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The “Poor Finisher” Myth – Why There Are Only Poor Starters

running sunset

“Starting isn’t my problem, it’s finishing I struggle with.”

If you think finishing is your weakness, I want you to think about a time when you didn’t finish a project. Have one in mind? Ok, now think about what this question means and answer it honestly.

Wasn’t the real problem that you stopped starting?
The “poor finisher” thought comes from thinking too broadly. You may start a project and not finish it, and then call yourself a weak finisher, but the initial start of a project is nothing more than a single work session with plans for more. If you don’t start the other sessions, you call yourself a weak finisher, but it was your failure to start again that foiled your plans.

This is the case with exercise, writing a book, or starting a company. You need 74 individual work sessions to finish the project or goal, and each of those sessions requires a decision to start again. Finishing comes from starting a whole lot.

If you quit a session sooner than planned, is that being a poor finisher? Maybe for that one session, but it only becomes an issue for your project if you don’t start again on another day. Even looking at an individual session, you view that early withdrawal as a failure to start again. After all, because humans lose their focus so often, we must restart it frequently.

Finishing is merely the byproduct of a consistent and dedicated starter. Finishers are the people who wake up sore in the morning and say, “I’m going to start anyways.” The person who can start and restart at will, always finishes.

To start or restart, you need three key things:

  1. A decision to start – a common reason for failure is the lack of a committed decision to succeed.
  2. A starting time – If you’re not starting at a specific time, you aren’t starting. What’s worked well for me is this timer tab. I simply start the timer for an hour, and when the clock starts, so do I. When it stops, so do I (unless I’m in a rhythm and want to continue).
  3. A good reason to start – humans don’t like to do anything for no reason. Make sure you have 1+ reason(s) to start, and that you run through the benefits to remind yourself.

I heard a story about a man who paid workers to dig a hole in the ground. The next day, he offered the double the pay, but their job was to fill in the hole they had worked all day to dig before. On the third day, he doubled their pay again, and you guessed it, their job was to dig another hole where they had just filled it in. Before too long, all of the workers quit, even though they would have been making a lot of money.

I can’t remember if this was a parable or a true story, but the point remains that we need to feel like our actions are meaningful in order to keep doing something.

So if you have these three things…

  1. The decision to start
  2. A time to start
  3. A good reason to start

Then you will start. And if you keep starting, you’ll finish too!

For those of you who are thinking, “this is just semantics,” consider that words affect the way the mind perceives data and solves problems.

I honestly don’t know how to “finish” something, and neither does my brain. What does it mean? Is that like tipping in a missed shot from another basketball player?

But I do know how to start working on something until it’s finished. Finishing is always the result of starting – it’s a result, not a task.

Thinking about finishing as a goal is vague in the same way that big tasks are – you have to give yourself small sequential steps or else you’ll procrastinate and stall because either you don’t have a clear “step one” or step one looks like a small mountain.

If you want to finish something, simply start and start again until it’s done.

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