There is no “try”

In my mind, the best self-help book of all time is “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill. The man spent twenty years studying the behaviors of hundreds of successful (mostly) men and women in the early 20th Century, with the goal of extracting their essential behaviors and attitudes. To my knowledge, nothing like this had ever been done, so his results were not much influenced by other studies.

EVERY book or course written since that time has been influenced by this one book. More successful businesspeople consider this to be “their Bible” than any other book, by a large margin. The general recommendation is to read and re-read it yearly.

The most basic principle is that our behaviors have a powerful influence on our destiny (sometimes expressed in an absolute, largely as a bulwark against the doubting demons in our minds), and that our behaviors are driven by our emotions, which are created by our thoughts and perceptual filters.

So how do you begin, if you have nothing? To get new results, you have to take new actions, which requires different emotions and beliefs than those which created the problem in the first place. This requires believing in your own agency, your capacity to change.

The ego will try to protect itself (“I’m doing the best I can! There’s nothing anyone could do!”) which balances against the guilt and fear (“I’m useless. I’m broken”) –in other words, the belief that there is no way to succeed protects you from the fear that you personally are deeply flawed and responsible for your own failure. Crushing guilt and fear can result.

What is needed is:

1) A belief in your own agency. Frankly, the most successful people I’ve known had this to an almost fanatical degree.

2) The ability to recover from evidence to the contrary. From failure, which is inevitable on the road to success. And then, of course, sometimes you simply cannot win.

Champion athletes are perfect examples of this. They train like maniacs, sacrifice other aspects of life, and have a monomaniacal belief that they are champions, winners. Often allow no doubt into their minds.

And of course, every single one of them eventually loses. All of them. How they deal with that, the “gap” between that needed absolute belief, and the reality of failure, will determine how long it takes them to “get back on the horse” and get back to work to try again.

This exact same quality of mind is necessary in business, fitness, the pursuit of love and happiness. To give it EVERYTHING, with total belief maximizes your chance of success. But you have to have the ability to recover from failure, as well.

There are many tactics for this. Here are two of my favorites:

1) Self love. Treat yourself like your own most beloved child. Give that child absolute support and encouragement when he goes out to perform. And comfort him and love him with all your heart when failure comes. I remember telling Jason before his first tournament that I totally believed in him…but if he did his best, and performed with honor, win lose or draw we were going for ice cream.

2) Separate action from results. Your task is to do 100% your best. To learn constantly. To form the very best team of allies and mentors. But your job is to stay in “flow” most of the time and perform.

The results exist in a different domain. They are interesting, but the perverse thing is that you get from L.A. to New York by driving, not by looking at the map.

Yes, you have to look at the map from time to time, but if you spent all your time staring at the map, you’d be unable to drive, and crash constantly. What is the relative percentage of driving (flow state performance) to map-watching (checking results and re-calibrating)? 99 to one? 1000 to one? In warrior disciplines, you train like a maniac, but once the fight starts, you simply do what you do, giving up your life before you enter the engagement. Trying to preserve your life will, in this context, get you killed. Trying to get an external result will cripple your ability to get it. This is what the “Empire Strikes Back” screenwriters were getting at with the pseudo-zen “try not. Do or do not. There is no try.” You have to concentrate on what you can control 100%–your own effort. External results will come, or not come. They are not your concern.

And yet, of course, they are. And if you can resolve that duality, you have a secret to life itself.



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