The Habit that Blocks You from Finishing What You Start

How to max out your ability to follow through

Everybody wants something in life. Very few people are making their visions a reality.

I would say that Elon Musk is a bonafide example of someone who is actually going after what he wants. He has big goals. He’s different from nearly everyone in that he actually takes steps to make them happen.

Maybe not everyone wants to go to Mars as much as Elon does. But everyone has goals and ambitions that they prevent themselves from taking action on (or even feeling).

Most people are not remotely where they want to be in life. They just don’t believe that it’s possible for them to get what they want.

Deep down, we have all adopted all sorts of avoidance strategies to keep us from feeling just how much we aren’t getting what we want.

Be honest about your goals

Unless you’re in touch with your depths, your goals are just someone else’s ideas of success. You will never be as motivated to pursue false goals versus ones that touch a deep need inside you. Even if you are able to achieve an inauthentic goal, you won’t find true satisfaction when you get it.

The good thing is that if you are able to follow through on anything it means you are in touch with what it takes to achieve what you really want. And there’s nothing wrong with any of this — no judgment. If you aren’t satisfied when you achieve an inauthentic goal, you can potentially learn valuable lessons about yourself. You can see better what you do want when you know what you don’t want.

Too many people think they need goals that look impressive to other people. Your actual goals may not have anything to do with other people. They may not be impressive. Then again, maybe they are so impressive that you are terrified of getting what you want.

Know your habits

Many writers have had the experience of starting to write a book. Many of them have noticed that it can be surprisingly hard to actually finish the damn thing.

In the beginning, you have this fantastic idea and you can picture yourself finishing it. You have all this energy to put into your amazing new project. And then at some point you back away, hoping no one notices.

“Hey, what about that book you’re working on?”

“How’s the blog going?”

I’m guessing that this isn’t something you have only noticed a single time. It’s something that comes up for you multiple times. It’s not only because writing is hard. It’s because it’s hard to achieve our authentic goals.

With me, I have noticed a tendency to pick up other projects and dive into them. I do this at precisely the time when my main objective starts to get difficult or unrewarding. Suddenly I believe that something else is my true calling, the real deal, the main thing. I absolutely must do this other thing.

And I may or may not be able to finish that other thing. It has totally happened to me that in the middle of the other project I suddenly switch to a third one. Or maybe I go back to the first project and waste a bunch of time reacquainting myself with what it is I was trying to do. Trying to do more than one thing at a time takes more than twice the effort.

Knowing this habit (and sharing it to help make it visible), I have learned to resist the siren song of distraction. It has been beautiful. All that it requires is for me to push a little bit further, rest a bit more deeply into myself. And press on with my current focus.

A friend explained it to me this way: I have a constant need to apply my creative drive to something. But in the middle of a project, my inner perfectionist emerges and reminds me that what I am working on is not perfect. It does not fit the initial picture painted by my inner idealist. So one way for me to get what I want is to switch tasks and work on something where my inner perfectionist won’t block me. Projects in their very early stages don’t often have to bear the burden of being perfect. The more that manifests, the more that can be judged.

What about you? What comes up for you?

What does your inner perfectionist do?

Be imperfect

With that scenario, a sound strategy to take is to set the bar lower.

Just finish the thing. Magic happens when you reach the conclusion, even if the whole thing sucks. Give your inner perfectionist something to perfect.

Set some inspiring deadlines and release schedules

There is an art to setting realistic deadlines. The ideal for me is to set deadlines that feel doable but also inspire growth and allow for the unknown. If I set ridiculous deadlines, I’m basically sabotaging myself. If the deadline is too easy, then I will not be inspired, and I will waste time.

Give yourself some incentives

The real thing is to find joy in the practice itself. That can be an art in itself — you’re not necessarily going to love all parts of the process.

For me, I have the most energy when starting something. I have a strong inner critic, but when I am really inspired to churn it out, I am apt to do so in a way that makes it harder for myself to make sense of later. When I learned to do just a bit more structuring and organization as I go, it made a huge difference.

When I make those efforts, editing and revising feels doable, and I find a lot of joy in that part of the process. The joy in the early phases of creation have to do with feeling connected to the source and being productive. The joy in the later stage is all about seeing something take shape and come to fruition.

One thing I don’t really love at this point is editing sound files. Recording an audiobook is fun, but it sucks to edit it to take out mistakes and background noise. So I schedule something fun after I get done with that. I head out paddleboarding or watch a movie with my girlfriend. The understanding is that finishing unlocks the reward. I can’t just dawdle and then go surfing. I have to finish it and only then can I hit the surf.

Photo by Aleksandar Makaric

Make it happen

To live a life where you are getting what you want, achieving your goals and enjoying fulfillment amidst your pursuits, you need to really know yourself. Your depths. To know yourself deep down. What motivates you, what doesn’t? What will work for you even if it doesn’t make sense?

Do this freewriting exercise to develop strategies for following through.

Grab a cup of tea and take twenty minutes to ask yourself the following sort of questions:

  • Is this really what I want?
  • What does it touch in me?
  • What can I do to make it easier and more joyful?
  • What will unlock when I achieve this?
  • What patterns of self-sabotage block me?

Circle around these questions and explore what really motivates you and what really drives you. Don’t merely think about these issues — feel into the questions as you ask them.

Don’t settle for mediocre answers.

Be courageous and ask yourself questions that slice away anything that feels untrue. You’ll get more clarity about who you are and how to get what you want.

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