A reader writes in to ask about trying too hard:
“I haven't seen any posts yet by you about a particular subject--neediness and trying too hard.
In fact, I just read one of your posts "What regular men don't know" where you are a proponent of making yourself into an attractive man and getting better with women an obsession.
Personally I have had a few different people tell me lately that I'm "trying too hard." I don't know what this means. Without trying, I will get nowhere. At first I thought they were right, but now I'm thinking they were just jealous I was trying to change when they weren't.
Could you write a post on this inner game issue? What does it mean to "try too hard" and when does getting better with women become a bad thing? How do you make sure to keep consistently trying to get better without having people tell you you're trying too hard?
Or should I say screw 'em and keep on doin my own thing?”
I was speaking with a former student of mine about this a few weeks back. We'd talked about him tweaking a vibe he gives off, where it feels as though he's trying a bit too hard. He wasn't totally aware of it, but he'd heard it from multiple people and he asked me if I could put my finger on it and help him figure out why he was getting that kind of reaction from people and how to get around it.
Honestly, trying too hard is one of the most difficult things to explain to someone, and one of the most difficult things to stop.
But I myself was guilty of it for a long time once, and since there's some interest in the topic, let me take a crack at explaining what this is, and what you can do about it.
Trying Too Hard: A Story
Because I'm someone who's gone through a lot of changes in his lifetime, I've frequently been in the process of remaking myself, and often when you go through that process it requires the adoption of new characteristics, traits, and behaviors, many of which are foreign to you. Because of that, you're in prime position to overdo things, and come across try hard.
When I first started working after high school, I suddenly found myself out of my middle-class white existence and thrown into working with mostly black, inner city folks. These were guys who'd tell you stories about their carjacking days; guys who sold guns and drugs; guys who were frequently disappearing from work following a drug bust or an arrest or a shooting. Most of them were a lot stronger and more muscular than I was; all of them were older than me. And the company made me, a skinny 19 year old kid from the suburbs, the boss of these guys.
Obviously, they didn't spend a whole lot of time listening to me at first. They'd been working since before I was born, they'd tell me, or they'd tell me to step outside with them to fight. These were the kinds of things I had to listen to on a daily basis.
I didn't have a social life back then. I didn't do much, realistically, other than sleep, eat, and work. So these guy WERE my social circle.
And I decided that if you can't beat, you've got to join them.
I started overhauling myself to fit in. I wanted to be tougher, stronger... more badass.
And I overdid it. And they started poking fun at me for trying too hard.
"Why do you walk like that man?" I remember one guy asking. "You look like you're trying to make people think you've got muscles. Do you want people to think you've got muscles, is that why you walk like that?"
"You know," I had another guy tell me right up in my face, who usually didn't talk to me and who'd just been released after a 5-year stint in the local penitentiary, "you wouldn't last 5 minutes in prison."
It was a hell of a ride for a sensitive kid who'd grown up writing
his own science fiction stories and didn't know how to have friends. I
started working out, and put on a lot of muscle pretty quickly, and I had to learn how to never get called
"fake" or "phony" or a "poseur" ever again.
The Law of Least Effort
If you're a longtime follower of me or this site, you know I talk about the Law of Least Effort quite a bit when we get to talking about vibe and coolness. That's because I'm a believer that the Law - essentially, sprezzatura codified and explained in the context of social interaction - is the vital underpinning of being "cool."
In case you didn't see or don't remember the diagram from the article on sprezzatura that explains effort and returns, it looks like this:
The quadrant of that diagram that's most important to us here, in terms of guys who are trying too hard, is the one on the bottom right: The Jester.
The Jester is the guy who's putting a ton of effort in, and getting low results. He's working really hard for really little in exchange. He is, in effect, spinning his wheels a lot.
But if we can assume that high effort for low returns is a bad trade, why would anyone become a Jester in the first place?
The reason is because it often feels like the Jester is getting somewhere with people.
Fact is, people respond differently to each of the four different quadrants:
People like the King because he is powerful. They want to be in his presence, soak up his majesty, and hope that some of his magic wears off on them too. People are in awe around the King because he remains so comfortable at all times, and even stays comfortable in the midst of tense situations.
The Peasant often isn't popular socially - he's just average. He's a hard worker who gets decent results. The Peasant is the Everyman of the four quadrants of effort and returns.
The Unknown can be both intriguing and off-putting to people... sometimes both at the same time. He doesn't seem to care about others' goings on, nor does he ever seem to have much going on himself. He's just there, and no one's really sure why.
The Jester, like the King, is also well liked, though for other reasons. While people want to bask in the King's glow, with the Jester they like having him around for the entertainment value. He's funny; he's informative; he's constantly finding ways to crack jokes, get people engaged, and make everybody around him happy. He's uncomfortable with any form of tension, and sees it as his mission in life to plug the holes of tension with his own effort and energy.
So, as it turns out, the two individuals in opposite corners of the chart are the most attractive to others: the Jester, who tries very hard and gets little in return, and the King, who doesn't seem to try at all but gets much in return.
The other two quadrants - the Peasant and the Unknown - escape much notice because they're more "ordinary."And while it's not impossible for a Jester to become a King, he's got a lot of work to do to get there.
It's Good to Be the King
But wait - why would you even want to be a King? Why not just keep doing what you're doing?
I'll tell you from experience that Jesters attract, date, and sleep with far less attractive women than Kings do, and women with far more, shall we say, quirky personalities than do Kings. Jesters also don't rise as high in their careers, have as cool or effective friends, or find life as straightforward or fulfilling as Kings do.
It's good to be the King.
When you're working hard for chips, people can tell, and they know you're trying too hard. And sometimes they'll tell you.
Trying too hard is, in a nutshell, working a lot harder for smaller gains than other people judge that you should.
Let's say you're sitting at a table, and someone's telling a story about a vacation from hell. At one point, you jump in to show some solidarity with them:
"I know, right? How could that innkeeper think you'd stay at a place like that?"
This is the kind of thing that someone (a Jester) who's trying too hard will tend to do. They'll jump in at slightly inappropriate moments to express a slightly-too-much-for-the-occasion sentiment in order to show themself to be relating, or to bring the spotlight back onto themself, or to be funny or improve their status in others' eyes.
Examples of things that someone trying too hard will do:
- Make "I relate to that" comments when they're not needed
- Find ways to interject jokes, humor, and witty comments into everything
- Be overly expressive in agreeing with things, "Yeah, totally!" "Tell me about it!"
- Seem to be chomping at the bit to dive in and contribute to the conversation
- Constantly feel the need to be a part of things at all times
- Touch people when it feels like they're trying to touch them
The common thread in all of these is that the guy is trying to regain attention.
I want that to sink in.
If someone tells you you're trying too hard, it means they KNOW you're trying to get more attention.
You're trying to be funny when the moment isn't quite right.
Or you're trying to show how much you relate to someone when it's not necessary.
Or you're trying to act / look / portray yourself as cool, or strong, or tough, and you're overdoing it.
When someone tells you you're trying too hard, it's because you are trying to force an opinion of you, connection with you, or attention on you.
It's because you're not being a King. You're being a Jester.
Less is More
One of the greatest lessons for me from my tryhard days was that less really is more.
To become a King, you must learn to achieve what you want to achieve with LESS exertion.
That means, if you want people to think you look big and tough, you learn to walk big and tough, and then tone it down. Do it enough that it's noticeable... but almost under the radar.
Ever see guys walking REALLY dramatically? It's almost comical. But a guy walking strong but understated... he looks POWERFUL.
Here's another example. Ever see a guy holding his arms really far out from his body to try and make himself look bigger? Yeah, looks silly, right? Instead, just puff out your chest and keep your back straight. Then, deliberately don't put your arms out on the side like those guys. People will think you look authentically strong, but they won't know why.
Tryhard guys flip "instability" switches in people that frighten them off. Why? Think about it like this:
You run into a guy who's "tryhard tough," carrying his arms out from the sides of his body. You accidentally insult him. How do you think he'll react?
You run into a guy who's legitimately tough, but in a cool way. You accidentally insult him. How do you think he'll react?
Most likely, you'll assume that Guy #1 is going to huff and puff and try to knock you down. Meanwhile, Guy #2 is not going to make a big deal about it.
That's because you instinctively know that Guy #2 is secure and confident in who he is, while Guy #1 is putting on a show and trying to convince himself and others... and he'll freak out if the curtain is pulled up on that show or his adopted self-image is threatened.
Women are aware of this subconsciously too... and the Guy #2s of the world (the authentically cool and confident) pull a lot more girls, and a lot more beautiful and higher quality girls, than the Guy #1s of the world (the tryhard guys).
It's not even close, really.
When you train yourself how to behave socially, for this reason, you want to be thinking one word:
You should be understating your:
- Body language
- Nonverbal communication
- Verbal communication
- Relating to others
Move more slowly. Talk more slowly. React more slowly.
When someone's telling a story, let them tell it. Make them wonder if you relate to it or not. Don't be afraid of social pressure - that pressure is your friend, to an extent. You want to not have so much of it that things get weird, but not have so little that everyone can count on you to alleviate the pressure at all times and function as the Jester who's going around making everyone feel carefree and happy.
And think understated in all things. How can you get the message across you want to get across, but without overdoing it?
To be sure, this is a difficult mindset to maintain. It's taxing. You'll be monitoring your communication, verbal and nonverbal, to the most minute level... it's a high wire balancing act. "How do I come across as relatable, but not TOO relatable?" you'll ask yourself. "How do I seem strong, but not TOO strong?"
You'll be turning a lot of gears in your head while you train yourself to respond appropriately in situations to give the right presentation to others.
But the good news is, once you've trained yourself on the right way to present yourself in given situations, it becomes automated.
You stop thinking about it.
And then, ever after, you've just got it nailed.
Stop Trying. Start Succeeding.
Most people know, I think, at least subconsciously, if they're trying too hard. It was certainly the case with me. There's just a sense, underneath the surface, that you're working too hard for the results you're actually getting... the results just don't match your expectation of what those results should be. And you know you're putting in way more work for them than you'd like to.
Once I had a "tough but relaxed" vibe down about myself - and it took some time - I found that managing the tire shop was a heck of a lot easier.
Guys stopped challenging me, almost altogether.
People respected me more.
I could micromanage less - things would just get done.
Best of all... it was far less work for ME.
I wasn't a poseur anymore. I was legit.
And if you're trying too hard, my message to you is that you should start trying even harder... to rein yourself in, that is.
There are men out there who are not trying hard enough. Those are the Unknowns (who need to progress to Jester before they go anywhere else), and the Peasants (who need to try harder to rein in the level of effort they expend to get the results they do).
But if you're in the Jester's quadrant - if people around you are telling you you try too hard, or you feel like you do - your mission is to try hard to take a more balanced approach: get your results up by getting your effort down. Walk that middle path, and be clear but be understated.
At that point, you'll stop trying... and start being, and start succeeding.
Talk with you next time.