“Try, Try, Try again…” Mantra for success or bottomless failure?

As a child I was extremely fond of reading proverbs and popular sayings. They are perfect fodder for inspiration and self-fulfillment. But sayings have an inherent weakness; they often suffer from oversimplification. Maybe they should come with a list of exception clauses like “If…Else” Statements that computer programmers embed in their code to account for all situations?

Take for example the famous saying “Try, Try again…” Anybody who is over the age of ten has probably heard that saying. It has become the mantra of as many successful people as it has for unsuccessful people around the world. So deep rooted is it in our minds that we accept it unquestioningly and accept that the secret to success is to try, try again. But is that always the case?

Penned by Thomas H. Palmer in his “Teacher’s Manual”, this saying was made popular by W.E. Hickson in around 1840-1852. In its unaltered form it goes:

‘Tis a lesson you should heed:

Try, try, try again.

If at first you don’t succeed,

Try, try, try again.

My issue with this saying is not that it suggests trying your best in accomplishing a task, or never giving up. My issue with it is that it does not offer a stop-loss order or that it does not take other factors into account that also contribute to success.

Know when to stop and cut your losses: In the investment world a stop-loss order is designed to limit an investor’s loss on a security position. It is a safety net to save the investor and the market from incurring limitless losses. Likewise, in life too, it is important for any person to realize when he hits that stop-loss order before spending the rest of his life on a doomed project.

The question is: “Try, Try again” but until when? According to this old adage, the answer is: Never. Is that truly a reasonable advice? What if the failure ends up hurting yourself and those around you?  How far do you go on a failed project before you realize it is time to cut your losses?

For instance how long would you pursue an abusive relationship? Is it fair to say if your husband beats you, you may be able to change him by continuing to live with him and sustaining abuse? Should you continue living with him until he realizes he should not beat you? Clearly, that is not the case. Trying to persevere in this case would only be suicidal to your physical and mental well-being.

Unfortunately, Success in life cannot be guaranteed simply by trying. When we fail repeatedly or get hurt trying, it may be a good warning sign for us to stop and rethink our strategy.

Have realistic goals: The secret of being successful is not just to keep doing whatever you are doing, but to make smart, well informed decisions about what it is you will persevere to do in the first place. For instance, I am a very bad singer…I am practically tone deaf. Ask my husband he has had to endure my vocal talents or lack thereof! If I decided to become the best singer in the nation despite the fact that I have no natural talent for singing, could I do it? What if I persevered to devote my whole life to improving my vocal talents? I know even then, at best I could become a mediocre singer. But would I ever become the best singer? That is an unrealistic goal to start with and no measure of attempts would change the fact that I do not have any talent for singing. Instead my time may be better invested in something I was more suited for.Fatladysinging

Don’t go against nature: What happens when a swimmer swims against the ocean currents? Try as he may, he will eventually get defeated by the powerful oceanic currents. It is in his favor to try to swim with the currents not against them. Sometimes when you endeavor to go against the fabric of nature you are bound to experience failure.

Is it not childish to think you will succeed at a task, just by virtue of doing the same thing over and over again? A child standing at the shores of an ocean may think he may be able to plug the ocean if only he threw enough pebbles into it… but what a waste of time and energy that would be?

Know when circumstances are against you:

froginmilk

When I was a child my mother used to tell me the story of the frog that jumped into a pail of milk, which was too high for it to jump out of. So the frog tried hard to swim out, and all his kicking ended up turning the milk into butter. The frog was eventually able to jump over the butter and out of the pail. This is an excellent story designed to bring the point: repetitive hard work will yield results. But will it always?

Let’s consider for a moment the frog had instead jumped into quicksand instead of milk. Would all the fighting and kicking have yielded similar results?

When circumstances are against you and you are caught in a vicious cycle of failures then it is important to know when to call quits and break the cycle before it breaks you.

In conclusion: My point is simple. In order to succeed you need a lot more than careless, unplanned, unfocused effort. I want to bring the point home, with one last story written by Acharya Mahapragya.

It is about a man who needed to make an urgent trip to a neighboring village. In his hurry he grabbed a lamp and left in the thick of the night. When he reached the forest on his way he realized to his dismay that the lamp was broken and would not light up, hard as he tried. He was tired, frustrated and annoyed with the lamp and so he cursed it all along the way. By the time he reached his destination he was tired and severely bruised (having fallen over stones and shrubs). The next morning found him in great shock when he finally realized that he had reached the wrong village and that his lamp was not a lamp after all.

It was an empty bird cage! In the heat of the moment he had picked up an empty bird cage lying in his home and walked off. While the story sounds funny and silly it is not completely untrue. Haven’t we all been that man at some point in our lives? Haven’t we all embarked on a journey of sorts with unrealistic expectations? The man expected a bird cage to shed light, and try as he did it was unable to offer any light, since it is not in the nature of a birdcage to offer light.

Try, try again is an acceptable mantra only as long as you know when to stop and try something else! Otherwise it will guide you to a life of bottomless failure.

The Power of SMALL

Success involves making a series of small incremental efforts over a long period. I am always wary of people who offer a secret mantra as a permanent solution to all problems. The truth of the matter is that there is no one magic bullet that will cure all evils, solve all your problems, and change your life around permanently. If you want to dream big, then learn the power of “small”.

Small efforts bring big results: If you want to write the next great American novel, then you will have to write it one page at a time. Your first draft may look nothing like the novel you will end up writing eventually, but making small improvements will add up in the end. Breaking a big task into smaller tasks makes your goals attainable.

BIGChangesIf you want to change a bad habit then change it slowly. A lot of people try to break a bad habit overnight. It took you years to grow that habit and make it a part of your life, how can you expect to break it overnight?

If you are trying to lose weight for instance, will you consider losing all the weight in a day by crash dieting and exercising all day at the gym? If you did that, chances are over-exercising will cause you to injure your muscles or worse still break a bone and throw you out of track for weeks.

If for instance you are trying to improve your vocabulary, then reading the entire Webster dictionary in a weekend is not going to yield positive results in the long run. If you cannot fully capture and understand the meaning of the words you are learning you are sure to forget them eventually. Instead of planning to read the whole dictionary in a matter of weeks, try to make a more reasonable plan and then stick with it. Even if you learn nothing more than one word a day, by the end of the year you would have learned 365 new words, which is at least 365 words better than nothing!

To share a personal story, for years I have tried to tap into my creative juices by waking up at 5:00AM and writing. Unfortunately try as I will, until recently, I never succeeded at waking up at 5AM or if I did, I would go through my day tired and groggy. The next day, I would fall back into my regular schedule of waking up at 6:00AM instead. I could not change my pattern until my mother advised me to try making a small change to my schedule rather than a big sudden change. Instead of waking up at 5:00AM, she suggested, I try to wake up at 5:45AM (just 15 minutes before my usual time), which is much more doable for me. I know 15 minutes is not much, but it is still fifteen extra minutes that allow me to focus on whatever it is I want to do that day. When utilized properly, just fifteen extra minutes a day over a period can make all the difference between mediocrity and excellence and quantifies the power of “SMALL.”

People who are rich will often tell you that the secret to making it big is not only about making more money, but saving the money that you already make, and then making intelligent investments. If you cannot save too much, then just start it small. If for instance, you can only save $100/= every month, then by the end of the year you are $1200/= richer than before. Investing even that small amount wisely will bear dividends over a long period. Often the difference between successful and unsuccessful people is simply, that successful people realize the value of small improvements.

Sustainability is key: Remember the story of the turtle and the hare? The turtle was a lot slower than the hare, and yet it was the turtle, not the hare that eventually won the race. It wasn’t the speed, but the consistency that helped the turtle win the race. Remember, people who achieve success do so by making consistent efforts over time. Self improvement is not a weekly or monthly goal; it is a lifelong pursuit. If you want to get good at playing the clarinet for instance, then you will have to make a commitment to spending the time honing your skill every day.

PowerofSmallDangers of the Faustus syndrome: Remember Doctor Faustus from Christopher Marlowe’s famous play “The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus,” who sold his soul to the devil to gain instant ultimate knowledge?Doctor Faustus’s fault was not his desire for knowledge, but his avarice to pay any price for it. In truth, we all have a bit of Doctor Faustus in us, in that we wish to achieve our dreams overnight. Beware of Doctor Faustus syndrome; it does not bring happy endings in fiction or in real life.

Conquer your Donut: Are you one of those perfectionists who believe that whatever you do should be top-notch, or why do it? There is nothing wrong with aspiring for the skies, as long as you realize that to fly high; you will still need to take off from the ground.If you are learning to cook for instance, don’t expect to put Rachel Ray to shame with your very first concoction.DevilDonut_nj

Have you ever gone on a healthy diet, only to find yourself getting tempted by a donut? And since you indulged in that one donut you felt so disheartened you completely gave in to your cravings and decided to start your diet another day? Donuts are evil. Don’t let a donut ruin your resolve. “All or nothing” attitudes are counterproductive and take us away from our goals. If you gave in to your indulgence, so what you still have the rest of the day to make up for it. Get back on track to achieving your goals. Conquer your donut!

Don’t aim to do it right the first time: I know that sounds so counter intuitive let me explain. In a self development course I took long ago, we were trained to “do it right the first time.” The concept being that the cost of fixing a mistake is a lot higher than doing it right the first time. While the concept is absolutely correct in theory, how many of us are born with skills that will allow us to do it right the first time, every time? How many of us are born with golfing skills, for instance, that allow us to win a “hole in one”? Sure getting the hole in one, will save a lot of time and effort, but is that always feasible? And should one never attempt to do a task for the fear of getting it wrong? There may be a handful of geniuses coupled with a few lucky strokes out there that will get a hole in one, but for the majority of us, our “hole in one” may require hundreds of shots.

I am not sure why the power of small eludes us? A child first learns to kick its feet before it learns to crawl. The child will then learn to grab on to things to try to stand up before it learns to walk and eventually run. Yet as grownups, we forget life’s elemental lessons and wish to run before learning to kick. Knowledge and skill grow at a gradual pace; these are not lotteries one can win at Vegas. Start it small, take it slow and continue making your efforts consistently. Sooner or later it is these small efforts that will bring BIG results.

To Err is Genius!

Bora Bora 100a

We live in a success worshipping world. We are constantly inundated with the overnight “rags to riches” stories that give us an impression that success is driven by innate talent and good luck. We applaud the brilliance of Van Gogh, but fail to credit the failures he encountered all through his life, or the many failed attempts that Wright brothers went through before they got the plane “Wright”! In truth, behind every “rags to riches” story is an even more impressive story of years of persistent hard work and failures.

Yet we fear failure more than anything? I am not recommending making mistakes deliberately, but becoming completely averse to making mistakes, is not only unreasonable it can be counterproductive.

The only solution that can guarantee a 100% success, 100% of the time is a formula. And there is no genius in following a formula. Jobs that resemble formulaic assembly lines will always pay meager wages. Genius happens when we think “out of the box”, which involves stepping out of one’s comfort zone. Creativity cannot flow in a restrained environment where making mistakes are unacceptable.

Big successes often follow big mistakes: Simply put, sometimes the best ideas come from the biggest mistakes. Did you know that the invention of Penicillin, Potato chips, Pacemaker, Post It Notes, Microwave ovens, X-Rays amongst many others were a mistake, or came out of an experiment that went wrong?

Failures impart life’s biggest lessons: If you learned skiing pretty late in life (like me) than you will understand that learning to ski is more about being prepared to fall first. Likewise learning to be successful is more about being open to failures. We all know of Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, Stephen King, Steve Jobs to name a counted few who failed many times before they eventually succeeded. In truth they succeeded precisely, because they persisted unapologetically despite their many failures. As long as you learn something from every failure, you are one fall closer to rising to those zenith heights you dreamed of.

The desire to be “correct” all the time is “wrong”: The bottom line is that nobody knows everything. We are all humans and learn from each other. The desire to be “right” or “correct” all the time can actually hurt more than help. Keeping one’s heart and mind open and ego small is the quickest way to learn and grow. Life teaches us important lessons that come camouflaged as mistakes. If you make one, be gracious enough to accept and create a plan to fix it. No matter what, never shrug responsibility for your own mistakes.

Being open to making mistakes is surprisingly liberating: A few years ago, I joined Toastmasters in order to overcome my fear of public speaking. I had practiced my debut speech a great deal but was very nervous that I would forget and stumble on the words. I overcompensated for my nervousness by putting up a false façade of confidence, so much so that I almost came across arrogant & rehearsed. Nobody knew that inside, I was shaking like a leaf. Fortunately, thanks to the constructive criticism that the other members of the club offered to me, I endeavored to do things differently the next time. I first embraced the idea of “letting go” and openly making a mistake. Being open to making mistakes actually allowed me to relax and just be myself. The moment I let go off my fear, I started to connect with my audience. I made eye to eye contact and talked not orated my speech. Needless to say, the response I got was far more warm and heartfelt, and to be honest it felt so damn good!

Taking Risks is a lot less daunting than we think: In order to grow you have to be open to taking risks. In all honesty we take far more risks in doing mundane everyday chores than we give ourselves credit for. Taking a shower involves the risk of slipping and falling, driving to work involves the risk of getting into an accident and so forth. Risks are everywhere, and a life completely averse to risks would probably require staying locked up inside a cupboard. On the other hand, taking risks does not necessarily mean going bungee jumping or jumping into a pool of water snakes. It simply means stepping out of one’s comfort zone, and devising new ways of doing things rather than the “tried and tested” tasks, it involves making educated decisions with the awareness that all your efforts could come to naught.

Failure only makes success taste sweeter: Nobody appreciates the value of success more that he who has tried and failed. In the words of Emily Dickinson:

“Success is counted sweetest
By those who ne’er succeed.”
…And may I humbly add “Until they do!” Because as long as we persist, we will achieve success. So be open to thinking out of the box, taking risks and making plenty of mistakes. We are not meant to be invincible, hard-charging embodiments of perfection. We are all fallible humans and that’s what makes us special. We try, we fail, we persist and in doing so we become better versions of ourselves every day.

Inventions that were a mistake (2010). Retrieved from: http://www.businessinsider.com/these-10-inventions-were-made-by-mistake-2010-11?op=1

Successful People who suffered obstacles (2013). Retrieved from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/25/successful-people-obstacles_n_3964459.html

Killing the ANT’s

Goa ocean
Ants are the dark black insects that infest your backyard and can easily ruin your picnic plans. But far worse are the ANT’s (Automatic Negative Thoughts) that can infest one’s mind and wreak havoc to one’s mental equilibrium. The mind is a powerful place with its capacity to learn and imagine. As humans we were not born with wings and yet we fly (in planes), we were not born with gills and yet we can stay underwater (in submarines), we were not meant to scale heights yet we climb them every day (in skyscrapers). We achieve the impossible daily because we have the power to imagine, and what we can imagine we can achieve.

It is this power of imagination that can be our biggest friend and foe. Sometimes the brain can go off-track and start imagining situations that are destructive and hurt our ability to keep a positive mental attitude. Over the years, we all accumulate baggage from our past experiences. These experiences were meant to teach us a lesson, but some of us find it hard to forgive ourselves and others for the pain and anguish such experiences may have caused. The more we ponder on these negative incidents the more negative experiences we attract in our lives.

The value of having a positive mental attitude is not unknown to anyone. “The Secret” by Rhonda Byrnes is full of positive advice on the law of attraction and positive thinking and has sold 19 million copies for a reason.

Why do we continue to fall into our old ways of negative thinking?

Unfortunately, Automatic Negative thoughts invade our mind and create a toxic environment for positivity and creativity to breed. Like the ants that infest the backyard, they build colonies and breeding grounds of negativity. Because these thought processes are so automatic it is hard to control them. What’s more they come in armies and work incessantly to eating the mind from the inside out. Just allowing one negative thought is enough to open the floodgates to the whole entire army.

While difficult, we can kill the ANT’s with a few simple, albeit repetitive strategies. Unfortunately, these strategies have to be repetitive until we have achieved a place in our mind where negativity completely eludes us. Until then, try these simple strategies to stop the ANT’s from taking over your mind.

Awareness: The beginning to any change in life is always at the same place: awareness. Becoming aware of one’s own thoughts is crucial. It is easy to get carried away and ruminate in negative thoughts instead check yourself the moment a negative emotion comes to mind. Try to create a mental or a physical check like pinching yourself the moment you notice you are on negative thought pattern.

Kill negative emotions with positive ones: I find that the easiest way to kill a negative emotion is to imagine a positive one. Some people even suggest thinking of seven good things the moment a negative emotion hits the mind. I don’t know the significance of the number seven here, because as far as I am concerned I can barely think of three before my negative thought pattern is already broken. Positive thoughts can include; thinking of a small achievement, or a time in your life when you were perfectly happy, or even thinking of someone you love. If that does not work, try sending your loved one positive mental vibes. Nothing is a bigger boost of positivity than knowingly doing something good for a loved one.

Stay Busy: An empty mind is often the devil’s workshop. ANT’s usually strike the empty mind. I find that keeping myself mentally challenged helps me stay positive. Hans Urs von Balthasar said, “What you are born with is God’s gift to you, what you make of yourself is your gift to God.” I interpret this saying as the ability to continually challenge one to do better, achieve more and improve one’s mental and physical prowess. Staying busy with work and hobbies are keys to improving one’s own self respect and positive mental attitude.

Having goals: Having a set of clearly defined goals is imperative to achieving success. Some people never even make goals. It is hard to get to your destination if you don’t know your destination in the first place? If you don’t have strong goals in life then it is never too late. Start now and start small. “Losing 10 pounds by summer” is as equally an acceptable goal as is, “Writing a book in two years.” Goals give us motivation to work hard towards a destination. So even if you haven’t reached your goal of losing 10 pounds by summer, you may well be headed in the right direction. So what if you have only lost five pounds and started eating healthy? You are half way to achieving your goal. High Five!

Meditating: Some people find meditation to be extremely therapeutic in order to come to terms with one’s own negative emotions of hurt and neglect. Personally, I find it hard to meditate. Yet I do achieve a meditation like state when I do yoga, write or paint. If you are like me and find it hard to meditate, then maybe there is something you enjoy doing that gives you peace of mind?

Gratitude: Being grateful for the friends and family in our life gives us an opportunity to ponder on what we have versus what we are missing. And while it is important to be grateful for the joy others bring to our lives, it is equally important to be grateful to our own self. Too often in order to achieve our dreams we play it too hard on our self. Constantly berating our self if we fail or miss even a small deadline. The body we take for granted is actually on loan to us and will eventually be taken away. Be grateful for it. Be grateful also for the mind that has given us so many astounding qualities and abilities to write, read, learn, sing, paint, dance and so forth. Remember, what we feel inside we project outside.

Constant Self improvement should be a never ending goal in life. Killing the ANT’s and creative a positive mental attitude creates an environment for peace, happiness and continuous self improvement.

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