In the immortal words of Yoda, “Do. Or do not. There is no try.” Statements like “I’ll try harder,” or “I’ll study harder” make me cringe. We often say “I’ll try harder” after falling short of some goal. For example, when your kids do poorly on a test or you don’t achieve your ideal time in a triathlon. “I’ll try” is vague and there are no actionable steps or commitment to improve. “I’ll try harder” is a cope out; it’s easy to say but hard to define. ”I’ll do…” on the other hand requires commitment and makes you accountable. It obligates you to be specific and define how you’ll accomplish your goal, turning your commitment into a plan of action. It’s a skill to learn how to breakdown desired outcomes into actionable steps. It takes effort and it can be difficult to come up with specific plans to do better next time. It applies to us, the adults, and it’s about modeling and teaching our kids to work smarter too.
Learn to work smarter
I love competing in half-ironman relays on the bike. My first year competing, I fell way short of my goals. I started each race on fire before petering out and willing myself across the finish line. I said to myself “I need to try harder,” next year. But, my results were the same. With no plan on how to improve, I essentially trained the same way Then I looked at my process and realized I had been flying by the seat of my pants. The idea of developing an actual training plan seemed incredibly daunting, but I knew I needed to be accountable to someone beside myself. So I found a coach. He came up with a training plan with workouts tailored to me considering that it takes me longer to get fit and longer to recover. I had to email my coach each time I completed (or didn’t) a workout. For me, this step is what I needed to train when I didn’t feel like it. Come race time, I performed much better and restored my confidence and joy in racing.
What about with your kids?
Let’s say you are checking out your kid’s portal or received a notification (I highly recommend turning these off) about a test grade that starts with either D as in Delta or F as in Foxtrot. This is a great catalyst to sit down with your kid and chat. If they fall into the trap of “I’ll study harder,” this is your cue to put your coaching/Yoda hat on. Ask them what that means. In the beginning, just one actionable task can be considered a step in the right direction. Walk through their process to get ready for the test and ask them what they think worked and what didn’t. Work with your kiddo to develop a super simple plan of one or two things they might do differently. Maybe they need to check with their teacher and get feedback, or use a calendar to schedule study time. Perhaps there are tools they could use like quizlet (or even better, parents) to test their knowledge before tests. Whatever the plan, your student is now on the road to doing instead of just trying.
If you catch yourself or your child saying “I’ll try harder” stop and ask what that means. How are you going to create action? “I’ll try” gives you an easy out if things don’t go well again next time. Develop a plan with actionable steps and you have a way to measure success. If you catch yourself or your child saying “I’ll try harder” stop and ask what that means. How are you going to create action? “I’ll try” gives you an easy out if things don’t go well again next time. Develop a plan with actionable steps and you have a way to measure success and something to revisit if you don’t achieve the desired outcome. Remember, missteps are opportunities for growth while continuing to develop your resilience muscle.