Archive for February, 2015

Toxicity of Trying

Thursday, February 19th, 2015

Are these really Andy Murray’s motivational notes? I really do hope they are not – but there has been no denial and they appear to have been written on the back of a letter to him.

Why do I hope they are not? Well, to me they appear toxic. Toxic to a top sports person seeking to be the best they can be (in other words winning every match).

As with all top sports people, I’m sure that Andy and his team pore over huge amounts of performance data to analyse what he is doing, how he is doing it, when he is doing it, etc.  So let’s undertake a little analyse of these motivational notes:

  • There are 61 words on the page
  • These are divided into 10 points
  • There are 4 words – which are either verbs or words with 3 or more letters – that appear three or more times – ‘be’ (4), ‘your’ (4), ‘the’ (3) and ‘try’ (3).

Of that analysis, the last point is the most striking and concerning for me.

Murray is going to ‘try’ to do something.

And almost of a third of the 10 points he is going to ‘try’ to achieve.

The word ‘try’ is one of the most unhelpful – perhaps even toxic – words that can be used in relation to performance management and improvement.

How many organisations publish goals that say they are going to ‘try’ to do something?

In your personal or professional life, what do you mean when you say you are going to ‘try’ to do something? Just say it to yourself now …

It usually means one of two things. Firstly, it could mean that you might have a go, but you’re not convinced that you will be able to achieve it – because of your personal abilities, your belief or your other time constraints. Secondly, it could mean that you have no intention of doing or will to do it, but you add the word ‘try’ in to avoid the discussion around the fact you will not be doing it.

It isn’t even a word that needs replacing – it just needs taking out.

“Try to be the one dictating”, becomes “Be the one dictating”.

“Try to keep him at the baseline make him move”, becomes “Keep him at the baseline make him move”.

How different do those sentences sound and feel without the word ‘try’?

I have worked with a number of people who have struggled to pass exams – I work with them on their personal approach and exam techniques. I am proud of my success in that every person who I have worked with – all who have previously failed the nominated exam – have all passed (or even gained Distinctions) with the work we have undertaken together.

One of the foundations of this approach is that I will not permit the use of the word ‘try’. As I have mentioned previously in one of my blogs, Yoda understand this.

In the Star Wars film, “The Empire Strikes Back”. Yoda, the small and strange looking Jedi Master is training Luke Skywalker. Yoda sets him numerous challenges and tests to help mould the youth into a Jedi. When Luke is given one particularly challenging task, he responds to Yoda that he will ‘try’.  “No,” Yoda retorts, “Do, or do not. There is no try.”

As Murray’s team continues to mould him into the best tennis player he can be, they need to address the ‘try’ – “Do or do not. There is no try.”

Incidentally, Murray lost the match.

You might not be a tennis player, or taking an exam – but the principle is the same – so when do you use the word ‘try’ and what impact can it have for you if you were to drop it?

Paul