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Do Or Do Not…. There Is No Try : Why Yoda Can Harm Your Productivity

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Do Or Do Not…. There Is No Try : Why Yoda Can Harm Your Productivity

Happy Star Wars Day! Yes, it’s May The 4th so I thought I’d use that as an excuse to bring my two favourite things together – Science Fiction and Productivity.

Now, I know that a lot of you who read this are hardcore productivity guys, and a lot will also be hardcore sci-fi fans so I hope that I can entertain – and not overly offend – both parties with my (somewhat lighthearted) take on a famous Star Wars Quote:

Do Or Do Not. There Is No Try

In the 1980 Star Wars film “The Empire Strikes Back”, Luke Skywalker is faced the with the seemingly impossible task of learning the ways of the force. Feeling overwhelmed the young Skywalker tells his Jedi master Yoda that he’ll try his best. Yoda responds with “Do or do not, there is no try”.

Seriously Yoda? No Try?

Basically what Yoda’s telling Luke here is that if you don’t think you can do it why bother trying in the first place? Is that something that we want to be teaching our children? In fact, is that even a Jedi way of looking at a problem?

Okay, so some of you may argue it’s Yoda’s way of saying “Hey Luke, suck it up and get on with it”, in fact the quote seems to be one of the more popular ones in the Star Wars franchise (anyone fancy this quote as a toilet decal?) but I think that Yoda’s missing a trick here and disenfranchising those of us who need a few attempts to get something started, get it right or at least feel happy with with it.

Sorry Guys, Yoda Was Wrong

Is there anything wrong with trying? If we never try anything how do we know if we like it, can achieve it or with practice get better?

Saying that you can only “Do” something is very limiting whereas saying you can try something is (I think) very freeing.

If At First You Don’t Succeed…

I think that W.E Hickson had the right idea. He popularised the following proverb:

Tis a lesson you should heed:
Try, try, try again.
If at first you don’t succeed,
try, try, try again.


Think of what we may have missed out on if people didn’t try because they couldn’t succeed immediately: No Shakespeare, Mona Lisa, computers, space flight – the list is almost endless.

Hang on that’s not what Yoda meant, Katy!

Okay, yes I understand that Yoda wasn’t exactly saying “don’t bother” but he’s certainly saying “make sure you’re going to succeed”. If you think about it, it could have taken Luke years to lift his X-Wing out of the swamp. Everyday he would have got slightly better but, had he taken Yoda’s words completely to heart he may have not even bothered to try in the first place.

Success comes from failiure

Think of the things that we would have missed out on thanks to a percieved “faliure”: penicillin, Worcestershire sauce, Ford motor cars, in fact there’s a large number of famous people who failed before they became a success. Does this fit in with Yoda’s “Do or do not, there is no try”? All of these people tried and didn’t “do” the first time.

We learn from our mistakes. I think it’s important to try, to put ourselves “out there” away from our comfort zones so sorry Yoda, I think that despite your advanced years and wisdom you were wrong on this occassion.

May the 4th Be With You!

What do you think? Am I taking Yoda’s words to heart too much? Am I missing the point he’s making or do you agree that we should all give it a try sometimes? Let us know in the comments.

About The Author
Katy is always trying to be more productive one day at a time! Whether it's analogue, digital, motivational or psychological who'll try any system that will help her get things done and get organised. As well as running, she also loves making music and reviewing things.
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    Jonathan R. Zuckerman
    July 29, 2015 at 2:44 pm

    Agree with you, I do.  A putz Yoda is.


    Try means: make an attempt or effort to do something.

    I have a different translation of this quote that might make it clear what my take is:
    “If you decide to do something, do it with all your heart.”

    If you “try” to do something, you’re conceding that you may fail. Have you ever told yourself to “don’t forget to do something”? When you forget it’s infuriating, but you have to realize that your brain keyed in on the work “forget” instead of “don’t forget”. The same thing happens when you “try” … if you fail, who cares because that was a possible outcome. However, if you set out to “do” something, failure is not an option.


      That’s a really good point! There’s often no point in trying something if you’re not going to put your full effort in to it


        But he said he was going to try “his very best.”  Doesn’t that mean putting his whole heart into it?


          I found this post because one of our subs has been “trying their best” to do something that they had originally said they would do.  When our team member that manages them told me about what they said, I immediately thought of Yoda.

          I think once you say “try” it immediately discounts your effort.

          Rarely can you say “I’m going to do X” and be 100% sure you’ll succeed.  The point is that you’re all in and that mental commitment makes all the difference in the world.  I think it’s most obvious in sports or things that require muscle memory (where if you don’t fully commit to, say, a flip. you’ll just land on your head), but definitely applies across the board.

          In business, Do is contractual, try is… well, a good excuse to send someone a picture of yoda.


    Don’t confuse the words Trying with Doing.
    How often have you heard someone say “I tried that once”. Trying is a once or maybe twice activity. Doing is something you commit to do until you succeed, although sucess may not be attaining your original goal. Trying a few times and not succeeding is Failure. Doing it again and again and again is either Insanity or Success. Insanity was once described as doing the same thing over and over, each time expecting different results. Thomas Edison said that he never failed to invent the light bulb because instead he learned 1000 ways not to make a light bulb. You are a Winner not because you never lost, but because you never quit. Babe Ruth struck out over 1300 times but is remembered for hitting “only” 714 home runs. If you do it and don’t succeed, you find out as much as you can about what not to do next time, and what to do instead, and then “Just Do It” once again. Trying always has a back door, Doing does not. If you can’t find a way to continue Doing, seek other resources, wait for a better time, or whatever. Or often you learn that you don’t have the right objective after all. That’s important knowledge!!! Changing direction isn’t failing, it’s succeeding in correcting your goal, and then Doing it until you reach it one way or another. Almost anything is worth Trying, but only truly important things are worth Doing. Learning what is important is something that is always worth Doing.


      Great sentiment Nick! I think the problem is that we get so caught up in the “Won’t Try because I’m sure to fail” mentality that we end up not “Doing” anything at all.

      This post is a couple of years old now so perhaps I should revisit it with a new take – you’ve certainly given me something to think about 🙂


    The point I think Yoda is trying to make is that “try” cannot ever exist on its own. You don’t “try” something without getting one of two results: success, or failure. Do, or do not. And if you say “I’ll try,” it’s almost as if you’re leaving it up to chance whether you will succeed or not, whereas if you go into a task with the mentality of “I will,” you will indeed be far more likely to succeed. Also like some others have pointed out, if you know you’re not committed enough to succeed, then you may as well say “I won’t” instead of “I’ll try,” becaude that is the result that your lack of commitment will undoubtedly heed.


      Thanks for your thoughts Jim.

      I am a great believer in visualising outcomes – I do think it helps you see through issues that may cause the “try” bit to end in failure, I just think that some people use the “I try it” mentality to give it a go but perhaps not truly care about the success of fail result as they’re not 100% invested in the outcome anyway.

      Perhaps I’ll have to take a look at this idea again after the new film comes out!

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