3 Tips for Actually Finishing What You Start

September 18, 2017, 6:54 PM UTC
Businessmen clapping in meeting
Businessmen clapping in meeting
Tom Merton Getty Images/Caiaimage

“Dad, there’s a poster at school you wouldn’t like.”

That’s what my oldest daughter told me one night at the dinner table.

“Why?” I asked. “What does it say?”

“It’s not the finish line that matters; it’s having the courage to start.” She said with a smile.

She was right. I didn’t like that poster. Not because I don’t like motivational statements. I do. I need some motivation every now and then. I just don’t like statements that aren’t true. Take that one, for instance.

Can you imagine telling a marathon runner who was struggling in the middle of the race that the finish line didn’t matter? Or a surgeon in the middle of an operation? Or an author in the middle of writing a book?

Of course the finish line matters. I learned that firsthand when I commissioned a research study into what it really takes to finish. Over a six-month period, the researcher studied nearly 900 people as they worked on goals. What we learned was surprising and ended up being the basis for my new book, Finish, Give Yourself the Gift of Done.

Although it’s surprising at times, the road to completion is not complicated. Here are three ways you can finish your goals:

Set smaller goals

We tend to think we need huge goals. Go big or go home! Aim for the moon so that even if you fail, you’ll land amongst the stars. That sounds nice, but doesn’t work in real life. If your goal is to lose 10 pounds and you only lose eight, you aren’t excited. You failed by two, and in that moment, most people give up.

Recognizing that, we asked the participants in our study to cut their goals in half. The theory was that if you only tried to lose five pounds and lost eight, you would have won by three pounds. You’d feel successful and keep working on your goal. The crazy thing is that nothing changed—you lost the same eight pounds, but your perspective was different. What happened when we did this? The people with smaller goals were 63% more successful. Go big might be a good slogan for a gym wall, but if you really want to win, go small.

Choose what to bomb

You can’t do it all. You can’t even do most of it, but when we start a new goal, we tend to forget that means we have to quit something else. Instead, we just add and add and add to our day until we’re overwhelmed and out of time.

Instead, at the start of a goal, choose a handful of things you’ll bomb during your goal. For example, when I had toddlers, my yard was a mess. Why? Because I had toddlers. The yard could have been on fire and I wouldn’t have cared. I was just trying to survive the swirl that was little kids. There would be time later to mow and mulch. If you have a big project, put something else on the chopping block for the time being.


Have fun

We tend to take our goals very seriously. We also tend to think they have to be difficult or boring to count. Why do you think so many people who hate running choose running as their mode of exercise? Why couldn’t they go dancing? Or on a walk with a friend? Or play ping pong? We assume that a goal can’t be fun or full of joy.

We decided to test that theory though. We wanted to know if fun had an ROI. It turns out it does. People who make their goals fun were 46% more successful. The key, of course, is that you have to be deliberate about making it fun. There are a lot of goals that are not inherently fun. You have to be intentional if it’s going to work.

I can’t do much about the poster at my daughter’s school. I was happy, though, that she saw the foolishness of believing the finish line doesn’t matter.

It does. It matters the most. Why?

Because starting is easy, but the future belongs to finishers.

Jon Acuff is the New York Times Bestselling author of six books, including his newest one, Finish, Give Yourself the Gift of Done.

Read More

Great ResignationClimate ChangeLeadershipInflationUkraine Invasion