The Tragedy of “Think”: How Word Mentality Changes Your Actions

I’m in a Facebook group that sells random stuff. Couches, clothes, cars, knick-knacks… pictures of things get posted and people contact one another to buy them.

It’s pretty sweet.

Yesterday I was cleaning house and finally gave in to the fact that I’ll never play tennis or racquetball again. I dusted off my two rackets, took a photo, and posted them for sale.

A woman responded, asking for more details. She ultimately declined to purchase them. Of course I didn’t mind, but it was precisely how she declined that got me thinking. She typed:

“Thanks Jessi. I think I’ll pass.”

Maybe you did’t realize it right away when you read it, but I did: There’s hesitancy in that statement. Some may say an apology, an embarrassment, a shyness. Whatever you want to call it, it’s absolutely unnecessary.

I’d even say it’s detrimental.

Me and Think have a sour history.

When I was in high school (pre-cellular phones) my parents signed up for the *67 service on their landline. It meant that if you dialed *67 before the number, your number wouldn’t show on the other person’s caller ID.

Or maybe it was so your number would show on their caller ID?

Even today, I’m not really sure.

All I know is that we had this service when I went to a school dance.

Sometime during the dance I discovered my ride (a friend’s parent) would be unable to drop me home. Another friend told me his dad could take me home instead, since he had to come to get him anyway and they lived near me. What a great solution!

I needed to let my parents know I’d be riding with someone else, so I dropped quarters in a payphone and proceeded to dial *-6-7-9-2-4…

But no one answered.

Had I blocked the number and the dreaded “UNKNOWN” flashed on the caller ID box, and that’s why nobody picked up? We didn’t have an answering machine, so I couldn’t leave a message and let them know it was me calling, and why.

I must have dialed wrong, I thought, so I dropped more quarters in and dialed again, this time omitting the *67.

Endless ringing. Panic ensued.

I’ll summarize this horror story by saying I called, with and without the *67, several times until I ran out of quarters. Then I tried collect calling, but couldn’t tell the operator whether she should use the *67 or not.

I never got through.

My friend’s dad arrived late to pick us up and, when we were finally on our way to my house, one of my own parents was rushing toward the school in a certain panic to locate me. We eventually collided at home and I was punished for not letting them know my whereabouts.

The next morning was the sit-down-at-the-table routine where I was expected to present my case. I did, but all they heard was “try” (as in, “I tried to call…”). How do I know this?

Because as I spoke they wrote in big, dark blue ballpoint letters on a napkin: TRY.

Then came the “There is no trying, just doing” speech.

Since that day, I’ve hated that saying — “There is no try” — because, dammit, there really is.

Words: Tools of Good & Evil

It’s taken me a long time to come to terms with using “try” and feeling good about it. I’ve come to realize that using that word is a privilege, not a punishment.

Using it — saying “I tried” — means you understand that failure is an acceptable option. It means you may continue trying until you succeed or (and this is okay too) until you decide that this thing you’re trying for isn’t meant to be had.

But without this understanding, saying “I tried” is an excuse. And a landmine.

It’s this distinct difference in the mindset of the person speaking that makes the statement acceptable or not.

Like guns, money, or books, words are only tools. It is how we use them and our intention in their use that makes them tools of good or tools of evil.

GE’s CEO, John Rice, says this about failure:

So you have to create a culture where [failure] is OK… If you fail because of some external event that you couldn’t control, if your logic was right, if your execution was good and you fail for some reason that couldn’t have been foreseen, I think that could be a reasonable reason for failure.

In business, it’s perfectly acceptable to try. For Mountain Owl, I’ve tried (and failed… and succeeded!) at a number of things in efforts to grow and improve my business.

Trying and failing doesn’t mean MOI is doomed or that I’m incompetent. It just means I need to rethink my strategy!

In MOI’s beginnings, the phrase “I’m going to try” came up a lot in my vernacular. Sometimes I’d say it to myself while I was (justifiably) trying new things, other times I’d say it to other people when I was talking about my business plans.

But, eventually, I stopped saying it because nothing was working. That hateful word made me feel like anything I Tried would eventually end up in pain and disappointment.

Try made me feel hopeless.

So I started using a different word.

But what Try morphed into was much trickier, much more subtle… and even more dangerous. The change was simply this:

I started saying “I think I’m going to…” instead of “I’m going to try to…”

Think is Tried’s Clever Cousin

Using Think made me feel (falsely) empowered because, hey, I wasn’t trying anymore, I was doing! Think overtook my life. I felt capable, strong, certain. I was going places, man!… Wasn’t I?

Not really, because I wasn’t actually doing. I was only thinking of doing. When I became frustrated that stuff still wasn’t happening, I further analyzed my business, myself, and my actions.

It didn’t take long to realize that Think was a saboteur. 

Come to find out, there weren’t many actions to analyze. It was all thinking! I had become so engrossed in thinking that I’d failed to follow through with action.

Think had become my favorite go-to phrase, to my own detriment.

Worse, I realized Think hadn’t only infiltrated my business, but it has also been lurking in my personal life, possibly for years. Instead of answering a “yes” or “no” or even a solid “maybe” to a question, I’d say “I think so,” “I think not,” or (horrifically) “I think, maybe.”

I used Think to mask my uncertainty, guilt, or fear. When I was nervous about giving a friend bad news, I’d say, “I don’t think that’s a good idea” even when I for damn well knew it absolutely was NOT a good idea!

Use it often enough, and the Power of Repetition causes your brain to associate anything “think” with negative feelings: guilt, shame, fear, worry, etc. So, eventually, when you say something like “I think I’ll exercise today,” your subconscious will keep you from your supposed goal… because it’s not really a goal at all, but something to be avoided.

Omit Think, and Be FREE!

Like Try, Think is merely a tool. Used without understanding will result in subconscious excuses and avoidances. Ergo: Tragedy.

But, when recognized and understood for what it is and how it works, you can use it effectively and in ways that truly empower you!

So, part of me wishes that woman would have said, “I’ll pass” and omitted the “I think” altogether. It would have given me the impression she was confident in her decision and happy, and fulfilled, about her choice.

And, being fulfilled, whatever that means, is really what we’re all after.


Are there words other than Think and Try that sabotage our lives? Share them with us so we can avoid them, too!

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