.
I take regular riding lessons, with a professional instructor, very proficient and caring, but with high standards for horse and rider. And a bit old school. (No horse whisperers at her barn!)
During my lesson, I enter the riding arena with my wonder-mare Mariah, and begin to walk, then trot in circles. My job, at this point in the lesson, is to help Mariah relax and find her balance under saddle as she moves forward with me on board and a bit in her mouth. She should neither avoid the bit, nor pull on it and lean her weight forward.
Today, things aren’t going well. Mariah’s head is bobbling up and down as we trot. Maybe I’m just tense, or she’s just having a bad-mane day.
I do everything I can: Correct my posture. Offer her suggestions for rebalancing herself. Trot in smaller circles. Ask her to stretch. Tap her with the whip. Go faster. Go slower. She’s still bobbling and I’m running out of tricks.
Then I hear THE VOICE bellowing from afar. “You’ve trotted around long enough. MAKE SOMETHING HAPPEN – MAKE IT HAPPEN NOW.”
This is the moment I dread. The commandment: try harder or else.
My disease takes over. I resume more trying. Forget gentle, focused awareness. Instead, I snap into action. Time to DO MORE of everything I have been doing; get more assertive with my horse, swear a little and (most probably) brace and stop breathing.
This, friends, is not “flow state”.
But the temptation was too great. Never tell a try-aholic to “make it happen”.
In my fantasies the instructor says, “Ok. Just stop for a second. Take a breathe. You’re doing fine. Your leg looks better today.” (aka “you’re not a total failure”). When you’re ready, ask Mariah to trot ahead and pay attention to your breathing. Notice what you feel. Pay attention to what’s going on in your body. Are you gripping? Learning more on one side or another? Breathing? Notice what’s happening to Mariah. Don’t judge…just notice.”
Dream on pony girl, we’re dealing with the real world where “they” don’t change and we have to focus on us.
The danger of goals
When you’re a try-aholic goals are tricky. They’re seductively enticing (if I meet the target and do two extra things, I’ll be a really good person), but also risky (If I fail, I feel like sh-t.) I know goals can be motivating reminders, but remember you’re dealing with someone in recovery.
Try-aholics need our own 12-step program. (Meditating and/or turning this over to a higher power sounds pretty darn good.)
But lacking that, I’m reading the book.
Author Slingerland writes:
“Our excessive focus in the modern world on the power of conscious thought and the benefits of willpower and self-control causes us to overlook the pervasive importance of what might be called “body thinking”: tacit, fast, and semiautomatic behavior that flows from the unconscious with little or not conscious interference. The result is that we often devote ourselves to pushing harder or moving faster in areas of our life where effort and striving are profoundly counterproductive.”
Profoundly counterproductive. Check that!
He introduces us to the Chinese concept of Wu-wei means “no trying or not doing” a kind of effortless attention akin to what we might call flow, in which body, emotions and mind are seamlessly integrated.
So how do I try and do that? (sigh…)
I can’t wait for his suggestions on achieving a state where spontaneity is present and efforting disappears.
However tonight, I decided not to push and TRY and read the whole book to give you his answers.
Instead, I’ll fill you in when I finish the book.
But in the interim, if you decide to join me in accepting that try-aholicism is a disease, I have some first steps in recovery I wisely give to other people.
- Don’t worry about changing. Actually, don’t worry at all. Or when you worry, don’t worry that you’re worried.
- When you find yourself tensing, which you will, just notice things like: “Hey, I haven’t taken a breathe in five minutes.”
- Notice what you’re feeling, emotionally and in your body especially when you’re upset, (like “when Donald Trump goes on TV I notice that my stomach feels…”.)
- Don’t judge yourself – or better yet – judge yourself and then don’t judge yourself for judging yourself.
- Stay tuned.
To be continued….