What if you’ve tried your best?

14 Jun

Consolation is a lot like praise: it’s makes sense only if it’s given by others. If others praise you regularly, it’s because they recognised your effort or ability. But if you praise yourself regularly, it’s just obnoxious.

What has praise and consolation have to do with trying your best? Let me explain.

It’s all about the phrase, “I’ve tried my best.” If you’re like many people out there, dating and relationships is a frequent source of disappointment and grief. You might be experiencing fatigue from pushing yourself to meet more women. Or fatigue from getting your expectations and hopes repeatedly dashed. Or fatigue from keeping your failing relationship together.

During such times, you might have told yourself, “I’ve already tried my best.” Or on a more positive note, “I’ll try harder next time.”

The word “try” is a problematic word.

In a frequently cited (and re-enacted) scene from Tony Robbin’s seminar, the celebrity coach snaps at a woman for repeatedly using the word “Try”:

“Well, I tried that once and…”

“Yeah, I think I’ll give that a try next time…”

“Yeah, I can try that…”

Saying “I’ve tried” was her way to avoid taking a hard look at what she’s done wrong in the past, and to take concrete steps at correction.

Is it yours?

I’m not going to take a hard line of many life coaches, who say we shouldn’t even have the word “Try” in our vocabulary. The ambiguous word “try” has its obvious uses. Say you have a good friend who failed an important exam. Say you know the amount of effort he’s put into the exam preparation. You’d tell him, “I know you’ve tried your best.” Your intention is not to correct his mistakes. (You don’t know what they were.) Your intent is to console him.

On the other hand, if you’ve just been rebuffed by a girl you were attracted to, do you tell yourself, “I’ve tried my best”? I’m not sure what good that does. Do you mean you’re giving up, because your best effort just failed? Or do you mean you intend to try again in future, possibly with even more effort? Regardless of your intention (I can’t assume I know it), it’s an ambiguous assessment at best—you may think you’ve put in your maximum effort in your last attempt, but you still don’t know what went wrong with your approach, or what to do different next time. In the journey of self-improvement, it’s not enough to console yourself. You have to learn from your mistakes and improve on your next try.

To conclude, consolation is a lot like praise: it’s makes sense only if it’s given by others. If your buddy says “I know you’ve tried your best”, take comfort that you’ve got a good friend. But if you tell yourself regularly, “It’s not my fault because I’ve already tried my best,” you may be your worst enemy. You could be unnecessarily making yourself out to be a victim.


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