What If You Tried Really Hard?

When I was in the process of quitting smoking, I was having a discussion with somebody and heard myself say this:

“God, I'm just trying SO HARD, you know?”

After making this (in hindsight quite self-pitying) statement, I had a thought.

“Am I trying hard?”

Like, I'm certainly thinking about it a lot. I'm guilting myself a considerable portion of the day. I'm embroiling myself in the drama a lot.

Sure, I'm putting a significant amount of effort into talking about how difficult it is, self-flagellation, whining, reading endless articles on the Internet, and sundried other ignoble pursuits, but am I putting a comparable amount of effort into not putting a cigarette into my mouth and setting fire to the end?

On observation, it would appear that I wasn't. I wasn't trying very hard at all.

What would trying really hard look like?

It occurred to me that trying only really counts if it occurs at the place in time and space where the trying makes a difference. Like, “trying” to quit smoking doesn't count when you're thinking about it on the bus, or reading an article about it, or musing on the topic while chopping carrots.

It only counts as trying when you are in the act of almost putting a cigarette into your mouth and setting fire to the end. The rest of the time it doesn't count as trying – it counts as intending or researching or thinking or musing or sometimes whining.

Because “try” means “attempt”. Attempt is a verb, yes, but it is also a noun. In order to attempt (the verb) there has to be an attempt (the noun).

In order for an attempt to have taken place, there had to have been a thing, and a visible effort. Like, you have to be able to replay the tape of the day and point to the footage of yourself in the act of doing the trying.

If you tried to hang a painting on your bathroom wall, you could replay the tape of your Saturday afternoon and point to yourself in the act of trying.

If I'm “trying really hard” to quit smoking but there's nothing I can point to on the tape, there wasn't really an attempt. If there wasn't an attempt, I wasn't “trying” at all, and I certainly wasn't trying “really hard”.

So it made me wonder, what would trying really hard look like? What would have to happen so that I could replay a tape and point to the trying really hard part?

If we're talking about smoking, maybe it could look like pulling my little “what to do when you're thinking about smoking” list off the bulletin board. It could be picking up a Rubik's Cube to distract myself, or taking a shower, or painting my nails, or going for a walk, or drinking a bottle of water, or taking deep breaths, or listening to my hypnosis audio.

I could show you the tape and point to myself doing something and you could say, “Oh! There it is!”

Now what about business? What would trying really hard look like on the tape?

A little trying exercise for today:

Step one:

Think of a thing you're “trying” to do. (You know you have one.)

Step two:

What would “trying really hard” look like in that arena? Like, on a screen? If you played me a tape of someone “trying really hard”, what would you show me? What would you point to?

Step three:

Now look at what you're doing. Do the tapes look the same? (I'll tell you – mine sure don't.)

Step four:

Regardless of your answer in step three – whether the tapes looked the same or different – think about what you can do today. What could you do today – one small thing – that would look like the tape of someone really trying?


  • If you're “trying really hard” to write more content for your blog, perhaps you could open your word processor and type some words for a sustained period of time. (Furrow your brow a bit, too.) That would look like trying on a tape.


  • If you're “trying really hard” to keep in touch with your contacts, perhaps you could open up your email client and write to one of them and say, “Hello! I was thinking of you today! How are you?” That would look like trying on a tape. (If you wanted to put the “really” into “trying really hard”, you could even do this more than once.)


  • If you're “trying really hard” to keep your desk clean, perhaps you could pick up a thing that is on your desk and put it somewhere that is not your desk, and then you could repeat that process several times. That would look like trying on a tape.

Let's do it together.

Here, I'll go first. I'm writing this on a Sunday, so today is not a work day for me. I'll pick a home thing. I'm going to try to do one load of laundry.

On the tape, this will look like me putting laundry into a basket, bringing it downstairs, washing it, drying it, folding it, and putting it away. It will NOT look like repeatedly opening Candy Crush: Soda Saga on my phone to see if my five lives have refreshed yet, or puttering around in the bathroom, throwing out lipsticks and calling it housework.

See? Now your turn. :)

Thanks for reading! Here’s what you can do next: