Scott Adams, author of Dilbert, believes that trying to try is more effective than trying: system is that I attempt to exercise five times a week around lunchtime. And I always allow myself the option of driving to the gym then turning around and going home. What I've discovered is that the routine of preparing to exercise usually inspires me to go through with it even if I didn't start out in the mood.[...]

If I had a goal instead of a system, I would have failed [when I didn't exercise]. And I would have felt like a loser. That can't be good for motivation. That failure might be enough to prevent me from going to the gym the next time I don't feel 100%, just to avoid the risk of another failure.

Regular Less Wrong readers will remember Eliezer Yudkowsky's warning about trying to try:

But when we deal with humans, being satisfied with having a plan is not at all like being satisfied with success.  The part where the plan has to maximize your probability of succeeding, gets lost along the way.  It's far easier to convince ourselves that we are "maximizing our probability of succeeding", than it is to convince ourselves that we will succeed.

Almost any effort will serve to convince us that we have "tried our hardest", if trying our hardest is all we are trying to do.

Adams says the danger of trying is that you will fail in trying, which will bruise your self-esteem and cripple your motivation to try again. Yudkowsky says the danger of trying to try is that you will succeed in trying to try, leaving you too easily satisfied and unmotivated to actually do the thing you were trying to try to do.


Have any readers had success in trying to try?


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Inferential gap problem. Or, as others have put it more metaphorically, "Two people separated by a common language".

It sounds to me like what Adams is saying with his "Trying to try" is that he sets himself in a position where all that's 'necessary' is to take the first step.

Yudkowsky's version however concerns itself with the establishment of plans rather than the carrying them out. These are two very different things. There seems to be some sagacity in Adam's version; after all, once you've begun to do something, people tend to carry them out if for no other reason than what I'll call "cognitive inertia" -- it takes more effort to change one's mind about a thing than it does to simply not think about it and follow it through. So if you can get yourself to carry out that first step, the rest is just child's play. This would seem to be a motivational hack for the lazy.

I'll have to consider it for my own uses, in fact.

EDIT: Also, would someone else please upvote him for me? I just can't bring myself, it seems, to upvote a username of "MileyCyrus". A weakness, I know.

Also, would someone else please upvote him for me?

What makes you assume the user is a male? I was secretly hoping that the user was, in fact, Destiny Hope Cyrus.

I was hoping it was former NBA superstar and Chicago Bull Michael Jordan.

On this basis is here a long discussion about gender and related topics- in short, it is rude to gender male by default.

(Someone made a prediction somewhere along the line of "by 20XX there will be a group norm to use neutral pronouns as strong as the taboo on politics is", but I can`t find it.)

I've seen someone on LW use gender-neutral pronouns "ve" and "ver". Is there a discussion about this anywhere?

There are discussions about this everywhere, Cthulhu eat us first.

Is that supposed to be the Lovecraftian variation on 'God help us'?

The ones that I find don't stick out awkwardly (which I've seen around here, I think a few different posters) is to either use "their" (it's really not that big a deal. I've never had someone call me out for "bad grammar" when using it without drawing attention to it), or "e" and "er" replacing she/he and his/her. They feel more natural to me than ve/ver/ze/zer/whatever, and because they look more like common typos than actual words the brain tends to skip over them completely.

That's an interesting observation... maybe that's an easy way to transition to them. Then again, people will assume "e" is a typo for "he", and that "er" is a typo for "her".

Data point: I have trained myself to naturally write using third person (their / they / them) in a grammatically ambiguous singular / plural sense. I find if you think about the example you're going to use for ten seconds before you start writing, it is usually possible to start with an example that 'sounds natural' with third person pronouns.

(I did this because someone once, during a discussion about gender and sexuality norms, compared specifying gender to specifying sexuality. I thought, "it would be weird to talk about someone's sexuality unless it was strictly relevant to what you were saying" and then couldn't help finding specifying gender to be equally odd. Here's hoping you find it odd too.)

I still fall prey to using gendered pronouns when the discussion is framed that way by someone else, though.

They probably will, but when they stop to pay more attention they may notice that you used them both in the same sentence, and did the same thing througout your entire essay. I think it works as a reasonable middle ground.

I'm just going off my own experience though. I'm curious if there's a way to effectively test how people react.

in short, it is rude to gender male by default.

"He" remains a standard gender-neutral pronoun in common usage of the English language. Its use does not imply and should not be read to imply superiority of the masculine.

In short; I reject the notion that it is "rude" to use the descriptivist standard of the language. Awkward? Certainly. But so too are all yet-proposed solutions to said problem.

I.e.; I didn't assume anything. I used a gender-neutral pronoun.

EDIT: Also, would someone else please upvote him for me? I just can't bring myself, it seems, to upvote a username of "MileyCyrus". A weakness, I know.


I did too, but didn't tell other people that I did.


Good analysis! I totally agree with you. The mental cost of saying "I'll do that first step and then decide whether to carry on" turns the inertial difference from a huge wall to a stairway which is easier to climb than the wall although you gain the same height in both cases.

As others have said, I don't think this is incompatible with Yudkowsky's post. "Trying to try" seems to concern itself more with stopping at a token effort or plan-making, while Adams' method seems to consist of committing to concrete steps toward a goal with the option of stopping short of completion -- and, perhaps more importantly, to a regular pattern of doing so. Which strikes me as a moderately clever way of avoiding the common failure mode of conditioning on too-high standards of success.

I expect one approach or the other might end up being more salient depending on where the user's particular hangups end up clustering. If an individual is prone to skip practice or cut it short when feeling run-down or dispirited, Adams' method seems likely to knock out that particular trivial inconvenience. If another individual is prone to skip practice out of a feeling that they've already accomplished their goals, Adams' method seems neutral or mildly counterproductive and another motivation technique would likely work better. Additionally, I think it'd work better for problems that require regular application of moderate effort than those that require intense, focused effort; Adams' bar for "try" seems too low to satisfy the latter consistently. Ambiguous standards of sufficient effort also strike me as an obstacle.

Anecdotally, I've had some success with a similar approach when establishing a regular workout schedule, and I've failed with a similar approach when trying to make progress on a software project.

I find that a similar strategy alllows me to avoid motivated cognition to a certain degree. Instead of commiting myself to being altruistic, I merely try to be altruistic. Then I never have to be afraid of the truth because it can't directly obligate me to do something undesirable.

Upvoted for getting back on topic.

Saying that one will do a whole task has the danger of triggering the metal satisfaction from doing the whole task, defusing the main potential motivation.