How to Succeed Without Trying
“If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There's no point in being a damn fool about it." - W. C. Fields
We’re one week into the Olympics in Rio, so there’s already been a lot of trying, and some succeeding, going on over there. Sport is certainly one area where the “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” philosophy gets a run, but it is certainly applied in many other areas of life as well. So is it a sensible way to approach things?
Is trying helpful?
Patrick Macdonald, an Alexander Technique teacher who trained in the 1930’s, wrote “When at first you don’t succeed, never try again, at least, not in the same way. Trying almost always involves extra and excessive tension.” It’s all well and good to want to succeed, but it’s important to pay attention to how that success will be achieved. Consider the process that you think will bring success, put that process into practice and see what happens. Then, if at first you don’t succeed, stop. And think. Work out which part of the process may need changing, change it, and have another go. “Trying” as Alexander wrote “is only emphasizing the thing we know already”. And if the ‘thing we know already’ hasn’t worked, we need to do something different, and not simply try the old way again.
It’s not how hard, but how.
Alexander went on to say :“It is not the degree of ‘willing’ or ‘trying’, but the way in which the energy is directed, that is going to make the ‘willing’ or ‘trying’ effective”. I’m pretty sure any athlete good enough to be at the Olympics knows this. The runner or swimmer knows how important it is to maintain their ‘form’, or ‘shape’, as does the weightlifter, the table tennis player, and the high jumper. But what about the rest of us?
Why does this matter to me?
Any time you feel you’ve been trying hard to achieve something but not succeeding, this is something to think about. It may be learning to play an instrument, changing your diet, cooking a meal, or getting the kids to school (or yourself to work) on time. Throwing more effort and tension at things may feel like it helps, but if you’re simply emphasizing the thing you know already, the result will be the same - nothing will change or improve. Changing habits is an integral part of the Alexander Technique. It teaches people how to stop the old habit, and how to replace it with something better. It teaches people to stop trying - to stop using excessive tension to achieve things, so they can achieve what they set out to do without damaging themselves in the process.
And while I’m sure this approach is standard for the elite athletes at the Olympics, you don’t have to be an Olympian to put it into practice. With a bit of thought you can reduce extra tension and still succeed, without trying, at everything you’re doing during your day. Or as Yoda put it in The Empire Strikes Back: “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”
Bradley Newman teaches the Alexander Technique in Sydney. For more information see firstname.lastname@example.org .or email Bradley on