Read This If You Struggle With Finishing Things You Start
The realization that changed my life. It could change yours too.
I’ll get straight to the point on this confession.
I never used to be able to finish anything.
Needless to recount each specific instances in their gory details. It’s a short — sad — story:
Always start enthused, always abandon unfinished.
I looked back and noticed this wasn’t a one-off. It was a long-running series capable of rivaling any of Netflix’s finest.
Its frustrating. It felt like the world must be conspiring against me.
I get started on a project, reality sets in, things becomes challenging, I get distracted, flip into imagination mode, and pronto! I’m enticed by another idea. I switch to the new idea, enthusiasm builds, moving along nicely, interest wane, I get distracted, flip again into imagination mode and…you guessed it!…get another idea. And the cycle continues.
Do you really know the frustration of a life that cannot get anything finished? Not exactly idle, but, not having much by way of results for efforts after many years other than a slew of unfinished projects, just because of the inability to get anything finished?
Abandoned courses. Abandoned classes. Abandoned career goals, Abandoned fitness goals. Abandoned blogs. Abandoned gym membership. Tens and tens of unfinished articles that’ll never see the light of day abandoned in a sleek hard drive. Riding the addictive emotional wave that accompany every new project but never able to get anything finished.
Does that describe you?
(Anyway, make sure you finish this article.😀)
It’s incredible to think about it now, but I’m now far better at stick-to-it-iveness. I still don’t breast the tape every time — especially with more project possibilities than lifetime to achieve them — but its safe to say I’ve improved a lot.
Because, let’s face it: You can forget about living a life of meaning if you keep starting things but never able to get them across the finish line. And to be frank, jumping from one project to the next leaving a litany of abandoned unfinished projects in your wake isn’t how you’re going to lead an interesting life. You only end up looking back realizing that you’ve daydreamed your life away having not much to show for it.
Here I want to share with you the realization that changed my life, that’s helped me commit to more things and finish them.
And, here it is…
The Construal Level Theory (CLT)
I’ll quickly warn you. Don’t let the fancy name put you off. Because, at its core, it is a very simple but extremely powerful idea.
Let’s move on…
The Construal Level Theory (CLT) is a theory in social psychology that describes the relation between psychological distance and the extent to which a person’s thinking is abstract or concrete.
Its key premise is that we perceive distant objects or events as abstract, intangible, unobservable, and with broad concepts whereas, we perceive close/near objects or events with concrete, specific, and observable features.
Following on, it means:
We perceive the project or goal that we’re currently working on in the near-mode, whereas we perceive the project/goal that, as yet, exist only in our imagination in the distant-mode.
When you move a goal/project from the imagination (where you are just thinking about it) into the real life (where you start to work on it), you move from a distant-mode perception to a near-mode perception.
Remember that distant-mode perception is broad, abstract and intangible, whereas near-mode perception is specific, concrete and tangible.
The Tyranny of Near-Mode vs. Distant Mode
The near-mode perception of your current project makes it specific, concrete and tangible. You see it in all the vivid details: now that you actually have to wake up daily to hit the gym rather than just fantasizing about being fit, the daily grind is no longer as fun. You are actually having to sit down and code rather than the fantasy of being a top programmer. You’re having to do the hard yards now, for long hours and its even frustrating because you can’t see commensurate progress yet. Now in the heat of the battle, you are realizing that running a top 100 blog is not as easy as you thought. You’re realizing that becoming a sought-after programmer is so much easier when the guy on the YouTube ad say it than it feels now that you’re having to sit in the chair and actually code.
In contrast, the new project ideas and goals now popping around in your head doesn’t have any of these drawbacks. You can focus on how wonderful your life will become when you have that YouTube channel with a million subscribers. You can fantasize about your six-packs, at being a polyglot, at being a six-figure author…without any of the work. In this fantasy world of imagination, there’s no complexity, no drawbacks, no difficulty. Only bliss.
The Danger in the Distance
So, when you start on a new goal and your perception shifts from distant-mode to near-mode, you move from fantasy to seeing gritty details and it suddenly dawn that the goal/project isn’t as glamorous as you thought. However, the biggest mistake we make at this point is to believe switching to a new project is the answer; not realizing that every worthwhile goal is supposed to feel hard, unglamorous, unsexy, while we are doing the work.
This perception-shift as you zoom in on current project/goal, predicted by CLT, is why you would rather start on a new “cool” idea rather than pursuing your current project/goal to completion.
This was the profound realization that changed everything. Its a rare shift in perspective that had so much impact. At least for me.
Two key changes happened:
1. Realize that the Dark Swamp is Unavoidable
John Saddington brilliantly described the “The Emotional journey of creating anything great”.
It very aptly shows how any worthwhile project/goal goes from the this-is-the-best-idea-ever phase to the this-will-be-fun phase to the this-is-harder-than-I-thought phase to the this-suck-I-have-no-idea-what-I’m-doing phase as you start to get into the thick of things to the dark-swamp-of-despair phase to the Okay-but-it-still-suck phase to the quick-let’s-call-it-a-day-and-say-we-learned-something phase through the Hmm, Hey! and Wow! phase and finally to the this-is-one-of-the-things-I-am-most-proud-of phase where you finally achieve your goal.
The problem is that the deep dark swamp of despair has claimed more goals and projects than we like to admit. This is the phase author Seth Godin refers to as “the Dip”. The going is getting tougher, harder and less fun and you start to question everything. You question whether it actually is worth the hassle.
On the other hand, its amazing how big a difference realizing and even expecting this unavoidable pit makes. One of the biggest mistake is failing to acknowledge that this is supposed to be the unbreakable journey to anything great; while, all along, thinking switching to another project will be the cure.
Realize that getting through the dark swamp of despair will be hard. Don’t wish it away, instead build into your plan your strategy for getting out of this devilish pit. Also remember that most people will quit on getting to this pit, and jump on the next cool idea, which will inevitably take them through the same valley. This is why simply sticking it out for longer than most people, almost automatically increase your odds of success.
2. Fall in love with the grind
The world has infinitely more talkers than doers. Remember how everyone dream up ideas in those big meetings, only to go away, do nothing about them, then return at the next meeting to dream up some more? And therein lies your advantage. If you learn to fall in love with execution just as much as you do dreaming up ideas, you join a really exclusive club — of doers, of achievers.
Realize that almost everybody fall foul of the implication of the construal level theory. Which makes your ability to understand it and navigate successfully around it a huge source of powerful advantage. You’ll abandon projects a lot less just because they feel hard, you persist more and get to actually finish things.
You already guessed that doing things is not always exciting. Its full of obstacles and frustrations. That’s why you will find more people talking about things than you will find people doing things. Falling in love with doing hard things that many people can’t or won’t do, persisting a little longer, refusing the overwhelming urge to quit, put you almost immediately ahead of a couple billion people.
As author Steve Pavlina puts it “The harder it is, the more you must love it”.