Growing up, I learned a phrase I could use to serve as a litmus test for the validity of my work:
Whether you were being motivated by a mentor as you set out to achieve your dreams (try hard and you can do anything!)…
I’m sure you learned about this “trying hard” thing, too:
…comforted by a caregiver after you stumbled (oh honey, you tried your hardest)…
…barked at by a coach as you chased a ball across a sports field (you didn’t catch it, try harder next time!!)…
…or something else, “trying hard” is what many of us were taught is the key to life.
Not only the key to getting what you WANT in life, but like in the caregiver example, the key to soothing the sting of NOT getting it. And like in the coach example, the key to figuring out why, maybe, you didn’t get it.
If you tried really really really hard and didn’t get something, well, at least you tried really really really hard, right?
Or maybe the thing is that you actually didn’t try hard ENOUGH.
The thing is, that’s what’s really at the core of all that TRYING HARD self-talk.
The unspoken subtext is: in order to get what you want in life, the journey has to be long, arduous, painful, and draining — and you’ve got to be willing to wear yourself down completely.
Moreover, if you don’t get what you’re going after, it means you must not have tried hard enough.
Forget about whether you actually tried hard or not — if it didn’t happen, there was a level of “hard” you must not have hit.
Some things require a LOT of work that IS long, arduous, painful, or draining. Sometimes, trying harder — in which case, I mean pursuing something that forces you to face and surmount difficulty, usually by using physical, mental, or emotional skills that might seem daunting to access — is necessary.
But not ALL TIMES.
For me, TRYING is usually HARD. And not hard as in difficult. Hard as in aggressive and tough and, honestly, usually kind of abrasive on my soul.
I run mental marathons.
I solve for every possible potential-problem.
I craft my words and manage my moves.
This all benefits me, until it doesn’t.
Trying so aggressively, I’ve learned, is only really effective to a point. It’s like sanding down a piece of wood trying to get rid of any and every possibility of a splinter, and rubbing SO hard that you end up ripping through the paper and burning your fingers from the friction.
Not only that, but placing HARD-TRYING over everything else completely ignores very real factors at play. Sometimes, no matter how “hard” you try, you simply cannot personal-effort your way out of struggle. Whether you’re dealing with mental illness, a physical disability, were born into a body or culture that has been discriminated against for centuries, or simply don’t fit into the (usually white, cisgendered, slim, heteronormative) box society has deemed the “default” — please know that if things feel hard, it’s not because you’re not trying hard enough. It’s because things ARE hard. Period. We cannot “mindset” or “try hard” our way out of experiencing some of our very realest strugges.
And still. We’re constantly told (both explicitly and in implied ways) that to achieve the life we want to live, we’ve just got to try really really really hard to get it.
HERE’S THE THING ABOUT THAT:
When “try harder” is the only acceptable option we’re given to help us overcome our challenges, we start to internalize that not only is getting what we want a matter of personal effort alone…
…but we start to internalize that struggle isn’t just a precursor to success, it’s a hallmark of it.
A few weeks ago, I saw the phrase “try easier” on an Instagram post. I don’t remember who posted it, but the phrase stuck with me.
In the spin classes I’ve been teaching for over 15 years, I often say to people that embracing the quiet moments or recovery periods — the “easy” parts — might be the hardest work of all. But rarely have I stopped to think about the opposite, and if that could be true.
What if the things we ASSUME will be super hard…aren’t always as hard as we thought? Or rather, don’t require us to bring more hardness into the mix?
What if we’re making difficult moments even more difficult than they need to be, because we’ve decided “the more struggle, the more success”?
What if our idea of needing to “try harder” during certain moments is just that — an idea we’ve formed about an experience before it’s even begun?
Is it possible to try easier, while still trying with your whole heart?
TRYING FULLY, WITH TRUST
Here’s what I’ve landed on when it comes to this idea of what it means to “try easier,” especially in hard moments:
TRY EASIER does not mean TRY LESS.
It does not mean DON’T TRY.
It doesn’t even mean TRY TO IGNORE discomfort or struggle.
It means TRY FULLY, with TRUST.
It means you don’t need to completely exhaust yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally over every single step you take. It means you stay invested but let go of the idea that every moment requires the same level of intensity as the last one.
Because lemme tell you: that’s a really draining habit to get yourself into, and being drained means you have very little left to give in the long run.
I know that some things will require more of me. That’s expected. I welcome it.
But when I approach *everything* with the same level of “gusto” (which is sometimes just control disguised as passion, tbh) I don’t end up having the energy to give myself fully where it really matters. And that’s a damn shame.
The way you do one thing, contrary to popular belief, does not need to be the way you do all things.
Sometimes the most difficult thing to do is to let things be what they are.
It doesn’t mean you don’t care or are checked out.
The opposite, actually:
Embracing ease when it comes up means you’re maximizing the moment you’re in.
WANT YOUR SELF: SOME PRACTICAL WAYS TO “TRY EASIER”
So, I know all this is good and fine. But you might be like, cool Katie, so how do I start IMPLEMENTING this?
Yes, of course sometimes you WILL find yourself on the struggle bus, but the goal is to stop relying on it as your main mode of transportation.
Here are a few ways to STOP using struggle as a metric of success, and START trying easier, fully, and with trust:
- Ask yourself: what would this look, sound, feel like if this were easy? See what comes up for you, and try them on for size. You can always let them go, but you’ll never know if you don’t try.
- Invite literal EASE into your physicality. Unclench your jaw, unfurrow your brow, melt your shoulders down your back away from your ears, intentionally breathe deeply and exhale slowly.
- Think about it later, be in it now. When you’re faced with a difficult task and find yourself overthinking (and not in a productive way, in an anxiety-loop kind of way), gently remind yourself that you can always think about this moment later — reflect on how tough it was, gripe about how long it took, etc — but your job is to be in the moment now.