What I’ve learned about how to finish

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In last week’s column, I admitted to avoiding a book on my nightstand – a book I was afraid to start reading for fear of not finishing it. What would be so bad about not finishing a book, you ask? The name of the book is “Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done,” by Jon Acuff. You see the irony now, right?

But despite my fears of flaking out, I started reading. I’ll walk you through what I’ve learned.

Chapter 1: I dove into the first chapter with my trusty highlighter poised to capture what I assumed would be reasons why I need to try harder. But I learned that not finishing things has less to do with trying hard and more to do with a quality that keeps many of us continually frustrated – perfectionism. When a streak of progress gets interrupted by a day of real life or bad luck, it’s tempting to abandon the goal. This line on page 9 pegged me: “When it stopped being perfect, I stopped, too.”

Chapter 2: When I wrote last week that I hoped to finish reading this book, I didn’t plan much reading time into the rest of my busy week. It was Saturday before I started reading, and my goal was to be done by Sunday. But Chapter 2 told me to “cut the goal in half.” The author writes that “…if you dream too big at the start, you curse your finish,” and a huge goal triggers pressure that makes people more likely to quit. I felt instant relief – like I was getting a free pass on my homework. The end of Chapter 2 came on page 29, which meant I only had 67 pages to go before I would hit the goal of reading half the book.

LaundryChapter 3: This chapter gave me permission to be bad. The author says that, while I’m working toward a big finish, I can “choose what to bomb and succeed at a goal that matters.” Well, there’s a new twist. All this time I assumed I’d need to find time to work on goals while making sure that all the other plates stay safely spinning. But this guy just told me to break a few plates! Laundry folding? Prepare to be ignored.

Chapter 4: This was the moment when I realized that a book about goals doesn’t have to feel like getting hit with a guilt hammer. This author, who made me laugh out loud several times, said to “make it fun if you want it done.” Granted, some goals don’t reek of good times – like diets or saving money or weeks of hard work on a project. The trick is to make it fun by figuring out what best motivates us.

Chapter 5: Still high off the fun of the last chapter, this next one brought me back down to Earth. It told me to leave my “hiding places” and ignore my “noble obstacles.” A hiding place “is the safe place you go to hide from your fear of messing up.” (Candy Crush or Netflix are awesome hiding places.) And I’m an even bigger fan of the noble obstacle, which is “…the Very Good Reason you cannot pursue your goal.” Give me five minutes and I can give you 50 noble obstacles ranging from stuff that actually matters to something as trivial as “I need to reorganize this closet before I can focus on anything else.”

Chapter 6 started a few pages past the halfway point of the book which meant I’d already finished the goal of reading half. But I was so pleased about completing my goal that I decided to keep going for a few more pages. These were the pages that told me a true story about a cuckoo bird that blew my mind and will blow yours, too, so I won’t spoil it here. It’s a must-read.

Chapter 7 was about keeping some data as we work toward a goal, which is tough for me because I was an English major and numbers make me cranky. But there’s no denying the logic of keeping data to combat those dark days that inevitably try to convince us we’re making no progress. As Acuff writes, “…emotions lie. Data doesn’t.”

Chapter 8: The final chapter put me on the psychiatrist’s couch and made me look at why I sometimes come close to finishing a goal but stall out before the end. It has everything to do with what Acuff calls the “3 final fears of perfectionism – what happens next, what if it’s not perfect, and what happens now?” They’re doozies, no doubt.

But it was the beautifully written conclusion that convinced me of something that rings true in my gut – that some goals or dreams need to be pursued for our own mental health, if nothing else. “Goals you refuse to chase don’t disappear – they become ghosts that haunt you.”

Life is scary enough on its own, friends. We certainly don’t need any extra ghosts lurking around. It feels like it’s time to go finish.

gwen rockwoodGwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.





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