Trying Harder Isn’t Always The Answer

by Stephen Mills on September 17, 2009

This worked so well for me that I’m just going to post it and let you draw your own lessons.

“I’m sitting in a quiet room at the Millcroft Inn, a peaceful little place hidden back among the pine trees about an hour out of Toronto.  It’s just past noon, late July, and I’m listening to the desperate sounds of a life-or-death struggle going on a few feet away.

There’s a small fly burning out the last of its short life’s energies in a futile attempt to fly through the glass of the windowpane.  The whining wings tell the poignant story of the fly’s strategy – try harder.

But it’s not working.

The frenzied effort offers no hope for survival.  Ironically, the struggle is part of the trap.  It is impossible for the fly to try hard enough to succeed at breaking through the glass.  Nevertheless, this little insect has staked its life on reaching its goal through raw effort and determination.

This fly is doomed.  It will die there on the windowsill.

Across the room, ten steps away the door is open.  Ten seconds of flying time and this small creature could reach the outside world it seeks.  With only a fraction of the effort now being wasted, it could be free of this self-imposed trap.   The breakthrough possibility is there.  It would be so easy.

Why doesn’t the fly try another approach, something dramatically different?  How did it get so locked in on the idea that this particular route, and determined effort, offer the most promise for success?  What logic is there in continuing, until death, to seek a breakthrough with ‘more of the same’?

No doubt this approach makes sense to the fly.  Regrettably, it’s an idea that will kill.

‘Trying harder’ isn’t necessarily the solution to achieving more.  It may not offer any real promise for getting what you want out of life.  Sometimes, in fact, it’s a big part of the problem.

If you stake your hopes for a breakthrough on trying harder than ever, you may kill your chances for success.”

— Price Pritchett in You Squared

What do you think? Leave a comment below.


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{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

Jay Schryer September 18, 2009 at 5:53 am

Wow! Very, very poignant! Thank you so much for this. I loved it!
.-= Jay Schryer´s last blog ..The Power of A Smile =-.


Stephen Mills September 18, 2009 at 12:46 pm

Hello Jay! Thanks.


Miche Heredia September 18, 2009 at 6:27 am

Great parable, enjoyed it.
The heck with trying HARDER!!

“Do or Do Not. There is No Try” ~Yoda, The Empire Strikes Back

Miche 🙂
.-= Miche Heredia´s last blog ..To Really Think Outside the Box, Think Like a Kid =-.


Stephen Mills September 18, 2009 at 12:47 pm

Miche, I agree. I love the quote 🙂


Lisis | Quest For Balance September 18, 2009 at 7:27 am

I agree… I have found that when I have to “try harder” I am usually on the wrong track. The best path is generally effortless, I just have to allow myself to see it.

@ Miche – That’s the PERFECT quote!
.-= Lisis | Quest For Balance´s last blog ..How to Lose Your Worse-than-Useless Thoughts: Dispersal =-.


Stephen Mills September 18, 2009 at 12:48 pm

Hi Lisis. Yes we have to stop the frantic flying against the window long enough to give ourselves a chance to see the alternatives.


Miche Heredia September 18, 2009 at 7:35 am

@ Lisis: Yoda rocks!! 😉
.-= Miche Heredia´s last blog ..To Really Think Outside the Box, Think Like a Kid =-.


Angela September 18, 2009 at 8:49 am

Hi Stephen – Great post and well written. I agree with the earlier comment that when I find myself employing the “try harder” approach I ulimately determine that I’ve been on the wrong path! It’s definitely good to remember.

Your post also proves that you can learn something from almost ANY situation! 🙂

.-= Angela´s last blog ..Without Reservations ~ Book 1 =-.


Stephen Mills September 18, 2009 at 12:50 pm

Hi Angela 🙂 Yes, you can learn something from virtually any situation. Usually you learn more from the situations in which you have failed to gain what you were after. But in that case, you haven’t failed. You have succeeded magnificently!


Positively Present September 18, 2009 at 8:52 am

I really liked this a lot. Thanks for posting it! 🙂
.-= Positively Present´s last blog to diversify your life portfolio =-.


Stephen Mills September 18, 2009 at 12:51 pm

Hi Dani. Thanks as usual!


Noetic_Nick September 18, 2009 at 8:53 am

Not trying harder alone isn’t the answer either. A combination of trying hard and broadening one’s perspective seems to be the key to effective change. The latter is the problem. It’s easier to work harder at what you’ve been doing (first order change) than to completely overhaul your thinking about a problem and approach it from a new angle (second order change). Getting other people or whole systems to change this way is even more daunting a task.

Thanks for the parable of the fly. I’ll remember this and pass it on. It’s a good lesson in how our level of awareness limits our options and freedom.
.-= Noetic_Nick´s last blog ..RT @duffmcduffeeRT @MikeStankavich RT @dwpoker: This is f**king awesome. =-.


Stephen Mills September 18, 2009 at 12:53 pm

Hello Noetic_Nick. Thank you! You are absolutely correct. You can’t just sit there and expect things to happen, but you do have to focus your effort on a path that is productive. Struggling against the glass just kills you for no benefit.


Lisis | Quest For Balance September 18, 2009 at 9:38 am

I just remembered a time when I was in the office of this psychic healer guy (not for psychic healing, though… I can’t remember why I was there.) But anyway, he was distraught because he had killed a wasp earlier in the day, and he didn’t like to kill anything.

He said he tried to catch it in a jar to release it outside, but the wasp panicked and tried to escape by thrashing into the window constantly, much like the fly. In the struggle, somehow the wasp ended up dead.

What I told him was that it was a valuable life lesson for him. If the wasp had just stopped fighting and let go, yielded to the opportunity that was being presented to him, he would’ve made it out safely. But he was so determined to give in to fear and do it his way, that he missed the chance at freedom.

Same lesson, different bug. 🙂
.-= Lisis | Quest For Balance´s last blog ..How to Lose Your Worse-than-Useless Thoughts: Dispersal =-.


Stephen Mills September 18, 2009 at 12:54 pm

Lisis! “Same lesson, different bug.” I absolutely love it!


Karl Staib - Work Happy Now September 18, 2009 at 9:46 am

I’ve been guilty of this. I’ve also been guilty of flying a few feet and giving up. For me it’s all about finding that middle ground of sticking with what I’ve created, but staying flexible to take this idea in a new direction if what I’m trying isn’t working.
.-= Karl Staib – Work Happy Now´s last blog ..Hard Fun and the Beautiful – Dog Paws Edition =-.


Stephen Mills September 18, 2009 at 12:56 pm

Hello Karl. That goes to Noetic_Nick’s statement about not trying hard enough. Focused effort on the correct path is indeed a valuable approach. Staying flexible is key in our modern and rapidly changing world.


Martha September 18, 2009 at 11:44 am

What a great analogy! … like Stuart Wilde said in his book ‘Life was never meant to be a Struggle’, you have to make an effort to pick up a check across town, but if you add a (negative) emotion to this it becomes a struggle.
.-= Martha´s last blog ..Blue Hydrangea Blossoming =-.


Stephen Mills September 18, 2009 at 12:57 pm

Hi Martha. You are right on in your comment. When you add negative thoughts to an action you create your own problems and struggles. Wonderful idea 🙂


BunnygotBlog September 18, 2009 at 1:13 pm

Great post. I hate insects!!
.-= BunnygotBlog´s last blog ..Coco Chanel: Entrepreneur & Woman Before Her Time =-.


jonathan figaro September 18, 2009 at 2:06 pm

Great post! I appreciate the incite.
.-= jonathan figaro´s last blog ..How Sex Inreases Posiitve Thinking 4 Real =-.


Deb Owen September 18, 2009 at 2:32 pm

What a great story! I’ve ‘tried harder’ to try to make things work that weren’t meant for me to begin with. So much energy wasted.

Thank you for the reminder and for the story.

All the best!
.-= Deb Owen´s last blog ..why creativity matters (& what being more creative can do for you) =-.


Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills September 18, 2009 at 4:25 pm

Try smarter, not harder. Great story Stephen, never imagined we could learn so much from a fly.
.-= Jonathan – Advanced Life Skills´s last blog ..The Power of Silence =-.


Dave Witwicki September 18, 2009 at 8:19 pm

What a great story! It’s so easy to forget that maybe you need to take a different approach to a problem. You convince yourself that the reason you’re not succeeding is because you’re not trying hard enough when maybe you’re doing the wrong thing. Of course, the key is knowing the difference between when to try harder and when to try something different. Anyway, that story is awesome!
.-= Dave Witwicki´s last blog ..Book Review : Fearless by Max Lucado =-.


Jonny September 20, 2009 at 9:58 pm

Hi Ste,

Love the imagery. I am planning to create a Pictomin out of it. If you’d like i’ll send you the link when it’s up.

All the best.


Bradley Gauthier September 28, 2009 at 5:22 pm

This is a fun story to analogize working smarter, not harder. Also, definitely reinforces the need for outsourcing. Thanks for the read!
.-= Bradley Gauthier´s last blog ..Beware Advisors: Seek Mentors =-.


;) October 18, 2009 at 3:28 pm

So why didn’t you catch the fly in a cup and take it over to the open door and release it?


Annie December 12, 2009 at 1:48 am

That’s what i would have done – but the fly wouldn’t have made it easy… hey! maybe we can get another “deep thought” out of this along the lines of it’s a good thing to accept help when it is offered lol!


tom December 3, 2009 at 5:41 pm

Humans RULE!

(chanting) : hu-MANS hu-MANS hu-MANS!


Emilio December 4, 2009 at 1:31 am

Am I the only one that thinks this is a very stupid analogy. A fly is not trying hard, because it only has one setting, go. The fly cant think like us, it can realize, o this is not working… I am going to try the door.


Annie December 12, 2009 at 1:35 am

You’re not alone Emilio, though I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s a stupid analogy. It’s just making rather a trivial point. If what you are doing isn’t working, maybe try something else. Duh. This tendency in people to elevate the trivial to some sort of divine inspiration is just silliness. And, sometimes, really annoying.


Stephen Mills December 12, 2009 at 7:26 am

And yet you took the time to make multiple comments on trivial silliness. Your life must have deep meaning to have the time to troll the net making making comments on trivial silliness.


Annie December 18, 2009 at 12:24 am

hmmm – let’s see…. i made two comments that took all of about three minutes. I guess that almost meets the definition of “mulitple”. I came across this silliness thru stumbleupon, so i wasn’t exactly trolling. Don’t be so sensitive and so passive-agressively hostile.


Stephen Mills December 18, 2009 at 7:20 am

And here you are again, wasting your deep and meaningful life on the trivial, silly, and just plain annoying. Yes indeed, hmmm…


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