Setting goals is easy. The challenge lies in seeing them through the finish line.
Sometimes, our goals are too ambitious. At other times, we give up prematurely because we tell ourselves that something isn’t worth doing unless it’s perfect.
In this summary, blogger and popular speaker Jon Acuff shares plenty of advice for achieving the goals you have set. One of his tips is cutting your goal in half – as achieving half your goal can give you enough motivation to tackle the remaining half as well.
Finish what you start by avoiding the trap of perfectionism.
Setting new goals is easy, but finishing them is hard. In this blockbuster bestseller, blogger and popular speaker Jon Acuff shares his plans to help you actually achieve your goals. Acuff explains that perfectionism, the main blockade to reaching your objectives, delivers a negative message: the lie that something isn’t worth doing unless it’s perfect. People also fail to reach their goals because they set targets that are too ambitious. Acuff advises cutting your goal in half, breaking it down into smaller, more achievable chunks. He also advocates doubling your timeline, choosing how you will fail and making your goals enjoyable. You’re more likely to finish tasks that are fun, exciting and easy. Acuff goes off on long tangents, but his stories remain funny and relatable. We recommend his guidance as a helping hand for everyone who ever sought to complete a goal and just fell short.
- In general, people respond to two types of motivation: reward and fear.
- Perfectionism keeps people from finishing their goals.
- Most people quit as soon as life interferes or things get too tough.
- Starting toward your goal on Day 1 isn’t the most important step. It’s getting past Day 2, “the day after perfect.”
- To improve your chances of finishing, cut your goal in half or double your timeline for completion.
- Choose where to fail. Failing at lesser things frees you to succeed at what’s important.
- “Make it fun if you want it done.”
- Don’t let “noble obstacles” hinder your goals.
- When people try to avoid an undesirable outcome rather than working toward a desirable one, they’re responding to “avoidance motivation.”
- Use objective data to track your progress and ultimately achieve your goals.
Getting started is hard, but it’s easier than finishing. You may have a bunch of half-finished projects and other half-done stuff. Many people make New Year’s resolutions, but research says that 92% of these intentions falter and fail.
“More than likely, you’ve spent most of your life choosing to do more than is possible and beating yourself up for not being able to keep up.”
Best-selling author Jon Acuff believed that he hadn’t been trying hard enough to finish what he started. He thought he was too lazy, or lacked hustle or “grit.” He even created an online video course called “30 Days of Hustle” to challenge people and help them to achieve their goals.
Then University of Memphis researcher Mike Peasley asked to use Acuff’s course to analyze goal setting. Peasley surveyed more than 850 participants and found that those who finished the course were 27% more likely to achieve their goals compared to their attempts prior to finishing the course. Peasley also discovered that “the less that people aimed for perfect, the more productive they became.” Perfectionism kills momentum and keeps people from completing their goals.
“The Day After Perfect”
After Acuff read Timothy Ferriss’s book, The 4-Hour Body, he decided to try a new diet. He vowed to “get serious” about exercising. Ferriss recommends eating eggs, spinach, black beans, salsa and cumin, so Acuff went to Costco because it sells black beans by the pallet. He bought in bulk because he intended to eat black beans for breakfast for the next 12 days. By Day 13, he quit because he got busy, didn’t want to follow through or just forgot about it. But once Acuff broke the daily black-bean routine, he found himself uninterested in starting again. Since his record wasn’t perfect, he stopped completely. “This is a surprisingly common reaction.”
“Perfectionism will do its best to knock you down when you work on a goal.”
People often use language that echoes this sentiment to explain why they’ve quit chasing a goal: “I fell behind and couldn’t get back on track,” or “Life got in the way and my plans got derailed.” These excuses are camouflage for perfectionism. You weren’t perfect, so you threw in the towel. You’re not alone. Everyone wants to get straight As. Nobody aims for Bs and Cs. But getting straight As is challenging and intimidating. That’s why many people don’t even bother trying. They think that if they can’t achieve perfection, why should they make the effort? To finish your goals, simply start and keep going. Even if you make mistakes, keep going. Starting toward your goal on Day 1 isn’t the most crucial step. That’s putting in Day 2, the day after perfect.
If you want to achieve your goal, aim for 50% completion. That is, cut your goal in half. In the “30 Days of Hustle” online challenge, participants increased their performance by more than 63% compared to previous attempts at finishing their goals. Fully 90% of them believed the strategy of cutting down to a reasonable goal “encouraged them to keep going.” Bloggers who set the goal of writing daily posts of 300-plus words can experiment by downgrading to 100-plus words a day for 30 days. One blogger who tried that strategy ended up writing more than 300 words a day for 28 days out of 30. Another person wanted to lose 10 pounds in 30 days, but lost only six. Yet, recognizing that he achieved half the goal gave him enough motivation to continue.
“The exercises that caused people to increase their progress dramatically were those that took the pressure off [and] did away with the crippling perfectionism that caused people to quit their goals.”
Cutting a target in half doesn’t work for every goal. Cutting your credit card debt from $50,000 to $25,000 is a notable goal, but you’d still have too much debt. In such cases, instead of cutting your goal in half, double your timeline. In this example, you would pay more in interest by taking longer to pay off your debt, but you would ultimately pay it off. Paying it off is the goal – not avoiding paying it and potentially declaring bankruptcy. You can apply these two tactics – cutting the goal in half or doubling the timeline – to many goals. Slicing your goals in half or extending your timeline may feel like “cheating,” but either step will make you much more likely to reach your targets. Starting small may feel unnatural at first, but you will achieve big results.
Research says that setting realistic goals leads to much better performance than setting overly aggressive targets, but what happens in the workplace where you don’t control the timeline? You may want to have a conversation with your boss about the utility of setting achievable goals. One company took 20 years to make $5 million in revenue on a product. When the CEO suggested a goal of $5 million in the next five years on a new, untested product, employees were not happy. After a year of frustration, the company altered the goal several times and ultimately discarded it. Make sure your workplace goals are the right size from the beginning.
Choosing Your Failures
Time is your most valuable resource. To achieve your goals, pour that resource into your efforts. That means prioritizing where and how you spend your time. When you grant some of your time to one goal, of necessity you take that time from another goal. You can’t have it all no matter what you try to do. Yes, you can squeeze in a few extra things if you structure your days differently. Even so, you’re going to miss out on something. Instead of biting off more than you can chew and failing, choose what you’re going to fail at and succeed at something that counts.
“Perfectionism has no sense of gray, things are only black or white. You do it perfectly or you don’t do it at all.”
If you’re like most people, you spend your life aiming too high. You don’t have to lower your standards, just stay realistic about your time frames and what you can accomplish. “Say no to shame.” Executive TV producer Shonda Rhimes told Fast Company magazine that she was okay with letting certain things slide. Because she’s busy running popular shows such as Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, she doesn’t worry as much about actual running. She’s not ashamed about not having enough time to exercise because she accepts how she must prioritize her time.
“You have only two options right now. 1. Attempt more than is humanly possible and fail. 2. Choose what to bomb and succeed at a goal that matters.”
Acuff chose to fail at keeping up with Snapchat – he never understood the appeal of adding doggie ears to somebody’s selfie – and at following his email, mowing his lawn and staying up-to-date on the latest TV shows. He decided not to binge-watch Breaking Bad or other popular shows. Although some people gain satisfaction from mowing their lawn, Acuff ditched mowing his as soon as he could afford to pay someone else to do it. And he checks his email only a few times a week, since he finds that most emails are not emergencies requiring an immediate response. Email is probably the trickiest thing to abandon because it’s a significant form of daily communication. However, you can identify constructive, less time-consuming ways to use it.
Have Fun and Get It Done
Many people fail to achieve their goals because they think goals must be difficult. One huge lie perfectionism tells you is that goals don’t count if they’re fun. Scientists and others who study goal setting look at various factors, including satisfaction and performance success, measurements that capture “how you felt about the process” and “what you actually got done.” For example, losing weight is a worthy goal, but it’s hard. Motivating yourself to run on a treadmill every day is hard. The trick is to make it fun. Figure out how to add joy to your efforts. Fun is personal. One gym offered a “Hell Week” that required attendance five days in a row at 5:00 a.m. But each day, participants got a big orange star next to their names, and a free T-shirt at the end. Many adults clamored for stars like it was their first day of kindergarten. One of Acuff’s readers, Stephen Nazarian, shared his strategy for tackling a never-ending list of 15 to 20-minute tasks. After work, he starts one more job. When it’s almost done, he turns on his Jacuzzi. He finishes the task knowing a hot tub awaits. The lesson: “Make it fun if you want it done.”
Reward and Fear
Be careful how you package your fun. People respond, in general, to two types of motivation: reward and fear. Some people live for the reward. When they know what they want, their instinct drives them to achieve. For example, paying off their debt gives them the freedom to go shopping without stress, or wanting to fit into their old jeans motivates them to work out. Fear also motivates people: They fear the consequences of not acting. A couple may lie awake at night knowing they can’t afford to send their kids to college. So maybe one or both will take on a second job. When people try to avoid an undesirable outcome rather than working toward a desirable one, they’re responding to “avoidance motivation.” Alternatively, perfectionism sneaks in and makes you think that finishing your goals will have negative results or corrupt you in the process. For example, wannabe entrepreneurs don’t start businesses because they fear becoming workaholics.
“Hiding Places” and “Noble Obstacles”
Sometimes your hiding places – where you go to avoid work – are easy to find, such as watching your favorite show on Netflix when it’s time to clean the house. Some hiding places are sneaky; you think you’re being productive by emptying your inbox, but you’re actually avoiding writing your blog. Identify your hiding places by asking if you engage in “obvious time wasters.” Ask your friends if you spend too much time, effort or money on tasks or hobbies that don’t help you reach your goals.
“Some goals are difficult to cut in half. For those, don’t cut them in half; give yourself more time.”
Noble obstacles are chores you must finish before you can attack your real goals. For Bill, for example, the noble obstacle is a garage sale. Rather than just cleaning out his garage, Bill tells his wife he wants to have a garage sale before tackling the job of cleaning out the garage. What could have been simple is now a 16-step process starting with picking a date, reviewing HOA rules, making signs to advertise the garage sale, hanging up the signs, and so forth. Noble obstacles often rely on the word “until” – as in, “I can’t do my taxes until I know what kind of business I’m really trying to build” or “Karen won’t start her blog until she’s checked in with a copyright lawyer first.” Using “until” as an excuse seems respectable. It seems as if you’re getting all your ducks in a row before taking action, but in reality, it’s just another form of perfectionism. It can lead you to throw your hands up and say meeting your goal is too hard, so you won’t try.
“To use a term coined by author Josh Davis, “‘Strategic incompetence’ is the act of deciding ahead of time that you don’t care about your yard.””
An alternative to saying “until” is saying “if…then.” It sets up a different form of procrastination. You procrastinate or don’t start working because you’ve set an imaginary clock or pre-goal for yourself and waiting for that to happen, you come to feel as if it’s too late to start toward your goal. It’s never too late to try. You always have time to begin.
Unlike emotions, data don’t lie. Use data to measure your progress. Data clarify where you are, but you may find them hard to use. Ignorance is bliss. It’s so much easier to avoid checking your bank account, stepping on a scale, making doctor appointments, and so forth. Data will tell you, for example, that you spend too much at coffee shops. If you buy into the lie of perfectionism, you may avoid the objectivity of data.
“This goes against every sappy motivational statement…but if you dream too big at the start, you curse your finish.”
“When you ignore data, you embrace denial.” Having hard information can help you make informed decisions. Take Steve Butler, 48, who used data to examine his career track. Butler lost his job, so he took a “good enough” full-time position to meet his family commitments. It didn’t cover the bills, so he added a part-time job cleaning a dental office on weekends. Butler considered changing his career to work with computers, but he didn’t want to “waste his college degree.” When he studied the data, he saw that he hadn’t wasted it at all. He’d paid about $50,000 for a degree and had worked in that industry for 26 years, so his education cost only the bargain price of about $5.20 per day.
“‘Cut your goal in half’ is not the kind of thing you’d see painted on the wall of a gym. It felt like a cheat, but it worked.”
Butler wanted to take computer classes online, but couldn’t find any that fit his schedule. By examining data, he learned he could squeeze in classes during his lunch break. Although he wanted to take a $20,000 intensive six-week program, that wasn’t feasible. Instead, he studied in small increments every day, day by day, until he achieved his goal.
“Time and again, when I researched what really helped people finally finish, it was a friend who did the trick.”
Information helps you measure any number of things related to your goals: time, products sold, pounds lost, miles run, how much money you saved, and the like. Pick one to three aspects of your life to measure. You may be tempted to measure more, but start small and win big. See how simple it is to track your progress. When you’re successful, you can add in measuring more factors. If you’re not happy with your progress, adjust your goal, timeline or actions.
About the author
Jon Acuff is a motivational speaker and a New York Times best-selling author who lives near Nashville, Tennessee. He’s the author of seven books, including the best-selling Finish.
Best-selling author and INC Magazine Top 100 Leadership speaker Jon Acuff has influenced companies around the world including FedEx, Nissan, Microsoft, Lockheed Martin, Chick-fil-A, Nokia and Comedy Central.
Jon Acuff, a New York Times best-selling author, and a public speaker and blogger, also wrote Start, Quitter and Do Over.
Jon Acuff is the New York Times-bestselling author of Start, Quitter, and Do Over, among other books. He is a popular public speaker, blogger, Tweeter, and the creator of the “30 Days of Hustle” online challenge. He lives in Nashville with his wife, Jenny, and their two daughters.
JON ACUFF is the New York Times bestselling author of seven books, including his Wall Street Journal #1 bestseller, Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done. He’s an INC Magazine Top 100 Leadership speaker and has spoken to hundreds of thousands of people at conferences and companies around the world including: FedEx, Nissan, Microsoft, Lockheed Martin, Chick-fil-A, Nokia, and Comedy Central. His large and highly engaged social media following includes nearly 300,000 Twitter followers, more than 187,000 Facebook followers, more than 125,000 Instagram followers, and more than 90,000 email subscribers who look to him for his unique blend of humor, honesty, and hope. He lives outside of Nashville, Tennessee, with his wife and two teenage daughters. His latest book, Soundtracks, will be available nationwide April 6, 2021.
Innovative, Applicable, Concrete Examples, Business, Money, Business Culture, Job Hunting, Career Guides, Business Motivation, Self-Improvement, Motivational Management, Leadership, Career, Career Success, Motivation, Personal Success, Self Help, Personal Development, Productivity, Psychology, Inspirational
Table of Contents
Introduction: The Wrong Ghost 1
Chapter 1 The Day After Perfect 7
Chapter 2 Cut Your Goal in Half 19
Chapter 3 Choose What to Bomb 31
Chapter 4 Make It Fun if You Want It Done 47
Chapter 5 Leave Your Hiding Places and Ignore Noble Obstacles 73
Chapter 6 Get Rid of Your Secret Roles 99
Chapter 7 Use Data to Celebrate Your Imperfect Progress 123
Chapter 8 The Day Before Done 169
Year after year, readers pulled me aside at events and said, “I’ve never had a problem starting. I’ve started a million things, but I never finish them. Why can’t I finish?
According to studies, 92 percent of New Year’s resolutions fail. You’ve practically got a better shot at getting into Juilliard to become a ballerina than you do at finishing your goals.
For years, I thought my problem was that I didn’t try hard enough. So I started getting up earlier. I drank enough energy drinks to kill a horse. I hired a life coach and ate more superfoods. Nothing worked, although I did develop a pretty nice eyelid tremor from all the caffeine. It was like my eye was waving at you, very, very quickly.
Then, while leading a thirty-day online course to help people work on their goals, I learned something surprising: The most effective exercises were not those that pushed people to work harder. The ones that got people to the finish line did just the opposite— they took the pressure off.
Why? Because the sneakiest obstacle to meeting your goals is not laziness, but perfectionism. We’re our own worst critics, and if it looks like we’re not going to do something right, we prefer not to do it at all. That’s why we’re most likely to quit on day two, “the day after perfect”—when our results almost always underperform our aspirations.
The strategies in this book are counterintuitive and might feel like cheating. But they’re based on studies conducted by a university researcher with hundreds of participants. You might not guess that having more fun, eliminating your secret rules, and choosing something to bomb intentionally works. But the data says otherwise. People who have fun are 43 percent more successful! Imagine if your diet, guitar playing, or small business was 43 percent more successful just by following a few simple principles.
If you’re tired of being a chronic starter and want to become a consistent finisher, you have two options: You can continue to beat yourself up and try harder, since this time that will work. Or you can give yourself the gift of done.
Read an Excerpt
The Day After Perfect
“Well begun is half done” is one of my favorite false motivational statements. The other is “Sometimes you have to jump off the cliff and grow your wings on the way down.” I saw that one on a photo of a wolf, which was puzzling because in my limited understanding of the animal kingdom, no wolf has ever grown wings. Thank goodness they haven’t. If wolves ever figure out the mechanics of flight, it’s game over.
We tend to put too much emphasis on beginnings. In doing so, we miss the single day that wrecks more goals than any other. For the first forty-one years of my life I didn’t even hear anyone mention this day. I was as clueless as the fictitious people who still live at the beach where Jaws was filmed. There shouldn’t have been a Jaws 2. That movie should have just been called A Bunch of Seaside Residents Move to Ohio, Where There Are No Sharks. That’s probably not going to fit on a marquee, but at least they would have avoided another shark-related disaster.
Despite all the work we put into planning our goals, despite the new sneakers and diets and business plans, we miss the day that matters most, the day that is why I’m not allowed to buy black beans at Costco anymore.
The store will let me, it’s not a management decision, although I do abuse those free samples. One day they were giving out Oreos, for the seven Americans who have never experienced that cookie. The conversation with the employee handing them out was awkward because I felt like I had to pretend I’d never heard of them. “What do you call this? A chocolate cookie sandwich? No? The name is ‘Oreo’? Am I saying that correctly? How whimsical!”
The reason I can’t buy black beans is that they only sell them in pallet quantity. You can’t just buy one, you have to buy a thousand cans.
That’s a lot of beans, but at least once a year I believe I need this amount.
While exercising, I decide to “get serious.” I remember that in Timothy Ferriss’s book The 4-Hour Body, he recommends a simple breakfast of eggs, black beans, spinach, cumin, and salsa. When my family sees me rooting around the cupboard for black beans, they all groan. “Oh no, here we go again.”
They know that for the next twelve days in a row I am going to eat black beans.
Why only twelve? Because on Day 13 I’m going to get too busy, have a meeting, or be on a business trip without my traveling beans. Upon missing one day, I will quit the whole endeavor.
Once the streak is broken, I can’t pick it back up. My record is no longer perfect so I quit altogether. This is a surprisingly common reaction to mistakes.
If you interview people about why they quit their goals, they all use similar language.
“I fell behind and couldn’t get back on track.”
“Life got in the way and my plans got derailed.”
“The project jumped the tracks and got too messy to fix.”
The words might be different, but they’re all saying the redundant same thing: “When it stopped being perfect, I stopped, too.”
You missed one day of your diet and then decided the whole thing was dumb.
You were too busy to write one morning and so you put your unfinished book back on the shelf.
You lost one receipt and then gave up on your entire budget for the month.
I’m not picking on you for giving in to perfectionism. I’ve fallen to it many times as well. One February, I ran seventy-five miles. Then I ran seventy-one in March and seventy-three in April. Know how much I ran in May? Eight miles. Can you guess June’s total? Three.
Why? Because when my perfect exercise streak hit a roadblock I stopped.
This is the first lie that perfectionism tells you about goals: Quit if it isn’t perfect.
The genius in this first lie is subtle. It’s not “when” it isn’t perfect, because that hints at the reality that it won’t be. No, perfectionism tells you “if” it isn’t perfect, as if you have the chance to run the whole rack and go to the grave with a 100 percent on your tombstone.
This is troubling to us, because we don’t want B’s and C’s when we’ve got a goal. We want straight A’s, especially if it’s a goal we’ve thought about for any amount of time. We will gladly give up the whole thing when we discover some error or imperfection in our performance. More than that, we will even prequit, before we’ve even begun.
That’s why a lot of people won’t start a new goal. They’d rather get a zero than a fifty. They believe perfect is the only standard, and if they can’t hit it they won’t even take the first step. A dreary sense of “What’s the use?” settles about them like a thick fog. I can’t fail if I don’t try.
While researching this book, I asked a thousand people in an online poll if they had ever refused to even write down an idea because they judged it as not good enough. I thought maybe I was the only one who had a perfectionism filter that sorted ideas before they were allowed to hit a piece of paper. More than 97 percent of the participants said they had done that.
I don’t know how to tell you this, but your goal will not be perfect. It crushes me to break this to you, but you will fail. Maybe a lot. Maybe right out of the gate. You might even trip over the starting line.
Why? Why would I encourage you to embrace imperfection? Well, for one thing, doing something imperfectly won’t kill you. We think it will, which is why we compare our lack of progress to a train crash. “I couldn’t get back on track, my plans got derailed.” A train derailment is a significant, serious accident. In many cases, people die, hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage occurs, and fixing it takes days if not weeks.
Do you know what doesn’t happen when you miss a day of your goal? Any of those things.
No one dies. It doesn’t require $400,000 to get back on track. Righting things doesn’t take four weeks.
Second, developing tolerance for imperfection is the key factor in turning chronic starters into consistent finishers. Chronic starters quit the day after perfect. What’s the use? The streak is over. Better to wallow in the mistake. I ate a crazy dinner last night, might as well eat a crazy breakfast, lunch, and dinner today, too.
“Might as well” is one of the most dangerous phrases in the English language. Or Polish, since for some reason my books tend to get translated into that language before Spanish. I am killing it in Krakow.
“Might as well” is never applied to good things. It’s never, “Might as well help all these orphans,” or “Might as well plant something healthy in this community garden.” It’s usually the white flag of surrender. “I’ve had a single French fry, might as well eat a thousand.”
These are the kinds of things we say on the day after perfect, and that day is sticky.
Do you know the biggest day for people to drop out of the 30 Days of Hustle goal-setting course? Most people guess Day 23 or Day 15, but that’s not even close.
Day 2 is when I see the largest drop-off. That’s right, the biggest day for the most people to stop opening the e-mails that constitute the exercises is Day 2. Why that day? Because imperfection doesn’t take long to show up. You’ve sat at your desk on a Monday morning before and thought, “It’s nine a.m. How am I already this far behind? How is this entire week already ruined?”
Imperfection is fast, and when it arrives we usually quit.
That’s why the day after perfect is so important.
This is the make-or-break day for every goal. This is the day after you skipped the jog. This is the day after you failed to get up early. This is the day after you decided the serving size for a whole box of Krispy Kreme Doughnuts is one.
The day after perfect is what separates finishers from starters.
Accomplishing a goal is a lot less like taking a train across country and a lot more like driving a bumper car. Some days, you will circle the track without a single impediment. Nothing will stand in your way, and for a few brief moments that bumper car will actually feel fast. On other days, some completely unforeseen, impossible-to-account-for situation is going to slam into your side. Or you’ll get locked into a really annoying cluster of other cars and feel like you’ve taken five steps back.
This is going to happen.
You will not be perfect, but do you know what’s even more important than perfection? Do you know what will serve you far longer than perfectionism ever could?
Moving forward imperfectly.
Reject the idea that the day after perfect means you’ve failed.
That’s just not true.
You get to try again.
Today, tomorrow, next week.
Unfortunately, perfectionism dies slowly. It’s persistent and particularly dangerous because it masquerades as excellence. Some readers have already felt uncomfortable with this chapter because they think the opposite of perfectionism is failure. It’s not. The opposite is finished.
Those are the doors we stand before in this book and in our lives. One is marked finished and leads to untold adventures, opportunities, and stories. One is marked perfectionism and leads to a solid brick wall of frustration, shame, and incomplete hopes.
The worst part of this whole situation is that starting goals and never completing them feels terrible.
When you make a goal, you make a promise to yourself. You’re going to lose a few pounds. You’re going to declutter a closet. You’re going to start a blog. You’re going to call an old friend. The moment you create that goal, you’ve made a silent promise. When you don’t finish it, you’ve broken that promise. You’ve lied to the person you spend the most time with. You.
If you break enough promises, you start to doubt yourself. This is not surprising. If someone told you a dozen different times that they’d meet you for coffee and they didn’t show every time, you wouldn’t trust them. If a parent promised to pick you up after soccer practice and then didn’t, you’d lose faith in him. If a boss promised you a promotion and then didn’t deliver month after month, you’d quit believing her.
Why do so many people quit their New Year’s resolutions? Because they quit last year and the year before that and the year before that. If you quit enough times, quitting is no longer just a possibility when you start a new goal, it’s your identity, and that feels terrible.
People remember uncompleted goals better than completed ones. Your inability to let something go, that feeling that something unfinished is gnawing at you, isn’t just a feeling. It’s a scratch in the record, a pothole in the road, a never forgotten reminder of a loop you did not close. That’s what happens to all of us when we make goals and then have them interrupted by life.
Conversely, finishing something you care about is the best feeling in the world. Starting definitely delivers a momentary burst of euphoria, but it’s nothing in comparison to the real finish. You’ll keep the medal you received when you finished your first 5K. You don’t even care about how long the race took. You did it. You crossed that finish line and every day of training was worth it. Your diploma, the first dollar earned at a business you founded, the business card that says “partner”-small or big, the size of the finish doesn’t matter. You finished and that’s an amazing feeling.
The problem is that perfectionism magnifies your mistakes and minimizes your progress. It does not believe in incremental success. Perfectionism portrays your goal as a house of cards. If one thing doesn’t go perfectly, the whole thing falls apart. The smallest misstep means the entire goal is ruined.
Perfectionism also messes us up by making us aim too high. There are perhaps a thousand reasons 92 percent of resolutions fail, but one of the greatest is also one of the most deceptive.
When we create a goal, we aim for something better. We want to look better. We want to feel better. We want to be better. But then better turns into best. We don’t want small growth. We want massive, overnight success.
Who wants to run a 5K when you can run a marathon? Who wants to write the outline for a book when you can write a three-part trilogy with space werewolf zombies who are in love? (Title: Full Moon, Full Heart.) Who wants to make $10,000 when you can make $100,000?
While searching for real examples, from real people, I asked friends on Facebook about perfectionism. One person described it this way: “I start with the belief that I could do something. Then I get all excited and start dreaming. At first I feel confident and like I know what I am doing. Then my dreams get big. Then I want perfection. Then all of a sudden I feel inadequate to do the job because I don’t know how to do it at that level. Then the dreams die and the goal is forgotten. The best part is most of the time all that I mentioned above is mental. I never actually started anything.”
If you’re not naturally tempted to think this way, most of our “chase your dreams, accomplish your goals” literature will push you in this direction.
A fellow motivational author encourages readers to visualize “a movie of you doing perfectly whatever it is that you want to do better.” There’s that word “perfectly.” You’re supposed to watch an imaginary movie of yourself doing something perfectly over and over again. At one point, you even crawl inside the movie to really get the sense of perfection. After watching your movie, you’re instructed to shrink the image “down to the size of a cracker.”
The first time I read that bit of instruction, that I was supposed to turn my goal into a fictional perfect cracker, I started laughing out loud at my desk. I had a sense of where this instruction was going and I was not to be disappointed.
“Then, bring this miniature screen up to your mouth, chew it up and swallow it.”
If you ever wonder why you have a hard time with motivational advice, please refer to the dream cracker you were supposed to eat as a way to accomplish your goal.
“When it comes to personal achievement, there’s a fine line between tragedy and comedy. No one beats Jon Acuff at helping me laugh at my foibles while offering me help to overcome them. If you want to master the art of finishing, read this book!” – Michael Hyatt, USA Today bestselling author of Living Forward
“Are you haunted by the ghosts of unfinished goals? I never met an idea I didn’t like, so I know all about the excitement of starting and the difficulty of finishing. Fortunately, the ever-entertaining Jon Acuff has come to the rescue in this terrific new book. Finish identifies the many ways we sabotage our own progress and gives us powerful tools to ‘get ’er done.’ Read Jon’s book, apply its wisdom, and I guarantee you’ll cross your personal finish line—laughing all the way.” – Ken Blanchard, coauthor of The New One Minute Manager© and One Minute Mentoring
“Jon Acuff is speaking the preferred language of all great leaders- get things done! If you want to stand out today, then it’s imperative for you to be a finisher, and Jon has provided a practical, inspiring, and seamless roadmap for moving things across the finish line. Finish is an instant classic!” – Brad Lomenick, author of H3 Leadership
“When you’re a leader, one of your biggest hopes is that your team will finish its goals. But with thousands of distractions, it gets harder and harder every year. This book goes a long way to fixing that problem. I predict that organizations will buy this by the box!” – Reggie Joiner, CEO and founder of The reThink Group
“As a musician and now pastor, I know the challenges of writing songs and sermons. This book shows us all not only how to finish, but how to finish well. My friend Jon has a way of making the impossible seem practical.” – Montell Jordan, author of This is How We Do It
“As an author, I know how challenging it is to finish. That last chapter is always a challenge, but the tips Jon provides in his new book make it a lot easier. If you’ve got something you want done, read this book!” – Andy Andrews, New York Times bestselling author of The Traveler’s Gift & The Noticer
“Finish is the ultimate kick in the pants you always knew you needed.” – Claire Diaz-Ortiz, author and entrepreneur, ClaireDiazOrtiz.com
“The world is littered with half-finished books, almost started businesses and nearly done diets. Who knew the secret was to have more fun, kill the hidden rules you live by, and embrace imperfection? Jon Acuff did and you’re about to as well.” – Steven Pressfield, author of The War of Art
“I love Jon’s counterintuitive advice! It’s wisdom disguised as stand-up comedy, like eating a bag of jelly beans and somehow ending up smarter.” – Chris Guillebeau, author of The $100 Startup and host of Side Hustle School podcast
“When you’re ready to finish the things you really care about, this is the book that will show you exactly how to do that.” – Scott Hamilton, Olympic gold medalist, figure skating, cancer survivor
“Read this magical book, let it work its spell on you, and finally finish the darn thing you’ve quit a dozen times before.” – Brian Koppelman, co-creator and executive producer of Billions
“As a chronic self-starter-but-not-finisher, every word of this book met me right where I’m at.” – Mandy Hale, author and creator of @TheSingleWoman
“This is the book I’ve been waiting for Jon Acuff to write: a guide to a better life, not one filled with trying harder but one where we actually complete the things we begin. I needed this book twenty years ago.” – Jeff Goins, author of The Art of Work and Real Artists Don’t Starve
“WARNING: If you want to continue to live blissfully in a world where you keep putting off making any real change in your life or work, do not read Finish. Jon Acuff offers wit, humor, and, best of all, understanding, solidifying his spot as my favorite business author.” – Lindsay Teague Moreno, author of Getting Noticed