Have you started a new project full of excitement and enthusiasm only to abandon it a few weeks later?
I’d start exercising but then miss a couple of days and went back to being a couch potato.
I’d start writing books on the spur of the moment and set them aside as soon as inspiration left me.
I’d start learning a new language and decide it was too difficult when I couldn’t master it fast enough.
I thought there was something wrong with me. If other people could finish what they started and I couldn’t, then surely I was flawed?
Then, I realised that the problem wasn’t me. I was simply focusing on all the wrong things (thanks, Inner Mean Girl).
I still do that sometimes. But, now, I know how to overcome the hurdle and get back on track. You can do the same.
Here are the real reasons why you struggle to finish what you’ve started and my favourite strategies to overcome them:
1. Inner Mean Girl Talk
The thing I’m struggling with the most at the moment is guest posting. I desperately want to get my work published on bigger sites, but whenever I’m writing a pitch to one of my favourite bloggers, my Inner Mean Girl rears her ugly voice:
“Your idea is so shallow. No one will be interested in publishing a piece on [any topic I come up with].”
“You’re a nobody. Why would a big blogger give you a shot?”
“Still toying with the idea of being a writer? Can’t you do yourself a favour and quit before you miserably fail and are publicly humiliated?”
Some days, I tell her to shut up and keep writing my pitch. Other days, I start to think she has a point. I wonder if maybe I’m being too ambitious and should just stick to pitching smaller blogs. Or give up altogether.
On days like that, this is what I do:
- Take a piece of paper and divide it into two columns. In the first column, write down all the reasons why you don’t want to finish your project. In the second column, write down all the reasons you do.
- Go through the first column and, for every reason you’ve listed, ask yourself: “Is this negative thought and feeling valid?”
- Now, go through the second column and, for every reason you’ve listed, ask yourself, “Will finishing this project enhance my life?”
This simple exercise has a double purpose. When you see all your negative thoughts in black and white, they lose their power over you.
You may find that a lot of them don’t make much sense. You’ll also free space in your brain. When you’re not constantly thinking about all your flaws and shortcomings, your brain is finally free to get to work.
The second column serves a different purpose. It shines a light on what you really want and why.
For example, I want to do guest posting and get my work in front of more people because I genuinely believe that my articles can inspire them to tame their inner mean girls (or boys), pursue their dreams and live the lives they were meant to live.
When I focus on my true purpose, shutting down my Inner Mean Girl becomes a lot easier. I know that, if I listened to her, I wouldn’t be able to help people. This thought is enough to motivate me to overcome my insecurities and write that pitch.
But, sometimes, something funny happens. You may realise that the only reason you want to do something doesn’t truly align with your goals and vocation.
For example, say you’re a freelance web designer who’d like to pitch more clients but never does. If your goal is simply making more money (rather than making a living prettifying the web), could it be you’re in the wrong career? Maybe you can’t finish what you started because deep down you know that you don’t want to spend your time designing websites. You’d rather work in marketing instead. Go do that.
2. You’re Not Enjoying It
If there’s one thing I’m sure of is that I’m here, on this planet, to write. It’s my calling.
Whoever said that your calling should come easy to you was lying. Even though I’ve been writing all my life, I often struggle to jot down words on paper (or my computer these days).
The words don’t come. The sentences don’t flow. Inspiration has left the building and I have no idea when it’ll return.
When this happens, I feel like quitting. Not the I’m-taking-a-two-hour-break-then-come-back-to-it kind of quitting. Sometimes, that’s what you need to be productive.
No, I’m talking about quitting the project I’m working on. The article I’m writing. The book I’m planning. If it’s so hard, why bother?
Cos I love it. Yes, sometimes it’s so hard I want to cry and tear out my hair in frustration. But, when I think about it, there’s nothing I’d rather do than writing. It’s how I get my kicks, even when, in the words of Elizabeth Gilbert, I have to eat a shit sandwich.
Your brain needs those kicks. Its motivation circuit is fuelled by pleasure. When your goal brings a reward, it releases dopamine. Dopamine makes you feel so good, you want to keep doing what you’re doing forever.
But if what you're doing doesn't bring you any pleasure, your brain won't want to do it. If, when you think about your goals, all you can visualise is the annoying little things you’ll have to do to get there, your brain won’t help you achieve it.
Pick one goal you want to achieve or project you want to finish. Now, visualize what it’ll feel like when it’s done. What benefits does the finished project bring you? Does the project, once finished, enhances your life? Do you feel good for accomplishing it? If you’ve answered yes, remind yourself of this whenever you’re struggling.
If you’ve answered no, you need a new goal, my friend. One that truly sets your soul on fire.
BONUS: Sometimes, it helps to reward yourself along the way. Divide your goal into smaller tasks and, whenever you complete one, give yourself a reward. It can be something so simple as buying yourself a bunch of flowers or eat a couple of cookies. Whatever makes you happy and productive.
3. Lack Of DisciplineVisualizing your goals isn't enough. You need to take action to make them happen.
You can meditate and visualize your dream life for 3 hours every day, but if, when it comes down to doing the work you find yourself watching funny cat videos on Youtube or gossiping with a neighbour, you’ll never get there.
If you really want something, you need to make a plan and follow it step by step. Even when it’s hard. Even when it seems like you’re not going anywhere. Even when you’d rather watch Netflix.
- Make a “business” plan: write down all the steps you need to take to accomplish your goals, the obstacles you’ll encounter along the way and the strategies you’ll use to overcome them. This way, when you face a problem, you won’t feel overwhelmed. You’ll already have a plan of action to solve it.
- Get an accountability partner: did you know you’re more likely to get something done if you’ve promised someone you’ll do it? Ask a friend to be your accountability partner. At the beginning of every week, meet up (Skype is good, too) to discuss your goals and what you want to achieve that week. At the end of every week, get together and discuss what you’ve accomplished.
- Keep track of your accomplishments: before going to bed, write down 3 things you’ve accomplished that day. It’ll give your brain the dopamine fix it needs to keep pushing forward.
Over to you, now. What stops your from finishing your projects or achieving your goals? Share your experience in the comments below.