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"There's a Zen koan. It says that if you want to find something, you have to stop looking."
Temperance Brennan, Bones

Alice tries to do something. She tries really hard, in a bunch of different ways, and none of them work. Finally, she succeeds — either in the one last half-hearted attempt she makes before giving up or precisely by giving up.

This is a staple of Secret Test of Character plotlines. When done poorly, it can come across as the Broken Aesop version of Know When to Fold 'Em.

Contrast Gave Up Too Soon. Compare Sheathe Your Sword, Last Place You Look, Autopilot Artistry, and Wins by Doing Absolutely Nothing. The Centipede's Dilemma is often due to this.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • During the Valentine's Day arc in Assassination Classroom, Akari angsts over how to confess to Nagisa. She researches how other girls do it, she asks Karma for advice... but in the end, realizes that all she really needed (or wanted) to do was express her feelings honestly to him. This trope also applies to another aspect of their relationship: while Akari was playing the part of a carefree schoolgirl, she interacted with Nagisa calmly and easily (even though their friendship was important to both Kayano (Akari's false persona) and her "true self"). It's only once she starts taking it seriously that she doesn't know how to deal with it.
  • In Bleach, Ichigo learns the Final Getsuga Tensho by realizing he has to give up and let Tensa Zangetsu impale him with his sword.
    • Specifically, after fighting Tensa Zangetsu for months, he's eventually able to notice that Tensa Zangetsu could've hidden from Ichigo from the start or even killed him with ease, but had deliberately neglected to do either. Realizing that Tensa Zangetsu didn't actually want to fight him, Ichigo drops his sword and allows himself to be stabbed, which he notes doesn't even hurt. Tensa Zangetsu points out that, since he's part of Ichigo's soul, being pierced by his own sword after accepting him could never hurt. He then commends Ichigo for reaching his conclusion before teaching him the Final Getsuga Tensho.
  • Vegeta in Dragon Ball Z puts himself through extra-harsh Training from Hell in order to try and achieve Super Saiyan, but no matter how strong he becomes he just can't get over that final hurdle. After one particularly brutal training session, he gives up, raging about how the Prince of All Saiyans was surpassed by a low-class warrior (Goku) and a total nobody (Future Trunks)... and then transforms, since what he needed wasn't more power, but a moment of pure rage to act as the trigger.
  • In Future Card Buddy Fight DDD, Gaito's main goal is to obtain the Dragon Force. seeing Gao and Tasuku get it frustrates him and causes him to lash out at his Buddy Abygale. Unfortunately for him, the Dragon Force is the Power of Friendship; the one time he got a taste of it was when he actually apologized for being mean. He didn't learn his lesson.
  • For the first half of GUN×SWORD, Van carries around a small sliding puzzle. He constantly works on it, but never gets the grip of it. After Woo defeats him, he angsts over the situation, unconsciously working on the puzzle... and solves it. Cue epiphany.
  • Shirogane from Kaguya-sama: Love Is War always has the most success in getting Kaguya to fall for him when he's more focused on something else, best seen during the stargazing chapter where he performs romantic acts without a second thought that he'd normally be far too embarrassed to do. This delays the final confession between the two, as Shirogane is too insistent on being perfect while Kaguya just wants him to be genuine about his failings.
  • Teana's mentality at the beginning of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS is that she thinks the only way to get stronger is through a self-imposed Training from Hell. It was not until she learns of Nanoha's Near-Death Experience as well as Nanoha's admission that she was gradually easing her students into more intense training to prevent a similar incident from happening to them, as well as ensuring that the forwards would be able to fully utilize the skills they are most proficient at that Teana comes to realize that what she was doing was wrong all along. Pretty soon, she accepts the fact that while she may not be as strong as the others in terms of raw power, she can be an elite mage through other means. By ViVid, she not only becomes a full-fledged Enforcer but also becomes an S-ranked mage.
  • My Monster Secret: After Asahi nearly burns himself out trying to oppose Principal Shirayuki and figure out why she's so dead set on revealing Youko's secret, Youko ends up figuring out her motivations by... being so hungry that Shirayuki's rants kept getting interrupted by her stomach growling, and then just having a conversation while she gets some food.
  • Pokémon: The Series: Dawn's Fatal Flaw in Diamond and Pearl was that she was The Perfectionist, spending too much time trying to perfect her performances rather than having fun with her Pokémon, which winds up costing her from advancing to the second round twice in a row. Both Zoe and Wallace point this out to her, and she eventually stops focusing so hard on making everything perfect and is able to bounce back in the Wallace Cup.
  • Ranma ½: Ranma is trying to learn a special technique which involves grabbing chestnuts out of an open fire barehanded in order to get a MacGuffin which will restore his ability to resist heat, but can't get close enough to the fire due to an aversion of Convection Shmonvection . Eventually, he is talked into taking a break and going to a fair by Akane and while doing so learns effectively the same technique in a different way, through a goldfish catching game.
  • Discussed and invoked in Reborn! (2004). Ryohei's training under Colonello's tutelage has him learn on how to rest his body as opposed to pushing himself further. As Ryohei constantly pushes himself everyday up to that point, Colonello advises him to rest up so his cells can charge up for the next day. It works.
  • In The Seven Deadly Sins, Meliodas is placed in an illusionary "Groundhog Day" Loop of his tragic past, the idea being to make him accept and overcome his grief. He loops multiple times, dangerously straining his mind as he tries to force himself to forget, but in the end, he triumphs just by opening his eyes and focusing on the present.

    Comic Books 
  • In the Fantastic Four story arc "Unthinkable", Reed Richards' technical devices are useless against the newly magically-empowered Doctor Doom, forcing him to rely on a magic device provided by Doctor Strange. No matter how hard he concentrates on saying or doing the right things, it won't work. Of course, when he gives up and admits that there are things he'll never understand, the device starts working flawlessly. It was apparently powered by humility.
  • This is how the Marvel Comics superhero Quasar gained control of his "quantum-bands" in the first issue of his own series: after being forced to use the untested and dangerous alien devices in combat and trying his hardest to control the unstoppable energy buildup, Wendell Vaughn flies high up into the atmosphere so nobody else will get hurt in the inevitable explosion/disintegration (which happened to the person who tried the bands on before him) and basically stops fighting... which causes the energy to harmlessly dissipate. The point is reinforced by Wendell feeling explicitly ashamed for his poor performance and apparent lack of "killer instinct" during his earlier S.H.I.E.L.D. combat training.
  • Sonic the Comic:
    • Robotnik modifies a standard trooper robot with a powerful predictive artificial intelligence that allows it to counter any attack made by Sonic and his allies. Sonic eventually defeats it by saying he's giving up because that is so outside the Determinator psychological profile for him the robot is programmed with that it (explosively) shuts down.
    • A similar example in the Sonic In Your Face Special by Archie Comics. Sonic and the Freedom Fighters are up against a powerful cyclops robot that's been programmed to attack anything that moves. After a few minutes of pointless fighting, Sonic has the gang hold still- without a moving target, the robot shuts down. Though this is might be considered subverted when Sonic admits that not moving is one of the hardest things he's ever done.
  • Spider-Man: In The Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #1, Spidey is abducted by the size-manipulation villain Psycho-Man and brought to his fortress in the Micro-Verse. Spidey is dumbfounded when he discovers a shrunken universe held captive! The egotistical villain gloats, relating how he reduced this whole universe in size and now holds it captive, and says he demanded the inhabitants surrender and accept him as ruler, else he crush them; they agreed, but when he tried to restore it to normal (it was pointless to rule a shrunken universe), he found his technology was lacking the required power. Knowing that it took far more energy to make things larger than it did to make them smaller, he had to obtain the near-limitless energy of the Uni-Power to do so in order to rule them. Spidey then asked a question: "If you couldn't make them larger, why didn't you make yourself smaller?" The villain was speechless for a minute. He had simply never thought of that!

    Comic Strips 
  • Jon: Garfield says the ugly kitten whose failed attempts to get attention consisted on acting cute was trying too hard.

    Fan Works 
  • In Beyond Recall, Merlin starts working for Arthur as a manservant (again) after a bout of amnesia with no idea of how their relationship worked before. He tries being a model servant, completing outrageous amounts of chores perfectly without complaint, but Arthur continues to look disappointed. It's not until they have a row and Merlin gives up and insults him that Arthur's finally happy with him, much to Merlin's confusion.
  • In The Best Night Ever, Prince Blueblood is stuck in a "Groundhog Day" Loop, and the only way to break it is to make sure everyone at the Grand Galloping Gala has "the best night ever." In one of the later loops, he technically gets everyone everything they want, but his over-the-top polite attitude comes off as phony and artificial, resulting in another reset. However, Rarity's words to Blueblood right before the loop resets gives him an idea on how to make it less artificial the next time.
  • In Dragon Ball Z fanfic Bringer of Death, Vegeta, Goku, and Pikkon are in Hell and have to make their way up a flight of stairs to get out. This is easy for Goku and Pikkon, who were heroes in life; Vegeta, however, was a villain for most of his life so faces a trial where his pride becomes a literal weight that prevents him from taking the final step to get out of Hell. Vegeta is unable to overcome the weight by himself no matter how hard he tries; when he gives up and accepts Goku's help, however, he's able to leave easily.
  • Cutie Mark Crusaders 10k: Discord points out that Twilight's initial attempt to defeat Crystalestia failed because she got too emotionally invested in trying to win. Once she loosens up and treats the fight as a game she's already won, she fares much better.
  • In Luminosity, Elspeth keeps trying to convince herself that she should be able to use her "I am being honest" magic when she's lying, or be able to turn it off, and failing. Finally, she is simply herself, who hates lying, and happens to be unsure. (Emphasis added)
    Siobhan: And you really believe all that? I can't tell when you decorate your sentences with all those hedges.
  • In Out of the Dead Land, Bucky tries to perfectly imitate the vocal and facial mannerisms of the pre-Winter Soldier Bucky Barnes he believes Steve wants him to be. Then, after Natasha picks apart his act, he tries equally hard to be just the mechanical, unfeeling Winter Soldier in the belief that there's nothing of the old Bucky left in him anymore. It's only after he stops trying and thinking so hard on what he "should" act like as Bucky or the Winter Soldier that he proves to have more-or-less the same inherent heroic resolve and inside-out knowledge/love of Steve that the "old" Bucky did.
  • In Parting Words, Celestia was trying to Defy this and did not tell Twilight about being a Bearer of the Elements because she was afraid Twilight would end up trying to force friendships and make the other Bearers reveal themselves. She wound up playing it straight by continuing to withhold things despite her original reason no longer being necessary.
  • In the Ultra Fast Pony episode "Utter Lunacy", Twilight Sparkle tells Luna that she needs to conform if she wants to be accepted by other ponies. When Luna tries to "act normal", she completely fails (apparently she thinks "I will devour your soul!" is something normal ponies say to each other). When Luna gives up and starts complaining about Twilight, everyone else realizes Luna's not that different (because they're all annoyed by Twilight, too). Luna, however, is baffled and angered by her sudden acceptance, and she responds by running away.

    Films — Animation 
  • In Disney's Hercules, during a training montage/song the title character is shown launching projectiles at practice dummies. He misses repeatedly, then turns away throwing another weapon as he does. This hits the target, and for some reason, both he and his trainer consider this a success.
  • In Mulan, Mulan pretty much gave up trying to climb the wooden pole with weights on her arms, until out of frustration she figured out she could wrap them together to help her climb it, which may well have been the intended solution — to show the trainees that they had to use their brains instead of just trying to brute force their way through.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Fifth Element: After trying numerous ways to activate the four elemental stones, they all give up. David laments that they're going to die and sighs, inadvertently activating the wind stone. Turns out the stones need their classical element to activate (wind for wind, earth for earth, water for water, fire for fire).
  • In The Matrix Revolutions, Neo allows himself to be assimilated by Agent Smith after realizing that the two of them are evenly matched. The Machine God uses the new connection to eliminate Smith and all of his clones at once.
  • At the beginning of National Lampoon's European Vacation, the family is appearing on a game show and is asked a question they don't know the answer to. Chevy Chase's wife whines "Clark!", which is the name of Chevy's character. This turns out to be the correct answer to the question.
  • In What Dreams May Come, Christy finally saves his wife from Hell by giving up on trying to save her and instead joins her. She can't break out of her self-imposed nightmare world for herself, but she can to save him from being trapped. Sometimes, when you lose, you win.
  • Willow has the titular character in the running to become the High Aldwyn's apprentice, and the only test is the Aldwyn's asking "the power to control the world is in which finger?". If you choose the right finger, you become the apprentice. Everyone chooses the wrong finger, and the High Aldwyn approaches Willow afterward to ask him about it — Willow admits that his first impulse was his own finger, which was the right answer, but he felt it was too silly an impulse.

  • Played for laughs in the Acorna Series: When the Linyaari make first contact with humanity, one of the first humans they encounter is Phony Psychic Karina, who is ecstatic to encounter an entire races of psychics "like her." It turns out she actually did have some measure of telepathic ability, but every time she tried to "use her gifts" (using her own "visualization techniques") to make contact, it actually interfered with the Linyaari's own attempts.
  • In Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars, Samuel Klugarsh sells an Omega Meter to Alan and Leonard, promising that the machine will play a tape recording of "Jingle Bells" instead of buzzing when their brains start to produce omega waves. The boys try various meditation tricks to no avail. Finally, Alan agrees with Leonard that Klugarsh played a trick on them, says, "I give up," and collapses in defeat. Moments later, the machine starts to play "Jingle Bells."
  • Malicia in The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents tries to invoke it as well, and it's possibly a hidden double subversion in that she tries too hard accidentally leaning on things before Keith gets it first thing he tries by actually looking.
  • In The Dresden Files, Harry gives his apprentice Molly a bracelet with several beads that respond to magic power, to use as a way of practicing her focus: when she is able to raise all the beads, she'll be focused and determined enough to do more than just practice magic. To her chagrin, she can't raise more than 2 beads, and that only with extreme determination. However, when the situation in the story gets much more dangerous and she expresses a sincere desire to help Harry, not for the sake of learning magic or gaining power, but to actually help people, every single bead on the bracelet rises, breaks the strap of the bracelet and all of them rise to the ceiling. Harry wasn't testing her power or her control over her magic, he was testing her reasons for learning magic, and as soon as she had a good reason for using magic, she was ready to learn how to do so.
  • In Good Omens:
    • Anathema tries unsuccessfully to invoke this when she's looking for her lost book of prophecy:
      She even tried the one which every romantic nerve in her body insisted should work, which consisted of theatrically giving up, sitting down, and letting her gaze fall naturally on a patch of earth which, if she had been in any decent narrative, should have contained the book.
      It didn't.
    • It does work for Newton Pulsifer, who is desperately trying to stop a nuclear launch. When he admits that he breaks anything he tries to build, he's told to fix it instead, at which point, it promptly breaks.
  • The Great Gatsby: Jay Gatsby's over-the-top house, constant parties, super-fancy car, and Unlimited Wardrobe are all attempts to show himself to be rich for Daisy's sake; in fact, it's so ridiculous that many people mistakenly believe that he's not actually rich.
  • In Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, the final test to get the stone is to get it from the Mirror of Erised. Voldemort couldn't get it while Harry was able to. Dumbledore later reveals to Harry that only a person who wanted to find the stone, but not use it would be the one to get it.
  • In one short story from the magazine Highlights for Kids, a boy apprentices himself to a master stone carver to try to learn to make beautiful elephant statues like the carver can. The carver says he simply sees the elephant in the stone block and carves it free. The boy can't get that technique to work, no matter how hard he tries, until he realizes that he can see tigers in the stone, implying that he can be a master carver of tiger statues.
  • This happens to Bilbo during the riddle-game in The Hobbit: he can't figure out a riddle, he's really spooked, and he squeaks "Time!" meaning "Give me more time!" It's the right answer. Technically, also how Bilbo wins the riddle-game. Trying to think up a riddle, he off-handedly asks himself, "What's in my pocket?" Gollum takes it as a riddle.
  • This is a huge part of learning to fly in Life, the Universe and Everything. Once you get past that hurdle, it's actually very simple to intentionally fly - but Step One is tricking your body into not realizing it's not on the ground anymore.
    "One problem is that you have to miss the ground accidentally. It's no good deliberately intending to miss the ground because you won't. You have to have your attention suddenly distracted by something else when you're halfway there so that you are no longer thinking about falling, or about the ground, or about how much it's going to hurt if you fail to miss it. . . There are private clubs you can join which help you achieve the all-important moment of distraction. They hire people with surprising bodies or opinions to leap out from behind bushes and exhibit and/or explain them at the critical moment."
    • This is later proven to be correct when Arthur Dent gets distracted while falling off a mountain on an alien world (having just spotted some luggage he'd lost while vacationing in Greece).
  • In The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf uses several spells while attempting to open the door into Moria, whereas if he had not translated the Elvish inscription on the door (Speak, Friend, and enter) when he read it aloud the door would have opened, as the Elvish word for Friend (mellon) is the password.
  • This is how Saidar, the female half of the One Power, works in The Wheel of Time. The only way to control it is for the channeler to recognise how infinitely greater it is than her and surrender to it completely. Try to fight it and it will burn you out.
  • In Aesop's fable "The North Wind and the Sun", the two title characters each boast that they are greater than the other. They spot a man below them, and the Sun proposes that the first who can take the man's coat from him is greater. The North Wind agrees, and creates a storm to try to blow the man's coat off, but the man hangs onto it, only clinging to his coat tighter. After the North Wind gives up, the Sun makes himself hotter, until the man becomes uncomfortable from the heat and takes his coat off and finds a spot in the shade. The Moral is: "Kindness effects more than severity."

    Live-Action TV 
  • In season 4 of Babylon 5, Lorien was persuading Sheridan to let go of life and allow himself to die so that Lorien could essentially resurrect him. And that goes for the piece of Kosh inside Sheridan who is also clinging to life.
  • In season 4 of CSI, Gil informs Sara that he recommended a promotion for Nick instead because Nick no longer cared whether or not he got the promotion. Sara dismisses the explanation as stupid.
  • In the Doctor Who 50th anniversary special, The Day of the Doctor, 3 incarnations of The Doctor are put in a cell in the Tower of London. They spend a significant portion of time trying to figure out how to get the Sonic Screwdriver, which doesn't work on wood, to open the door. Finally realizing that since they all have the same screwdriver, the youngest Doctor can scan the door and let the screwdriver run a multi-hundred-year calculation on how to open the door that should be done by the time of one of the two older Doctors. Too bad the door was never even locked in the first place.
    Clara: Three of you together and none of you thought to check if it was even locked?
  • Eureka, "Your face or mine?": Carter is isolated in a test room and tries to get out. He only finds a way when he's ready to give up.
  • Used in a couple of episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation:
    • In "Booby Trap," the Enterprise is caught in an energy-sucking asteroid field which, true to its description, sucks any and all power out of the engines. The crew spends the episode trying to figure out how to put more energy into the engines until they figure out that "That's the trap!" They escape by shutting the engines down and using a single thruster to fly free.
    • In "Hero Worship," the ship is caught in a Negative Space Wedgie which reflects the Deflector Shields, creating a huge-gantic tidal wave of energy. Only when they drop the shields (in effect, giving up) does the tidal wave disappear.
    • In "Peak Performance," Data plays against and loses to Sirna Kolrami in the game Strategema. He's really bothered by it, albeit stoically so, and runs dozens of diagnostics to figure out why he lost. Later in the episode, after solving the problem of the week, he goes back to try again. This time, he doesn't try to win, he tries to draw. This makes the game go on longer than Sirna can handle (since he is used to being able to win very quickly)— in fact longer than the game is supposed to ever go on— and he forfeits in a fit of rage.
    • In "Q Who," Q tells Picard he wants to become a member of the Enterprise, and he'll even renounce his godly powers to do so. Picard tells them he believes they are equipped to handle anything the universe can throw them without Q's help. So, Q throws the Enterprise into Borg space. Just as the Borg are about to destroy/assimilate the Enterprise, Picard admits they aren't prepared and they do need Q after all. Satisfied, Q whisks them away from Borg space and departs. (Note that it wasn't simply because Picard satisfied Q's ego, but because Picard showed he was not too prideful to either realize or admit he was wrong.)
      • That might have been simple dramatic timing on his part, though. This would later be revealed as Q giving the Federation advance warning of the coming Borg invasion without the Continuum realizing what he was doing.
    • In "Lower Decks," Ensign Sito gets chewed out by Picard regarding things she did while at Starfleet Academy. She accepts the dressing down quietly. Later, while taking martial arts lessons from Worf, he tells her to put on a blindfold and defend herself. After being smacked around by Worf several times, she gives up and tears off the blindfold, shouting at Worf that it wasn't a fair test. Worf is pleased with her response, and tells her that he hopes the next time she's being treated unfairly, she'll speak up. She goes back to Picard and tells him that she should be judged by her actions on the Enterprise, not on what she did in the Academy. If he felt that strongly that her past couldn't be overlooked, he should never have accepted her posting on his ship to begin with. It turns out that Picard, having specifically requested her for the Enterprise to be sure she got a fair chance despite her past, had been giving her a Secret Test of Character hoping she would react assertively.
  • On I Love Lucy, Lucy and Ricky are on a TV quiz show. After Lucy blows the first two questions, the third asks what George Washington said while crossing the Delaware. Ricky, who has no idea, says to Lucy, "Please let me sit down, this is making me sick."
  • In the Leverage episode "The Stork Job", Parker's attempt at getting the kids from a Serbian orphanage to follow her works this way: she tries a few phrases out of a phrasebook, all of which wind up as My Hovercraft Is Full of Eels, and finally half-heartedly offers up "Haagen-Daaz?", which they understand.
  • The Thanksgiving episode of The Mommies revealed that one of the titular mommies has been trying year after year to recreate her mother-in-law's pumpkin pie recipe. This year, she gives up and uses Libby's (a brand of pre-made canned pie filling). Her husband then tells her she finally got it.
  • Spenny's number one problem when trying to win competitions in Kenny vs. Spenny.
  • In a Monty Python's Flying Circus sketch, a Hollywood producer is firing his screenwriters left and right for failing to come up with "something funny" for Doris Day to say to Rock Hudson. When this challenge is posed to the last remaining writer, he yells "I can't take it anymore!" and rushes out. The producer thinks it's a great line.
  • In an episode of Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn, Colin had a one-on-one basketball game with Patrice O'Neill, and couldn't land a basket to save his life until the final seconds of the game, where he halfheartedly hurled the ball at the hoop while walking away. It went in.

    Tabletop Games 
  • One of the Dungeons & Dragons trap compendiums includes a room with a timer and a button on a wall. When the party enters, the doors are slammed shut and the timer begins to countdown. The button restarts the timer. Cue the party frantically looking for a way out, leaving someone to reset the timer repeatedly. The catch is, when the timer reaches zero, the doors open without any ill effects. The fact that the adventurers were so scared of what was to come was the trap.

    Video Games 
  • In Deus Ex: Human Revolution, the DLC map "The Missing Link" requires the player to choose between saving the hundreds of innocents held captive, or the one scientist who can bring down the Big Bad. If the player figures out that both are being poisoned with the same gas supply via the same purge procedure, they can take steps to saving both parties.
    Burke: You're clever, I'll give you that. Most men aren't capable of seeing beyond the choice in front of them.
  • Final Fantasy IX:
    • A mysterious wall in Ipsen's Castle is like this. Every time you examine it, you're giving an ever-increasing list of options, such as pushing it or taking a flying kick. They all fail until you unlock the very last option.... taking a rest. Your character casually leans against it and accidentally opens it.
    • It's never explicitly explained but all the combat within the Castle works on this principle; the stronger the weapon a character has equipped, the less damage it will actually do (and vice versa). So you want to equip your characters with their weakest weapons to do the most damage. The game hints at this with the upside-down aesthetic and by providing the second-weakest weapon for each character in treasure chests you find there.
  • Kingdom Hearts 3D [Dream Drop Distance] has Lea train to become a Keyblade wielder but couldn't get his weapon to materialize during his first battle and has to use his old weapons. Later, he comments about this failure while randomly gesturing his wrist, upon which his Keyblade finally materialize, surprising everyone in the room.
  • To enter the Siege Tower in Planescape: Torment, you must not want to enter it. And not in a false way; you need to suppress all your interest in entering the tower in order to make the portal to it open.

    Web Animation 
  • In the animated short Dans la tête ("In the head"), French soldier Antoine Bertrand dies in battle after taking a bullet in the head. When he arrives in front of Saint Peter, the latter explains that every human has a tiny camera inside their head, which records their whole life so it can play out during their dying moments. But because Antoine died from a gunshot to the head, his camera was destroyed, which means he can't see the recording of his life and gain access to Heaven. Antoine is then resurrected and instructed to die in a way that would leave the camera intact. But no matter how hard he tries, he always ends up dying from a head injury (ranging from a bullet to a wall crushing his skull to a mortar shot landing right on his head), with his camera destroyed every time. After several dozen unsuccessful trials, he eventually gives up, decides not to join the military when he is resurrected once again and then dies for good when he gets hit by a bus while crossing the street right after he leaves the army building.
  • Epithet Erased: In episode 3, Sylvie tries to lie to get past Indus, a moron Sylvie could run circles round in his sleep. However, he gets so tied up in knots trying to work out what bluff Indus is pulling that he locks up completely and just stands there, unable to say a word. When Indus says Sylvie can go past if he needs to, Sylvie just mumbles 'Oh, thank you' and walks in slowly.
  • RWBY: Jaune is a Casanova Wannabe, and frequently tries (unsuccessfully) to find a girlfriend by using bad pickup lines. However, he is also quite the Nice Guy and has established good friendships with Ruby and Pyrrha because of this. The implication is that if Jaune weren't trying so hard to be someone he's not, he'd actually relate quite well to women. (Notably, Pyrrha is attracted to Jaune, but for the compassion and dorkiness he shows naturally, not his affected attempts at suaveness.)
  • This gif. When you can't open a door by kicking, swinging a giant hammer, shooting, a god warrior, or a reverse Kill Sat, maybe you should, y'know, pull it?

    Web Comics 
  • In 8-Bit Theater, Red Mage faces the ordeal of Pride in the castle of ordeals, and, after many unsuccessful attempts to defeat it, gives up. This is the entire point of the exercise, but he completely misses the point and starts gloating immediately afterward.
  • In Goblins, a death trap is sealed by a door that opens when the occupants are confused and closes when they understand things — including the nature of the door.

    Western Animation 
  • The Medieval Fair that Arthur and his class goes to has an Excalibur in the Stone contest, which attendees are challenged to try pulling out for a prize. Nobody can do it until Arthur, hearing the barker say "All your might won't set things right. 'Tis a gentle hand will rule the land.", tries gently jiggling the sword out. It works, and even Mr. Ratburn's former teacher Mr. Price-Jones is impressed.
  • In Batman: The Brave and the Bold: "When OMAC Attacks!", OMAC fights Shrapnel, who grows stronger the more he's attacked. When OMAC realizes this, he stops fighting, turns on his shields, and simply lets Shrapnel exhaust his strength punching him.
  • Futurama:
    • In "Fry and the Slurm Factory", Fry tries to find the can of Slurm with the winning gold bottle cap inside, first by drinking can after can, then by using the professor's F-ray on store cans throughout the city. After his search yields nothing, he gives up and has a can of Slurm from the fridge... and starts choking on the winning cap.
    • Played for laughs in "A Head in the Polls", when Fry is going to register to vote. The Apathy party only accepts members who don't care about voting.
      Fry: Now this is a party I can get excited about! Sign me up!
      Recruiter: Not with that attitude.
      Fry: Oh, well, screw it then.
      Recruiter: Welcome aboard, brother!
      Fry: All right!
      Recruiter: You're out.
  • Gravity Falls: In "Soos and the Real Girl", all of Soos' initial attempts at getting a date fail miserably because he's so awkward around women that his flirting tactics are off-putting at best, and terrifying at worst. When he swears off real women and decides to just date .GIFfany, he relaxes and has a normal, friendly conversation with a young woman named Melody... and quickly charms her with his earnestness and the way he's still very much in touch with his inner child. The two hit it off and make plans to get dinner together that night. Dipper and Mabel immediately commend Soos at finding a date and being so natural around Melody... and Soos didn't even realize he got a date in the first place until he was told.
  • He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (1983): He-Man gets tied up with some Applied Phlebotinum he can't break because it turns his own (applied) strength against him. When he stops trying to break it, it has nothing to turn and fades away.
  • In The Legend of Korra, it's implied that part of the reason Tenzin can't enter the Spirit World despite years, likely even over a decade of study, is that he's trying too hard. Trying to live up to his dad's legacy may be a part of it as well.
  • My Little Pony 'n Friends: In "Fugitive Flowers, Part 1", Cherries Jubilee struggles to push a boulder onto the Crabnasties, who are attacking Posey's garden in order to get at the Flores, who have taken refuge there. It finally tips over the edge of the hill and down the slope when she gives up and prepares to walk off in a huff.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
    • This trope defines the Cutie Mark Crusaders, though they never learn the lesson. The marks on a pony's flank appear when that pony realizes what their personal desires, interests, and talents are. The Crusaders are three young ponies who desperately want to get these marks, and already have their own interests and talents — if they gave up trying, they'd likely get their cutie marks in short order. They've instead fixated on trying every possible hobby, sport and activity, especially dangerous and/or destructive ones, and also tend to persist in the ones they'd like to be talented in but aren't suited for.
      • Exemplified in "The Show Stoppers": Apple Bloom, who clearly has a knack for building things, wants to be the dancer/choreography expert because she thinks building props is "too mundane", despite the fact she's the clumsiest of the three. Sweetie Belle, who has a wonderful singing voice and an instinctive knack for lyrics, decides she'd rather do costumes and props, despite lacking any of her big sister Rarity's fashion sense, because she wants to be like Rarity and gets Stage Fright at the idea of singing in front of people. Scootaloo, who is quick, nimble and graceful, decides she'd rather do the lyrics and be the main singer because she wants to be in a rock band.
      • Sure enough, in "Crusaders of the Lost Mark", the Crusaders decide that getting their cutie marks isn't as important as being friends and helping other ponies earn their cutie marks. Only after they've given up searching so hard for their cutie marks do the Crusaders actually earn them, their special talent being helping others discover their own special talents.
    • After Twilight becomes an alicorn, it's implied this is why she has trouble flying. Notably, in the "Princess Twilight Sparkle" two-parter, she seems to do a lot better when she's not constantly focusing on it.
    • Rainbow Dash is virtually incapable of studying in any "normal" way, but while flying she's constantly observing and memorizing everything around her, entirely subconsciously.
    • In "The Crystalling Parts 1 and 2" has Twilight Sparkle setting up friendship lessons for Heel–Face Turn-ed Starlight Glimmer, but sets it up in her OCD way, methodically planned out and set up. The end result is that Starlight, when first confronting her old friend Sunburst, can barely confront him over her own past. However, when the lesson goes through without Twilight's incredible list, Twilight feels that she failed Starlight, only for Spike to reassure her and tell her exactly this trope.
  • The times when Pinky and the Brain come closest to taking over the world tend to be when Pinky (who just does random things without any real plan) takes the lead, only for Brain to sabotage it either by coming up with a plan to complete the process or by turning on Pinky because his ego demands that he be the one to achieve it. There was also one occasion where they took the night off and intentionally avoided any attempts to take over the world, only to end up with a large group of people searching for Brain to make him their leader. All in all, it could easily be argued that the world naturally wants to put them in charge, and the only reason they haven't succeeded is that they're trying to force it.
  • Rocky and Bullwinkle:
    • In the first "Dudley Do-Right" segment, Dudley needs to infiltrate Snidely's band, so he tries to get kicked out of the RCMP by doing various dastardly things, but keeps getting rewarded for them. Finally, he gives up and is kicked out for eating his peas with a knife.
    • In one Sherman and Peabody segment, where the pair meet Dr. David Livingstone, the protagonists befriend a tribe of natives, who ask them to solve a problem: the chieftain's father has been in the center of a lake for a week, and won't come out, and nobody knows why. After both Livingstone and Stanley try complex ideas and fail, Peabody tries something simple: he throws the old man a towel, which does work, getting him to come out. Peabody explains that he had simply gone swimming and had lost his trunks, and was waiting for someone to throw him a towel.
  • Steven Universe: In "Alone Together", when Steven tries to fuse with Gems, he finds it hard to keep with their very complicated and distinct dancing styles. Later, when he's dancing with Connie, he's much more relaxed in mind and free-flowing in style, which eventually leads them to becoming Stevonnie.
  • In the The Transformers episode "Call of the Primitives", it is revealed that an ancient (an understatement) Mad Scientist named Primacron created Unicron, only to lose control of him. In the present day, not having learned a thing, Primacron creates an even stronger abomination, the Energy Being Tornedron, but quickly had the same problem. Before Tornedron had the chance to consume Primacron and his base (well, okay, he had a lot of chance, he was just taking his sweet time to do so, gloating as villains often do), when Grimlock barged into the scientists lab, where the panicked Primacron was trying everything he could think of to stop his creation, but failing miserably... Until Grimlock, with his simple instincts, threw the "off switch", a device that reversed polarity on Tornedron. (Indeed, the mysterious Oracle had called the animal and monster-based Transformer, or the Primitives, with such insight in mind; Primacron, in his hubris, never considered trying something so simple.)
  • Smokescreen from Transformers: Prime is a prime (no pun intended) example. He is a young Autobot with dreams of future greatness but has some serious self-worth issues. Once he arrives on Earth he comes to believe that being on Team Prime will validate his self-worth which unfortunately translates into him rushing into dangerous situations without thinking, endangering himself and others to try and show off for his idols. He grows out of it by the end of the series, becoming a valued support character.
  • Xiaolin Showdown, at one point, has Omi attempting to acquire an artifact from the legendary Grand Master Dashi. They begin a Showdown in which Omi must take a pebble from Dashi before time is up. However, because he is facing a master martial artist, all of his efforts fail. Then, in the very last seconds of the game, Dashi reminds Omi that there is one tactic he hasn't tried yet... simply asking for the pebble.

    Real Life 
  • This applies when it comes to exercise — your muscles need "rest days" where you don't exercise at all. If you don't give your muscles time to rest, you become more prone to injury. This can undo the gains you'd made through that exercise; if you get injured, you're not working out until you're fully healed. Best to just take a day once a week where you don't do anything instead of being forced to sit on the sidelines for months.
    • This is so true that even Dragon Ball stresses the importance of rest after training.
  • Chinese finger traps work by becoming tighter the more you try to pull your fingers apart. By bringing your fingers together, they slip right out.
  • This is the entire philosophy of Buddhism. To achieve enlightenment, you must cast aside all desire for food, water, emotions, everything. And that includes the desire for enlightenment. That's right, to achieve enlightenment, you must not want enlightenment. It's part of transcending human weakness to achieve oneness with the cosmos.
  • There's a (Japanese?) story about a master calligrapher who was asked to make a painting for an important temple. He paints slowly and methodically and produces beautiful, clean strokes, but it's rejected. He makes several more methodically produced calligraphy, but they're all rejected— the person commissioning the work even asks if he really is a master calligrapher. Exasperated, he quickly slaps together one last painting, which is instantly accepted— "There's the carefree brush of the Master I've been looking for!"
  • After the lackluster reception of George Lazenby as James Bond in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, and after Sean Connery quit being Bond for good, the producers were determined to make the next Bond completely different from Connery's Bond. For instance, in Live and Let Die, Roger Moore smoked cigars instead of cigarettes. Although successful, they believed Moore was still too much of a nice guy in his debut, and they tried to make him as much of a jerk as Connery's Bond was in The Man with the Golden Gun. After the disappointing reception of that movie, they finally allowed Moore to play Bond as he felt it, and he finally found his niche in The Spy Who Loved Me, which was well-received and is thought to arguably be Moore's best Bond movie.
  • Dan Povenmire and Jeff "Swampy" Marsh spoke in an interview about how they had tried for years to write a pop song and have it appear on the top charts. Once they began working on Phineas and Ferb and had already given up on this goal, their songs from the show made it to the charts almost immediately.
  • There's several reasons that the Dogged Nice Guy is often unlucky when it comes to romance. For the more innocent-minded ones who don't fall under Entitled to Have You, their intensity and drive acts as a deterrent.


Video Example(s):


Fista Puff Vs Minotaur

Fista Puffs keeps failing to defeat the Minotaur in the simulation when they fight. After Molly reflects on her experience and realize she was trying too hard to try to impress others, Fista Puff realizes she doesn't have to fight the monster but trap it inside instead.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (2 votes)

Example of:

Main / YouWereTryingTooHard

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