Karen's Blogs

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Trying and Learning versus Succeeding

I have clients who’re making real progress in their lives—they used to do “A” around food or people and are now doing “B”—yet still tell me they’re “trying” and “learning,” while I’d call what they’re doing succeeding. Do you understand the difference? When do you stop saying you’re trying or learning and start saying you’re succeeding? Not that there’s anything wrong with “trying” or “learning,” but the goal is success.

Let’s look at the word “trying” as in, “I’m trying to be more open about my feelings.” That implies that you want to be different, but it’s not happening or not happening often enough. Effort and intent are there, but not achievement. If you’re trying to wait to eat until you’re moderately hungry and not actually doing so, you’re not doing it. But what if you’re mostly putting off food until you hit the right hunger level? That’s not trying, that’s achievement. Then there’s the word “learning” which means in process. If you were more skilled, we’d say you had already learned, not that you are learning. So, how much achievement must you have to be beyond learning and into succeeding?

There are two problems with the words “trying” and “learning.” One is that women minimize their successes by overusing them. We don’t want to come off as too competent, skilled or savvy because of cultural, gender and/or family values. So we tone down our language to avoiding risking people feeling inadequate or being envious of us. No way do I see men using these words as much as women do.

The other problem is that too many troubled eaters get anxious about saying they’re doing something well because they fear their success won’t last. It’s less risky to say I’m “trying” or “learning” because that implies you can make mistakes or totally fail without censure. That kind of thinking comes from an all-or-nothing mentality. For example, I consider myself a successful therapist (I’m not trying or learning to be one), but I still make mistakes. So what? I can succeed and achieve without being perfect.

In what areas are you succeeding, that is, concretely changing your ways with food or weight or people? What words do you use to describe your success: that you’ve succeeded or that you’re learning or trying? At what point (no, not perfection) will you be able to say, “I’m doing it! I’ve done it!”? At what point will you feel you’ve accomplished what you set out to do even if you’re not doing it 100%? It’s fine to try and to learn, but they’re only precursors to succeeding. Isn’t that the point of all the hard work you put in?

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