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December 17, 2015

Train More, Try Less

shutterstock_198044297“No, try not. Do, or do not. There is no try.”
(Master Yoda)

[Of course I’m using a Star Wars quote today. And probably tomorrow. This is not just because the most anticipated movie of the last decade finally arrives in theaters today; it’s also because Yoda’s Buddhist-flavored wisdom is actually very ScreamFree.]

Give it a shot, but don’t get your hopes up. Go for it, but don’t expect it to work out. This has come to be the understanding behind any and every kind of “try.”

“Okay, I’ll try.”

“I will try to do better…”

You can easily hear the weak, half-hearted nature of such offerings. That’s because “trying” is something we do when we get reactive. Reacting to pressure from others, we offer faint efforts with no hope of succeeding, only appeasing. Reacting to pressure from within ourselves, we go all out with attempts that are all effort—but no strategy.

This was the case when I was 17 or so, and I desperately wanted to dunk a basketball. I was only 5’11’’ or so, but I did have some hops for a skinny white boy. But I couldn’t quite get high enough, no matter how hard, or how many times, I tried.

Then I encountered some new wisdom, from an older classmate: “Dude, you’re close—all you have to do is start doing a bunch of calf raises for a while, and you’ll get there.”

In order to accomplish something I couldn’t, I needed to start doing something I could. I needed to stop reacting to my failure, and start responding instead—with a strategy. In short, I needed to train more, and try less. And that’s what I did. I stopped trying to dunk for a while, and I started doing a hundred calf raises at the top of the stairs every night before bed. A couple of months later, I was consistently dunking…a tennis ball. Occasionally I would try to slam something bigger, and when I failed I would go back to training. More calf-raises.

That’s all training is—doing something you can do now, in order to eventually accomplish something you can’t do now. Training is strategic that way.

What most folks fail to realize is how this choice affects so many more aspects of life than just sports, or school. It also applies to our relationships as well. Especially in marriage. I’m not suggesting an aspiring Romeo should say, “I’ll train myself to love you.” That’s not a very romantic thing to say. But it is a romantic thing to do. See, trying to be a good husband, or wife, or parent, or friend will simply not cut it. Not when life gets messy and difficult and well, trying. Our closest relationships require so much maturity, flexibility, and integrity that trying to be good at them is not enough.

Whenever people find out that I, the licensed therapist and so-called relationship expert, still see my own counselor every week, they are usually surprised. “Surely you don’t need therapy—you’re the expert!” My response is usually something like this: “Jordan Spieth has a swing coach. LeBron James has both a footwork and a shooting coach. They don’t just try to be excellent; they train to be that way. If I want to have excellent relationships, why wouldn’t I train as well?”

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