Stop Trying So Hard

by Abby on April 23, 2012

My yoga teacher is awesome. A 60-something woman with a hippie sort of vibe, she’s exactly what you’d expect a yoga teacher to be like. She wears ankle bracelets and gauzy wraps, reads us the Tao Te Ching and poetry during savasana, and shares wacky anecdotes like the time she may have gotten secondhand-stoned from the pot smoke at a Jimmy Buffet concert.

Revolved triangle yoga poseEach class is like a combination of exercise, therapy, and spiritual retreat. I only make it to her class a few times a month, but each time I emerge feeling taller, wiser, and calmer. This lasts for approximately the 10 minutes it takes me to drive home to my children.

The other day, my teacher said something profound. Actually, she’d probably said it in every class, but it finally struck me that day. “Can you find ease in the pose?” she asked us as we struggled with revolved triangle. My toes were cramping and my neck was all out of whack. Ease? But then I got it: the key was not to try harder, but to stop trying so hard.

I don’t know about you, but my instinctive response to any problem is to try harder. Maybe if I just do some more research, spend some more time, be more consistent, it will all work out – whether “it” is potty training, sticking to a meal plan, or revising a piece of writing.

As a freelance writer, and as a mom, there’s ALWAYS something you could be doing at any given moment — sending out queries, touching base with clients, working on new ideas, doing another load of laundry, scheduling dental appointments, getting started on the next meal. You can convince yourself that you can get it all done if you just try harder. If you’re not careful, this mindset can drive you crazy and result in carpal tunnel, questionable personal hygiene, and massive amounts of anxiety and guilt. I know of what I speak.

Teal dress with yellow belt, Old NavyFor a change of pace one day, I decided not to check my phone and/or email every 37 seconds. I decided not to bother with the dishes or the laundry. Instead, I went to the mall. In the middle of the day! For no reason! Well, I did have a reason, actually. I was looking for a yellow belt to wear with this dress I found for my cousin’s wedding, because all the magazines are claiming that “pops of color” and neon hues are hot right now. (Didn’t we already do that before, back when Madonna was wearing fingerless lace gloves and still had an American accent?) Anyway…

Do you know how hard it is to find a simple yellow belt, people? First of all, the ones in the magazines were already sold out in the stores. Unless you want an XS with a missing buckle or an XXL with a weird bow. Then there are about a billion different shades of yellow — lemon, mustard, canary, neon yellow, chartreuse. (Or is that green?) And I refused to pay more for the accessory than I did for the dress itself. I went to at least 7 stores before ending up at Target — the jackpot for yellow belts, FYI.

Well, guess what happened while I was busy not trying so hard to make things happen? (With work, I mean. Not fashion, obviously.) I sold a few ebooks and got some leads on some new work. Now why didn’t that happen when I was sitting at my desk hitting “refresh” on my browser?

I’m telling myself it was because I stopped trying so hard. I found ease in the pose. My yoga teacher would be proud.

QUOTE O’ THE DAY: “Expecting the world to treat you fairly because you are a good person is a little like expecting a bull not to attack you because you are a vegetarian.”  – Dennis Wholey, producer, author, TV host

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

neena April 23, 2012 at 7:26 am

I should probably tattoo this mantra on my forehead so I don’t forget! Brilliant!


Abby April 23, 2012 at 9:52 am

Now there’s an idea…


Ali April 23, 2012 at 7:38 am

What a great and unique analogy. You’re such a fantastic writer.

Now I need to try really hard not to try so hard.


Abby April 23, 2012 at 9:53 am

Thanks, Ali! For those of us not used to it, it can be hard to not try so hard at first.


Pamela April 23, 2012 at 9:00 am

YES, very good advice, and advice I need as I begin the crazy work week. BTW, I sent along your website and ebook info to my pregnant daughter (mom of a 2 and 3 year old). I think she’ll enjoy it!


Abby April 23, 2012 at 9:53 am

thank you, Pam! I really appreciate that. Happy Monday! 🙂


Viv April 23, 2012 at 10:10 am

Well said, Doll! I’m going to implement that mantra into my mental Twitter ticker today. xo


Abby April 23, 2012 at 3:31 pm

Thanks, mama!


Nadine Feldman April 23, 2012 at 11:18 am

I used to teach yoga in a corporate environment (same place I had my day job). I found that my students, primarily middle-aged women like myself, had incredible difficulty finding the ease in a pose. Everyone was trying so hard! Instead of challenging their bodies, I found myself challenging their minds to relax, let go, and accept.

One of Patanjali’s sutras is shtira sukham asanam, which basically means the pose should be both steady and relaxed. It is about finding the balance between effort and surrender. Here in the West, we seem to know a lot about effort. Surrender? Not so much. And yes, I have the same challenges, even after doing yoga for half my life!

Thanks for sharing. Great post, as always.


Abby April 23, 2012 at 3:33 pm

That’s so interesting, Nadine! It’s definitely tough to break out of “try harder” mode if that’s what you’re used to. That’s one reason I really like yoga, because it helps me shut off my mind some. I’m sure your class was a bright spot in those women’s day.


stephanie April 23, 2012 at 8:35 pm

Great post & great quote of the day, too!


Angie Mizzell April 25, 2012 at 9:57 am

My memoir essentially ends with this particular epiphany… “work hard, but you don’t have to try so hard. There’s a difference.” And the epiphany came much like yours. I followed my heart and took care of myself. I let some things go and then bam! I got an email that I was going to have my very first essay published in Skirt!, and the phone rang a couple of weeks later and I was offered a high-paying easy, lemon-squeezy freelancing hosting gig that I didn’t even know about. They just called me. When I hung up the phone, I remember just sitting down on the couch and going wow. It was freeing and humbling.


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