Trying Harder Fails
- So Now What?
What's Wrong With Trying Harder?
Try Harder - sounds like an obvious winner, doesn't it? And
for a time, it may get you moving. But in my experience, used on it's
own, it's doomed to crash and burn long-term. Think about diets, going
to the gym, being nicer to someone, reducing or removing a bad habit.
No - permanent, personal change is not possible through a try harder
strategy alone. When you try harder, you haven't changed anything about
the situation you're working on. Not the world, and not yourself. You're
just denaturing yourself to make things work despite fundamental stresses
which remain. I'm not saying trying hard isn't necessary, I'm saying it
isn't sufficient for permanent personal change.
We want change to happen, and intellectually, we understand what must
be done, but human minds are odd things, and they have components within
them which work against our intellect. Depressingly, those components
are often stronger than "we" are, and we find ourselves spectating
whilst we sabotage our efforts and return, depressed and frustrated to
the old status quo. This is a double whammy because - not only have we
invested and lost, we also watched that happen - and that builds
defeatism and may grow self-loathing, too. Nasty stuff.
So What Now?
Most people know all this already, and their cynicism may be entrenched.
I've heard many people say "Look, I know what's required, but I also
know "I simply cannot do it - I've tried and it doesn't stick!".
But, that doesn't mean coaching can't work, it is, in fact, the point
at which coaching takes over. I always say, we have to work with the person
you really, actually are today. We have to make that person do
the things necessary - not some theoretical super-you with iron willpower,
a happy-clappy disposition and an orange robe (sorry, got carried away
So what other tools are there in the box? What tools will work with the
genuine, classic, old-school Mark 1 Human Being - you know -
the one that's lazy, whiny, weak, tired, sad and secretly surrendered?
Well, there are quite a few of them, and you'll find many of them described
in these articles, and today, I want to give you another one. I use it
a lot in my coaching practice, and it works wonders. It's a tool I used
a lot in management too, so those in a supervisory world might want to
take note in that context too.
I call it "structural change", and the idea
is quite straightforward. I can describe it with an analogy. You're in
a boat. It's leaking and you're sinking, but you have a small plastic
cup, and if you keep bailing water, you'll stay afloat. Sure, it works.
For a while. But you'll get tired, the cup may get damaged, and after
a while, you'll convince yourself that a nice cold bath would be the thing
to do. You stop bailing and you sink. That's the Trying Hard Strategy.
Now a more enlightened sailor in the same predicament remembers his coaching
experiences, reflects for a time on how life-changing they were, and on
what excellent value-for-money they represented ()
and says "Aha! I'm currently employing a try hard strategy;
I recognise the superior value of a structural change strategy,
so .. here goes!". He takes the plastic mug, stuffs it in the boat's
hole, and job done. No more leaks; no more bailing, no more aching arm,
and no more chance of sinking. Life on the waves just got rosy again.
That's the essence of the structural change tool. Ignoring the
dodgy plumbing in my analogy, I hope you can see the concept at work.
fight some constant force,
permanently remove that force,
and remove the struggle against it
Practical Application of Structural Change
All well-and-good in Newsletter land, but what about
where you live? OK, here are some common scenarios which show how to
apply the concept.
- You struggle to find time for important projects
-- but the day-to-day grind keeps you occupied and there's never any
time left to do the good stuff.
A try harder strategy would have you arriving sooner, staying
later, working faster, working through breaks, trying to be more efficient,
and so on. These strategies will work short-term, but you'll pay a
price which will get pretty old pretty quickly, and your boat will
A Structural change strategy might permanently remove some
of that daily grind. What is it? Where is it coming from? How can
you make it go away? (Think "Automate, delegate or decimate").
Perhaps you can un-subscribe from some mail, re-assign the contact
address to someone else, write an email rule to re-direct stuff, and
so on. These are ways not to bail harder, but to do less bailing.
Another structural change strategy could be to re-organise
your day. Decide to make yourself unavailable for an hour or so every
morning; book a meeting with yourself and make sure it's away from
the hubbub. Do the golden work there.
- You love chocolate, but it makes you fat
A try harder strategy would have you promise to
have only one square per day. If you've been coached by me, you might
know about talismans
and so you might leave a Post-It note in the cupboard (or other holy
Chocolate Shrine) to remind you of your commitment.
A Structural Change strategy might have you not keep chocolate
in the home. So now you've got to bail (do work - go and buy some
chocolate) to fail!
- Your child keeps pestering you for money
A try harder strategy is to keep discouraging them;
explaining that you don't have much of it. Or you might say "if
you have this, you can't have that", but then they probably know
you don't mean it, so you've just postponed the next round in the
fight. So. Works well, and it's great fun, right? Not so much..
A structural change could be to allocate your child a fixed
amount of cash per week, and to give it to them. When it's gone, it's
gone, and they decide how to spend it. That's it. They are the master
of their own finances (in some safely limited way). You will have
removed yourself as the Big Bad Barrier between their white hot wishes,
and any real-world realities or consequences. They will learn without
you taking the hits for the lessons. If you stick to that you'll have
changed their world by showing them the real one, and they will grow
up to be far more responsible, civilised adults, and you'll have a
better life too.
I hope you get the idea. Rather than struggling with things the way
they are - change the way things are permanently.
Put your fun head on and be creative. Enjoy!
the Next Step
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