I used to be a serial starter. I would begin projects with grand ideas and visions of success, however I would never see them through. I would never finish what I started. From multiple jobs to different online stores. They would always start out well. The ‘newness’ of it would take hold of me and I would be excited. But that would fade – as would my inclination to carry on.
There’s that guitar I began learning to play gathering dust in the entrance hall. Those weights in the garage I never really picked up. Hmm… If only those unfinished projects and activities would pick themselves up and quietly leave by the back door. They never do.
I used to think there was a problem with the idea, thing, role or place.
Unfortunately, the problem was with me and in particular one reason.
Why You Don’t Finish What You Start
The fear of failing to impress
I didn’t want to have my ability judged and at the end of the day, it became apparent that having my effort being judged (rather than failing) was the better alternative.
Prolonging completion of a task or project was my way of avoiding that fear of being harshly evaluated.
I found an excerpt about a titan which made me realize I was not alone:
By 1859, Charles Darwin had spent 22 years traveling the world, making observations, and connecting the dots on the origins of our species. It was time to go public with his theory of evolution – and even he, after all this research – was afraid.
Not particularly for me, but other known reasons include:
The fear of setting the bar too high
Sometimes it’s not failure, but success that makes people clam up and avoid completing a task or project. This goes back to accountability. Do too good of a job the first time around and you might be setting yourself up with impossible standards for the future. What if you can’t live up to that success?
Not wanting to put an end to the fun
If you’re having a good time working on a project or task, the prospect of finishing can be disappointing. This can lead people to prolong what they’re working on, simply as away of avoiding giving it up.
So, how do we stop doing this? How do we get from just started to complete?
Stumbling Blocks to Finishing What You Start
Stop meditating over the negatives
When deliberating over your work are you ruminating about failures or savouring the good times? Often times it will be the former and it is this negativity that is hurting your progress the most.
Being a perfectionist is no excuse
Every procrastinator finds a way to justify the delay. One of the most common is the perfectionist card. Regardless of whether you identify as a perfectionist or not, research shows there is no marked difference in the way others perceive your delay. Put bluntly, you still aren’t going to get sympathy.
In other words, calling yourself a perfectionist won’t get you out of the fact that you aren’t getting things done and finishing your projects.
Not getting stuck on the big picture
Procrastinators don’t miss the forest for the trees – they miss the trees for the forest.
I never had a problem with the big picture – it was more about breaking that final destination into manageable and completable chunks and actually completing those which would be my downfall.
A way to get around this? Just do something now. Start something and get going and don’t begin anything else until you’ve finished that task. Look to the Ivy Lee Method for inspiration here.
How To Finish What You Start
Firstly, we need to understand the “Planning Fallacy”.
This is a concept first studied by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. These two psychologists posit:
a phenomenon in which predictions about how much time will be needed to complete a future task display an optimism bias and underestimate the time needed.
In other words, everything takes longer than you think it does. So, you need to realize that upfront.
I always wanted X result by X date. Inevitably, this wouldn’t be the case. This helps to settle the nerves and encourage making a realistic plan. But first, you need to actually have a plan.
Make a plan
In retrospect, most of the things that I did that didn’t reach completion I didn’t have a plan for.
If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.Lewis Carroll
When you have a plan, you eliminate the feeling of not knowing what to do next, which is one of the major roadblocks that can keep you from moving forward.
You need to figure out how to get where you want to go. Do a bit of research and get comfortable with what needs to happen. Get detailed and have a proper plan (written down) before you take your first step.
If you start something new but it isn’t a priority, it’s not likely that you’ll see it through.
When you consider beginning a new project, think about whether it’s something you truly value or not. Is this how you want to spend your time? Do you really want to do this, or are you just doing it because everyone else is doing it?
Ive written about how to determine whether a new project deserves attention here.
If you’re going into something new and really do want to see it through to the end, make sure it’s something that matters to you. Finishing something that you don’t care about is difficult.
Which leads nicely to:
Find your why
When you start a new project, you need to know why you are starting it. It truly needs to reasonate with you and it needs to serve your greater goal.
When you begin to feel unexcited or unmotivated, you can revisit your Why to remind yourself what’s coming if you can push through.
If your Why is not strong enough its easy to wane in inspiration.
Write down your Why and and come back to it when things get hard – as they inevitably will. Make sure everything on that list means something to you.
Preparing for when things get hard is important
The more you want to see the end results, the more you’ll be able to push through when things aren’t going as you want, or when they get difficult, or when you get tired of working.
An inventory of never-completed projects, initiatives and objectives leads to you being a beginner at everything. You never really get to master anything and the sad reality, is that unfinished projects never leave.
They become ghosts that haunt you and will ultimately begin to define you. If you constantly give up, the person you betraying is yourself.
In life, all of us have what it takes to finish what we start. As long as we have some strong enough reasons and we’re doing things for the right reasons.
You can do it. Let me leave you with this:
If we did all the things we are capable of, we would astound ourselvesThomas Edison