Dementia and Trying: Why You Shouldn’t Blindly Take Life Advice from Jedi Masters

Do or do not. There is no try.  –Yoda

I don’t know if you take your life advice from a Star Wars character, but in case you do, I’d like to point out that I think this is a bad advice, especially for those living with dementia and their care partners.

I think I get what Yoda is saying.

My interpretation is that you should commit to what you are doing 100% and not pull back when obstacles are put in your way. Go forward full force with no hesitation. If you say you are trying to do rather than doing, you allow doubt to creep in. And you probably won’t succeed.

There are times in my life that this mindset has been helpful. Last summer I worked as hard as I’ve ever worked at anything to run a half marathon under two hours. During training, I didn’t think “I’m trying to run a half marathon under two hours.” I committed to the goal and thought, “I will run a half marathon under two hours.” And I hit the goal…with 12 seconds to spare. (Side note: An elite runner recently set a goal of running a FULL marathon under two hours and squeaked under. I can run 13.1 miles in the same amount of time it takes the fastest marathoner ever to run 26.2.)

I set another goal this summer for running. I had the same mentality. However, in July I found myself literally sitting on the side of a trail with a hip flexor injury. I couldn’t find a ride home even after I downloaded both Lyft and Uber on my phone (there were no vehicles out in my town). After limping home, I put some ice on it.

And I went running the next day. Once again I limped home. I did this for the next week or so. I had to get some miles in if I was going to reach my goal, so I kept pushing it. Do or do not. There is no try.

Finally, I realized I had to quit. I hadn’t succeeded. I tried. I really tried. I didn’t achieve my goal, but it was an attempt. And I think I deserve credit for my “try.” But I didn’t make it to the start line.

There are plenty of times in life that the “do or do not” mentality just doesn’t work. And there are times I give people credit for trying…even when they end up not doing.

Someone I know who is living with early stage dementia said she’d go on a shopping excursion with friends. She woke up that morning feeling anxious and disoriented. She thought she’d feel better if she showered. She showered. She didn’t feel better. Then she put on some makeup and had some coffee. As she sat drinking her coffee, she realized she wasn’t up to going. She called to cancel. She tried.

Doug, a man whose wife has Alzheimer’s, set out to give her a bath one evening. She was agitated and reacted as if she were in pain. He gave her a few minutes to regroup and tried again. This time she didn’t seem to recognize him at all. He decided he would do the bath tomorrow. He tried.

My friend and her husband who has early stage frontotemporal degeneration go for a walk every night. Yet, once in a while, her husband struggles with his balance. They get a few steps from the house and turn around dejectedly. They tried.

To say “there is no try” negates what people living with dementia and their families do everyday. You are trying, and I see you trying. It’s not easy and sometimes it’s a giant dumpster fire. Sometimes you have to accept it’s a trying day and not a doing day. You have to shrug and keep going. You tried.

Life with dementia disrupts our plans. It gets in our way. What we wanted to do might not be doable…or perhaps it’s not doable in the way we expected or it’s not doable at this time. Sometimes we don’t succeed.

When someone says they’ll try to take their mother who is living with dementia to a family social event, it’s not that they’re wishy-washy about committing. It’s that they understand that they and their mother do not have complete control of the situation. They don’t know if Mom will be having a good day or bad day.

In the “do or do not” mentally, you take Mom even if she’s having a bad day. If you understand dementia, you realize that’s not a good plan. You tried to take her, and it just didn’t happen. Perhaps a few family members can visit her at the nursing home later in the week.

It’s okay to try and to not succeed. If you succeed every time you try in life, you’re not trying enough things, and you’re setting your goals too low. There is no shame in trying and failing. In fact, I think failure is one of those things that binds us as human beings.

You failed? Hey, I’ve failed as well. It sucks but we’re both still moving on. Let’s keep trying.

Unlike Yoda, I think there is a try. I think there’s value in the try. 

If you’re a person living with dementia or a dementia care partner, I know you are trying. It matters that you are trying–even when you fail, bail, or go back to bed. You’re trying.

And I’m rooting for you.

2 thoughts on “Dementia and Trying: Why You Shouldn’t Blindly Take Life Advice from Jedi Masters

  1. Interesting post. I don’t think Yoda was including dementia, so it isn’t quite fair to criticize his mantra in that regard. Most of the time the words “I’m trying” are used, they are code for “I’m failing.” I think Yoda nailed it there. I agree that it creates a mindset. I experienced the same thing losing weight. I ‘tried’ for years with little success. Then, I started writing about it and learning the pieces necessary, portion control, regular exercise, good sleep. Suddenly, I wasn’t ‘trying’ any more, but the pounds were melting off. I stand by Yoda.


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