“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit.”— Aristotle
Finishing What You Start
How is that some people are able to always finish what they start? Some people can set a new goal and constantly follow through, not giving up, even in the face of countless failures and setbacks. What differentiates the finishers, so to speak, from those that quit and give up?
It isn’t that we aren’t all capable of finishing what we start. We all have it in us to follow through and reach our goals, no matter what those goals might be. The difference lies in the loss of motivation and our inherent desire to seek pleasure as opposed to pain.
The fact is, when a goal is new, it’s exciting. We get amped and juiced, breathing new air into our lives as we decide to go after that lofty dream. But what happens over time is no surprise. We lose that initial zeal. We hit some roadblocks. We reach some plateaus. And ultimately, we give up.
So why is it so hard to finish what you start?
How come most of us aren’t able to follow through with a goal that we once felt so determined to chase after? Why is that we end up losing interest even after such a short time?
Well, let’s face it, most of our goals are hard to achieve. Whether they’re big or small, following through with something is difficult, especially considering that we’re creatures of habit. Most of us are set in our ways, so our default mode is to return to our old habits and routines.
You’ve heard the saying before, right? You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Now, that’s not to say that change is impossible. We can finish what we start as long as we follow through with a simple framework for habit development.
What Holds Us Back From Finishing?
The question then becomes, “What’s really holding us back from finishing what we’ve started?” Are some of us just too flawed to be able to follow through? Or, is there some special method or technique for being to finish something that we started, no matter how long ago?
These questions plagued me for some time. I used to be incapable of finishing what I started, or so I thought. I would take up projects and leave them unfinished, preferring to begin something new rather than finishing something that was still pending.
I felt like the newer projects were more exciting. The newer goals were more alluring than something that I had started but hadn’t quite finished yet.
Part of the time, the problem was that I felt I either couldn’t finish the project or achieve the goal. And, other times, the feeling was one of diminished newness.
But when I really started to think about things in depth, I had to question my very existence and why I did the things that I did. What was really holding me back from finishing the projects that I started or pursuing the goals I had set out to seek?
What I came to realize was that much of this boiled down to the actions that I took on a daily basis. Those actions were once unsupportive of my goals. And since 40% of what we do on a daily basis is habit-driven, what I came to realize was, it was my habits that were holding me back from finishing things I had chosen to start.
So the epiphany became: If you want to finish what you start, work on building up a set of good habits that are supportive of your goals, your hopes and your dreams while working on eliminating your bad habits that hold you back.
The Finishing Habits
The people that can finish what they start have what I like to call Finishing Habits. They’re the habits that allow some people to keep pressing towards their goals without relenting. If you can instill a set of finishing habits into your life, you can finish what you start almost every single time.
The reason why the finishing habits are so important is because some of them are keystone habits. Keystone habits are those habits that help to support other good habits in your life while also working to eliminate the bad habits, yet they take no extra work to build up. They act as the soil for other good habits to grow from.
I’ve spoken at great length about keystone habits and why I think they’re so important. And if you can do one thing when it comes to habit development, it’s to focus on creating a set of keystone habits.
#1 – Goal Setting
The habit of goal setting, done the right way, can help you finish what you start. At the outset, when we’re clear on the results that we’re after, and we set goals that are measurable and meaningful, with a specific date for their achievement, it can help to fuel us towards whatever we desire.
The biggest problem is that most people set goals the wrong way. When you set goals the wrong way, it will actually work to cloud your progress, creating a great big descending haze on your life, making it harder to achieve any sense of happiness or clarity. You’ll find difficulty following through and finishing anything.
So, how do you set goals the right way to help support you and help finish the projects that you start?
Your goals have to be S.M.A.R.T.E.R. goals. They have to be specific, in that they need to be written down in exhaustive detail. They need to be meaningful so that you have a deep-enough reason for wanting to do whatever it takes to achieve them.
S.M.A.R.T.E.R. goals must also be relevant to your life and your pursuits, time-bound, in that there is a specific and exact date on when you will achieve those goals. Further, you must constantly evaluate your progress and readjust your plan to achieve your goals.
Some people think that when a goal is too hard, they need to change the goal. But, what they really need to do is change their plan.
Think about an airplane traveling from Miami to Los Angeles. Would the plane ever change its goal to land in Los Angeles due to heavy air-traffic congestion, turbulence, or inclement weather? No. The plane’s goal to land in Los Angeles wouldn’t change, but its plan could change often.
#2 – Active Planning
It’s not enough to create a general plan for the achievement of your goals. If you really want to finish what you start, you need to engage in active planning. You need to plan out your day in accordance with your long-term goals. Otherwise, it’s easy to get sidetracked.
For example, I create monthly, weekly, and daily massive action plans in accordance with the goals that I set for myself. Otherwise, I would just be stabbing around in the dark, not knowing precisely what needed to be done to achieve my goals.
By planning, it also helps you to avoid distractions. If I know what I need to get done in a given day, then I’m less likely to be tempted by things that disrupt my time.
Of course, this does require a fair bit of focus, but if you set your goals the right way, in that they were meaningful enough for you and you followed the S.M.A.R.T.E.R. method, then it’s far easier to instill this habit to help you finish what you start.
Create a system for active planning. Take a weekend and create your long-term plans, along with your monthly, weekly, and daily plans. Create an outline that will give you some general guidance. But don’t be afraid to change things up if you see that you’re not making enough progress.
#3 – Gratitude
Every day, I write down the things that I’m grateful for. I do this consistently without fail. Long ago, I realized just how important the habit of gratitude really was. I noticed that I was constantly seeking things, no matter how good my situation was in life, and not appreciating what I had.
When we begin to compare our lives to others, it’s easy to feel like we’re in a state of lack rather than a state of abundance. But, what I noticed about the gratitude habit, is that a while after finding all the things I was grateful for every day, I didn’t feel so uneasy or unhappy.
A state of contentment settled in. This allowed me to pursue my goals and my passions without all the mental hangups and anguishes that I used to experience. In effect, it allowed me to finish what I started and keep following through, regardless of my setbacks and failures.
Gratitude is a great habit because it allows you to focus on the positives in life rather than the negatives. And, since our thoughts have such an enormous impact on our lives, helping to guide us in the direction we see fit, learning to focus on gratitude has enormous benefits.
#4 – Exercising
Exercise is not only a keystone habit, but also a habit that helps you to finish what you start. It provides you with the physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing needed to tackle and follow through with your goals. It helps to set the pace and the mood for the day.
Exercise helps to release endorphins and neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin. These have a wide range of mental, physical, and emotional health benefits. They reduce stress along with the likeliness of attracting certain diseases, while also improving mood.
Exercise is a major keystone habit that I discuss all the time because it helps to bring on other good habits. For example, when you exercise in the morning, you’re far more likely to drink more water and be more conscious about the things that you eat throughout the day, helping to eliminate some bad habits as well.
By exercising, we also feel more accomplished in the day, helping to propel us towards our goals. When we have a small win at the beginning of the day it helps to build momentum. We feel better about ourselves and our progress towards whatever it is that we’re trying to achieve.
#5 – Eating the Frog
As Mark Twain once said, “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.” By eating the frog, we’re tackling our most important tasks (MITs) of the day.
In a book that I wrote entitled Chasing the Frog -How to Achieve Success in Life by Building an Empowering Morning Routine, I speak about the importance of an empowering morning routine, and how certain habits, such as eating the frog, can provide an enormous benefit to our lives and help us to finish what we started.
When we eat the frog, we make the biggest progress towards our goals. The frogs symbolize the biggest thing we could do in a day towards our long-term goals, or quadrant-two activities. Make it a habit to wake up and identify your frogs. Then, chase them first thing in the day. Don’t wait until later.
This is also a keystone habit. Eating the frog early in the day provides us with a sense of accomplishment that helps to build momentum. We feel better. More energetic. More able to tackle the world and achieve our goals.
#6 – Persistence
Last but not least is the habit of persistence. Many of you know my obsession with persistence and not giving up, even in the face of major setbacks and failures. And, believe me, I know firsthand how badly it feels to fail at something, and to fail in a major and very public way.
The feeling of failure brings about so much pain. I couldn’t think of times in my life that I felt lower than when I was suffering through one failure or another. But, persistence is that habit that allows us to see past that failure, seeing the forest through the trees, so to speak.
On the other end of failure is success, and persistence is the pathway that will get us there. No person could finish what they started without instilling the habit of persistence into their lives. Without persistence, we throw in that proverbial towel and give up. We just can’t do that.
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, these habits can help us get there.