The Difference Between Trying and Doing

There’s an instructive scene in the Star Wars movie, The Empire Strikes Back. Yoda is instructing Luke Skywalker in how to use the Force. He asks Luke to retrieve his disabled spaceship out of a bog where it has sunk, using only his mind.

Luke, of course, thinks this is impossible. Sure, he has been able to move stones around this way. But a spaceship? That’s completely different. Or is it.

Yoda patiently explains that it is only different in his mind. Luke reluctantly agrees to “give it a try.”

Yoda famously says, “No. Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try.“

Recently, I watched Tony Robbins [Warning: rough language] give similar advice to a woman who was struggling in her marriage. She stood up in one of his seminars to ask a question. She complained that she had “tried everything” to improve her relationship with her husband but nothing had changed.

Tony went on to make a distinction that I think is vitally important. He asked the woman to try to pick up the chair she was sitting in. She turned around and picked up the chair.

Tony said, “No, you picked it up. I said try to pick it up.”

The woman looked confused. Tony reiterated, “Try to pick it up.” The woman just stood there, not knowing what to do.

Tony continued, “No, now you’re not picking it up. I said try to pick it up.” Again, she picked up the chair.

Again, Tony, said, “No, you picked up the chair. I asked you to try and pick it up. You either pick it up, you don’t pick it up, or you try to pick it up.”

The point is that when we say we are trying we don’t really have to do anything. It also provides us with an excuse for why we didn’t accomplish the outcome we say we want.

Do you understand the difference? You either do something or you don’t do it. Trying is really the same as not doing it. It just makes it easier for us to let ourselves off the hook when we fail.

Where are you trying to improve?

  • Are you trying to get in shape or are you getting in shape.
  • Are you trying to improve your marriage or are improving your marriage.
  • Are you trying to make more sales calls or are you making more sales calls.

This may sound like a small distinction, but it has huge ramifications.

Maybe it’s time to quit trying and just do it. Here are three suggestions:

  1. Eliminate the word “try” from your vocabulary. It is a worthless word that accomplishes nothing. It only makes you feel better when you fail.
  2. Decide either to do or not do. If you don’t want to do something fine. Don’t do it. But don’t pretend that trying is the same as doing. They are two completely different postures.
  3. Commit 100 percent to the outcome you want. Like the project manager in Apollo 13 said, “Failure is not an option.” Play full out. Go for the win. Don’t settle for merely trying.

As Yoda suggested to Luke, the difference may only be in your mind, but it has a dramatic impact on the outcome of whatever you set out to do.

Question: Where have you been trying instead of doing? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • http://candelierious.blogspot.com Lis

    What an excellent post.  I’ve had it in my email to read and just got to it today.  Need to live this!

  • http://specializingintheimpossible.wordpress.com/ Laura Johnson

    LOVE the comparison between trying and doing. 
    My boss constantly ‘tries’. Most of the time it turns into ‘not doing’. Reading this article and having the words clarified in my mind, helps me. Yes, I will always have hope. But knowing ‘trying’ does not mean ‘doing’ helps me to refocus myself more productively at work. 
    Thanks! :) 

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  • http://www.TheNarrowPassage.com/ Timothy Lynn Burchfield

    NIKE is right!  “Just DO IT”

  • Tommyzerse

    I have been “trying” to start my own business for 10 years.  Instead, I have gone to work for other people always with the idea that it will segue into ownership.  I have done this 3-4 times over the last 15 years and the results are always the same. 
    When I say “I am trying”, what I am really saying is “I am afraid that I am going to fail in ay of 100 different ways”.
    I had a baseball coach in high school that used to say “trying is lying, just get it done”.  

  • JoeinTaiwan

    This is a great post!  Thanks for the reminder.

  • http://twitter.com/RoccoDapice Rocco Dapice

    Great article!

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  • itsonlyapapermoon

    I don’t agree. Everyone needs a challenge, but you can’t always achieve everything you want to in life. You cannot win the war but you can pick your battles so to speak. 
    Trying is better than giving up and dropping out. It is better to have tried and failed than not have tried at all.

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  • Guilan

    Now…pick up that car.

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  • Davidbrin

    That scene is one of dozens showing just how horribly evil the Yoda character is.  Can you name one thing he ever does that is actually wise or decent or friendly or even helpful?  A horrid little oven mitt.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      You mean other than the one I used as the foundation for this post?

    • Laura Johnson

      So you think it’s horrible when a person pushes another person to better themselves, to reach a level of greatness never realized before? I want people like that in my life. I want to realize my full potential.

  • http://www.etsy.com/shop/auntiesworkshop Auntie

    Not sure if I follow your reasoning on this one.  To try is to attempt to accomplish, correct?  We have to try because we don’t have control over everything.  Take the woman and the chair example.  What if she had a physical problem that precluded her ability to lift the chair?  Then, she would have to TRY to lift it without assistance.  If I am to succeed at anything without any help, I can only try.  For example, I’ve started a small at-home arts and crafts business.  I have made a Facebook page, have an Etsy store, and bring my wares with me whenever I’m out to try (oh no) to sell my items.  I haven’t had a lot of sales yet, so it is making and attempt to sell an item because I don’t have control over someone else to make them buy.

    • http://www.etsy.com/shop/auntiesworkshop Auntie

      *making an attempt.  Sorry

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  • Raven

    I completely disagree, at least for me.  This is because I take my word seriously.  If someone asks me to do something, and I am not 100% sure (and when in the world do we get 100% surety) that I will be able to accomplish it, I cannot, in good faith, promise that I will do it.  Picking up a chair is easy.  I would have 100% surety that I could pick up a chair, and I would do it.  Picking up a chair that is too heavy to lift . . . well?  Should the woman look at it and just not pick it up?  I suppose that would remove the problem, since  she’s not promising to try or do, and thus can’t break her word.  But what if someone she loves really needs her to pick up the chair?  Wouldn’t it be better for her to try and fail than to assume it won’t work ahead of time?  Maybe not.  Maybe in trying, she’d break her back and they’d both be in bad shape.

    I know a lot of people use “try” to get out of things.  I don’t.  I use it to be honest in my dealings with others.  If I don’t know whether I will be able to succeed, I can’t promise I will.  All I can promise is that I will put forth my best effort toward that goal, so that is what I promise.  I feel anything else would be dishonest.

  • http://www.missamaryah.wordpress.com/ Amaryah LaBeff

    When I read the title of this blog I immediately recalled the Tony Robbins video (I wonder if the Yoda dialogue was in his sub-conscience).  Good stuff!  

    Michael, I can’t thank you enough for the encouragement and resources you share.  I’ve been reading your blog for years and “trying” to get my blog and book project out the door (my book has been complete  since 2009 and just sitting at home!).  After listening to your podcast on the way home from my vacation 2 weeks ago (wherein you quoted the proverb about “the best time to plant a tree”) I decided to “do” instead of “try”… it only took a couple years of indoctrination. ;)  Anyway, you’ve been a real inspiration.  In the past 2 weeks, I’ve posted several blogs (www.missamaryah.wordpress.com), posted twitter updates at regular intervals (using Buffer, of course), written several more blog to be posted soon, compiled a list of future blogs ideas, and so much more.  So thank you for getting me off my butt and encouraging me to “do”.  I’m on a roll.  I can tell it’s going to take time but I’m in it for the long haul and happy to be finding my voice.  THANK YOU!  

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  • Eatme

    In a Marriage,, you only have control of Yourself,, Not the other person. It takes 2 to make a relationship work. Lifting a chair only involves a passive object. Getting in shape only involves you. Not the same as in a marriage

  • Kimdodd

    This is going to sound silly but I’ve used this principle for years with my clients in therapy. I call it “Training vs Trying” and first learned about it from a book by John Ortberg. Ortberg used it in reference to spiritual disciplines. I reframed it to setting goals in therapy. The ironic part is that I often use the scene from Star Wars and tell my clients that “try” is a 3 letter word!
    It was incredible to read this post! I love it!

  • Sri

    Awesome post! I’m a big fan of Tony. Didn’t recognize master Yoda’s guidance. Thanks and have a great day!

  • jedidia chilijila

    YOU MADE MY DAY,YOU OPENED UP MY MIND I WON’T TRY ANYMORE FROM THIS POINT

  • Andy

    I really like the way you’ve made this point…I have conveyed this play on words to show my kids the difference…when they say ‘I tried that or this’ I respond with “Oh? I think you’ve Tried my Patience, Humor, and Perseverance…now lets Do Something. 

  • Ariel Paz

    I agree, Michael. In fact, It’s all about making a decision and the commitment behind our decision that determines whether we succeed or fail in our efforts. Many famous people have tried and failed many times, but their commitment eventually paid off. I recently wrote a blog post on this very thought. Nice video to demonstrate the point too. http://www.arielpaz8.blogspot.com/2013/05/the-first-step-to-transformation.html.

  • Kickass Entrepreneurs

    It’s such a fantastic realisation, when you get that trying to do something and doing something is as different as night and day. I love the that video of Tony Robbins telling the lady to try and lift up the chair and her total confusion when he keeps repeating ‘no, I told you to try to lift up the chair’, you’re lifting up the chair’. It was a hard lesson for her but a great one!

  • victoria

    This is awesome advice. I was recently told that I have a do attitude and I do everything, or fail whole heartedly. Something I take as a compliment. My attitude is based on this same principle….that try doesn’t exist, just doing or not doing, something my parents instilled in me from a very young age. It’s good advice, and I love the way you shared it, understandable for everyone.

  • http://www.johnrmeese.com/p/about-me.html John Meese

    You quoted Star Wars in a blog post? That’s wonderful. Of the many lessons to learn in those movies, this was the most memorable to me.

  • Movies by Depuhl

    I was gonna chime in that trying is not really doing (when I read the headline in the tweet), but reading the post I wholeheartedly agree. There is just doing and there’s not doing (talking about doing, thinking about doing, wishing I was doing is all the same as trying to do.) It’s not about succeeding. You can do and fail, just don’t let that stop you from doing again. And the bigger (more impossible) thing you go and do, the greater your possible success. The only way to ensure you fail, is by not doing in the first place.

  • Melinda Todd

    This is really good advice. I know that with writing novels, I get so bogged down in worrying that it’s no good that I end up not finishing any of them. I’ve finally come to the conclusion that it shouldn’t matter if it’s perfect – it won’t be – but more that I finish it and write ‘the end’.

  • http://rickwolff.com Rick Wolff

    When a hypnotist (or at least Derren Brown, who explained the technique) convinces subjects that their arms are too heavy to lift, the word “try” is INTEGRAL to the suggestion, and repeated: “You try and try, but no matter how hard you try…” And to conclude, he says, “At the count of three, you’ll find you’re able to lift your arms with ease.”

  • Pam

    I believe you can “try” something and not be successful because you do not have the correct tools or help. I can attempt to move a one ton boulder but I will not be able to move it without the correct tools. I can attempt to lose weight but without the knowledge of how to activate my metabolism I will not have much success. The tools are necessary for the “doing”.

    • http://TillerFamily.org/ John Tiller

      So true, Pam!
      You achieve a much better return when you sharpen your ax, than you do when you swing your ax with a dull blade.

  • Dylan_REIAofMacomb

    Motivation is what you seek…
    -Yoda

    • http://theordainedbarista.com/ Barry Hill

      “Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose.”—Yoda