What is “trying too hard?”

Can someone explain what it means to try too hard? I’ve often heard the phrase used with respect to social interactions, especially dating (“he’s trying too hard,” or, weirder still, “that’s try-hard”). Recently, I’ve also heard it used with respect to this tie. And I could vaguely intuit that the phrase was correctly used, but with no idea why.

Will someone enlighten me?

Edit: Much more on this from Phoebe.


17 Responses to “What is “trying too hard?””

  1. Phoebe Says:

    Trying too hard, in any context, is when the effort is visible.

  2. Paul Gowder Says:

    Hmm, both plausible and pithy. Thanks. (And interesting in two respects: 1. so it’s really less about an excess of effort and more about a deficiency of skill, since things one does skilfully rarely look difficult; 2. and it doesn’t apply to all domains — in weightlifting, for example, I take it that it’s normal and good for the effort to be visible…)

  3. Mike Says:

    You try too hard in private so that you need not try too hard in public. Rehearsals are done in public.

    Anyone who is good at anything often finds it frustrating that people seem to think that their skill comes easy to them. “If they only saw me at practice!” Which of course they never will.

    Probably there is a signalling explanation for why trying too hard in public is a negative. A person who “lets them see him sweat” has revealed vulnerability. Which is weakness. Which must never been publicly revealed.

  4. Dion of Syracuse Says:

    “I have found quite a universal rule which in this matter seems to me valid above all other, and in all human affairs whether in word or deed: and that is to avoid affectation in every way possible as though it were some rough and dangerous reef; and (to pronounce a new word perhaps) to practice in all thing a certain sprezzatura [nonchalance], so as to conceal all art and make whatever is done or said appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it.”


    Trying to hard is the opposite of sprezzatura.

  5. Dion of Syracuse Says:

    Sorry that quote is from Castiglione… I was trying to hard I guess.

  6. Aaron Says:

    When it is used in dating, it basically captures GAME:

    Women (and men to a degree) are hypergamous, as recently discussed. When it’s apparent that you’re trying, it’s apparent that you care; when it’s apparent that you care, you are putting yourself beneath her (and sometimes him), and that is not attractive. It is not attractive because, especially for women, surrendering oneself to a lower person is more often surrendering oneself to a less biologically fit person. Thus, we, and especially women, evolved the “that’s creepy” instinct.

  7. Helen Says:

    Cool is effortless.

    At least, the effort should never be visible.

  8. Aaron Says:

    And the reason “cool is effortless” (in general rather than in the dating context) is because…

    Well rather we should say “effortless is cool,” because if you can see the effort, then it is more difficult for the person, and if it is more difficult, they are less skilled and thus less worthy of admiration.

  9. Paul Gowder Says:

    Ok everyone… so there are two non-standard applications of the term that bear some explaining.

    1) What about that tie? Suppose the aim of the tie’s creator was to make some witty dada thing, why is that effort showing? Or is it more that someone who wears it thereby shows their effort to appear dadaist or something?

    2) And what about as directly applied to social relations? Suppose A tries to impress B by, say, recounting his resume. A will often be said to be “trying to hard,” but it might be that A’s accomplishments are enough to impress B, so it isn’t really the displaying of lack of skill via displaying effort that’s going on…


  10. Mike Says:

    Suppose the aim of the tie’s creator was to make some witty dada thing, why is that effort showing?

    Show, don’t tell. If you’re as bad-ass as you think, you won’t need to tell others. They’ll get it. The guy who is telling me he’s tough is going to be the biggest pussy in the room. It’s the “quiet professional” one should fear.

    And people who go on about their IQs are usually the biggest losers in the room. Never heard Carl Sagan talk about his IQ. Everyone just knew – by his words and deeds – that he’s the fucking man.

    A will often be said to be “trying to hard,” but it might be that A’s accomplishments are enough to impress B,

    Beta and desperate. I do not exist to impress women. They exist to impress me. Why would I share my resume with them? It’s they who should share their resume with me.

    Of course, that is what THEY must think. In reality, players are coming up with new routines precisely to seduce women. So it is true that men exist to impress women.

    To understand this you need to understand Eastern thinking. The Tao is Silent is a good start. Logical contradictions are not logical contradictions once you realize you’re not a data-processing computer. Premise, premise, conclusion is great for law or science. Not so great for the reality of existence.

    Speaking of effortless effort, rehearse this:


    It’s bad-ass. It works. Yet the delivery seems effortless. It won’t be, because you’ll have run this on several of your friends before ever using it in public.

    Effortless effort.

  11. Paul Gowder Says:

    That video is amusing — have you ever played the drinking game Kings? There’s one role that requires similar tricks.

  12. Mike Says:

    I haven’t played a drinking game in over a decade, and never played Kinds. Drinking games are the best, though. “I Never…” applies priming to sex quite like nothing else.

  13. Steve M. Says:

    I usually disagree with Mike’s views on the way to approach social and romantic relationships, but here he writes something I can embrace with enthusiasm: “that [Carl Sagan is] the fucking man.”

  14. Aaron Says:

    [Carl Sagan is] the fucking man.”


  15. marianasoffer Says:

    I think that in art and science there is not such thing as trying to hard to do things right. But with respect to human relations, such as trying to get along with somebody, trying to get someone to like you, and others you can try to hard, that is when the effort you are doing is actually causing the opposite effect you desire.

  16. Lemmy Caution Says:

    This book has a chapter on this issue.

  17. HipHopPoppa Says:

    I always have to try hard to not try too hard.

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