Stop trying to try and try, after Soares

One of the key ideas in Replacing Guilt - Soares is that many people struggle in part because they feel threats of failure around every corner. Failure often feels particularly salient when we think of ourselves as presently trying to solve the big scary problem which is the overarching focus of our work—ending aging, augmenting creativity, etc.

While the weight of those problems provides meaning and drive, they’re also quite imposing. So it’s often helpful to frame one’s actions in terms of the concrete things you’re doing at the moment, rather than the big scary problem.

You’re not “trying to cure aging”; right now, more specifically, you’re “running tests on how a particular antigen reacts with a model organism.” That’s a pretty coarse-grained example. A more mundane and precise one: you’re not “trying to design a new interface for the Mnemonic medium which solves X problem”; you’re “sitting in front of your notebook, listening responsively for any ideas that bubble up, writing them down without judgment.”

One nice metaphor Nate Soares uses: soccer players often sprint many miles in the coarse of a game, but they have a much easier time doing that than a person who explicitly tries to sprint several miles. That person’s focused on a goal which seems much harder than “play this fun game”; they’re constantly pushing against internal forces which suggest they stop.

Q. What does it feel like to “actually try” to do something hard, vs. “trying to try,” per Nate Soares?
A. Solving small, perhaps mundane subproblems; the ambitious target is a background context, not the focus of attention.

Q. What vivid example does Nate Soares use of how to background your Big Important Problem so that you can “actually try”?
A. Playing soccer vs. sprinting up and down a field. Imagine “playing soccer” w.r.t. your task/problem; ask what they’re doing.

Q. What unusual interpretation does Nate Soares have of Yoda’s “there is no try” advice?
A. There’s usually insight in “cashing out your ‘try’s”: instead of saying “I’m trying to solve this math problem,” say “I’m pursuing X line of inquiry” or “I’m holding this prompt in my mind and waiting for my gut to respond.”

Q. Why does Nate Soares suggest “cashing out your ‘try’s”, expressing in more detail what you’re doing instead of what you’re trying to do?
A. Helps avoid thinking of total failure as a prominent outcome.


Last updated 2023-07-13.