Whether you’re determined to achieve a tiny goal or to change your entire life, believing that you can is the first, most important step.
It’s a bit of timeless wisdom perhaps best immortalized by the Star Wars character Yoda, who bestowed it upon a young Luke Skywalker — and by extension, the rest of us: “Do or do not,” Yoda said. “There is no try.”
That message triggered something extraordinary in Luke, of course, empowering him to harness “the Force” and master his own internal resources. But I think many of us have yet to realize how relevant and evergreen the lesson is in our own lives.
Yoda’s quirky syntax notwithstanding, the message here is clear: Our ability to achieve a particular goal hinges mightily on our belief that we can, and on our determination that we will. You either decide to do something and immediately begin doing it, or you don’t.
We love saying that “we’ll try,” as a way of implying that we’re agreeing to work on something. But I think that, far too often, that’s a cop out. “Try” is a state of effort without complete intention and commitment — and so it generally turns out to be little more than a way station on the road to failure.
In my experience, if you’re hopelessly or halfheartedly trying — expending your energy without a powerful sense of connection to a positive outcome — you might as well not try at all.
So why do many of us continue to be stubbornly attached to toiling away in the “try” state? I suspect that part of it is fear of the unknown. We know what it’s like where we are, even if it’s painful and frustrating. We don’t really know what life is going to be like out beyond our next meaningful achievement.
Frankly, it can feel a whole lot safer and more familiar on this side of our excuses for why what we most want in life can’t possibly happen.
I remember a young employee I had years ago. He desperately wanted a shot at success, and he was a hard worker. I coached him and encouraged him. I kept giving him opportunities to grow. But every time he got a shot at a really important endeavor, he put all of his attention on worrying about whether or not he’d be able to pull it off — rather than envisioning his success and focusing on how he’d go about achieving it.
“I’m trying,” he’d say. And there was no doubt that this guy took his efforts seriously. But he stressed about every bad indicator, and saw the shadow of his own self-doubt lurking around every corner. He advertised his worst fears rather than articulating his most inspiring hopes. It diminished his confidence and energy, and scattered his attention. It also pulled down the people around him.
Eventually, this young man moved on to a different job. I hope he achieved something great, but unless he experienced some kind of break-through in his outlook, I suspect he’s still stuck in neutral.
People tend to think that when they are successful, they will feel confident, but I really think it works the other way around. The people who absolutely believe they can do something are the ones who commit themselves so fully that they ultimately can’t help but succeed.
Do confidence and optimism guarantee success in all things? Of course not. But I would argue that they are essential ingredients. It works like this: If you know you will win, you might win. If you think you might win, you will lose.
That said, success is a little like sourdough: If you’re starting from scratch, you’ll need a bit of a colonizing bacterial culture to get the desired reaction started. So if you’ve been struggling to make any meaningful progress on a goal for a long time, or if you are lacking confidence that you’ll ever get there, it’s important to create some “starter successes” that help you amplify your belief that you can do whatever you set your mind to.
Start with one very doable, immediate goal — something you can do today (self-care fundamentals like drinking an extra glass of water, eating some fresh vegetables or getting some activity can be a good place to start). And then, with single-minded focus and complete commitment — right away, so you can’t forget or get distracted — go do it.
Chalk up that success, feel it, and then set another, slightly bigger goal. Continue exercising your success muscles this way, knocking out doable goals daily for a couple of weeks, and soon your entire life will feel different. You will feel different.
Keep in mind that both the feeling of winning and the feeling of losing are totally contagious. Success or failure that begins in one area of your life tends to naturally spill over into other areas. So don’t make the mistake of tolerating a sense of hopeless, halfhearted “try-ing” in any part of your world.
Instead, take Yoda’s advice and simply decide to “do.” You’ll be amazed at the results. And, like Luke, you’ll discover that the Force was with you all along.
Bahram Akradi is the founder and CEO of Life Time Fitness.