Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done
12 September, 2017
Why can’t we finish the stuff that we have made a commitment to start out doing? Why do statistically 92 per cent of all people fail to meet the goals that they set, especially when these goals are set around what is most important to them?
Jon Acuff’s latest book, Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done, explains the one factor behind this, and offers some solutions to how we can finally get past the finish line.
In Finish, Jon identifies a main villain, the common enemy we all face in goal-setting—perfectionism. Perfectionism is what tells us to quit when we miss a day of exercise because our streak is no longer perfect. It tells us to aim for lofty standards of excellence, then persuades us that we shouldn’t continue since we can’t attain them. It also lays down all sorts of secret rules for us that make the road to achieving our goals tedious, difficult and dread-inducing.
The overall idea of Finish is about slaying this monster called perfectionism and getting things done. Jon presents a series of action steps, which appear so simple they almost seem like shortcuts or cheats (at least what perfectionism would like you to believe), namely:
1) Cut your goals in half 2) Choose what to bomb (axe) 3) Make it fun if you want it done
In the first step, Jon talks about a research-backed study about what is known as planning fallacy, where people tend to overestimate their ability to achieve a goal. As a result, when they realise that the size of their goal is far bigger than what they first thought, they get discouraged and inevitably give up.
So, contrary to super-motivated goal-setting gurus who quote sayings like “If people aren’t laughing at your goals, they aren’t big enough”, Jon suggests actually making your goals smaller! If you have set yourself the goal of losing 10 kg in 1 month, for example, halve it to maybe losing 5 kg in 2 months. Smaller goals, easier to achieve, more likely to finish. That’s it.
Next, Jon acknowledges that meeting our goals is a time-consuming process, thus we have to consciously “bomb” or eliminate some other activities, such as TV, social media and even time spent with friends. It’s all common sense, though we are often irrational creatures who think we can get it all done.
The book goes on to quash the lie of perfectionism that tells us that goals need to be hard and serious to be “counted”. This lie makes us set arduous goals such as “Read 50 books in a year” that are filled with conditions like “Graphic novels don’t count” or “Each book must be at least 500 pages long to be counted”. But Jon asks, counted against whose imaginary standards?
The key, according to the book, then, is to deliberately add fun to our goals, even if they don’t appear to be naturally fun. If going on runs to achieve the goal of losing weight isn’t fun to you, Jon suggests dance classes instead, for instance. He also advises us to consider whether we are motivated by fear or rewards, and to implement the fun elements into our goals based on that.
Jon also warns about what he terms “hiding places” and “noble obstacles” that come between us and our goals. Hiding places are simply other activities you focus on instead of your goals, while the more cleverly-disguised noble obstacles are virtuous-sounding reasons for not working towards the goal, for example, putting off starting on an exercise programme because you are still looking for the perfect programme that suits you best.
Finally, Finish advocates gathering data to track our progress, instead of relying on our feelings or memory. While some of us may prefer to avoid data and remain in denial (like how we might avoid dentists!), the book encourages us to treat data as our friend, not enemy. Data presents reality and gives us direction for us to make adjustments to what we do where necessary to achieve our goals.
I am a fan of Jon Acuff’s self-deprecating sense of humour and conversational writing style, and there is a healthy dose of this in Finish. The audio version is especially engaging as Jon’s expressiveness and excellent oral presentation ensure that boredom doesn’t set in. It’s indeed a book that you can actually finish without much effort.
Sometimes you just want a writer to come straight to the point, but with Jon Acuff’s writing style, you need to take the good with the not-so-good. Jon tends to go on and on about a story or anecdote that drifts away from the point at hand, when a much more concise account would suffice.
For example, after writing about “jerk” cuckoo birds as an illustration about how secret rules crush our goals (not before a lengthy introduction about Canadian geese), he continues with a full paragraph with details of how he went around punching cuckoo clocks at antique shops after learning about the nefarious nature of the bird. It added nothing to the topic, and I found such writing rather distracting at times.
Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done is very much for “beginner” goal-setters, if there’s such a level. In fact, it’s probably ideal for the 92 per cent of us who never seem to be able to accomplish what we set out to complete because of our perfectionism. The remaining 8 per cent, though, may find the methods too simplistic, and goal-setting systems taught by other writers such as Michael Hyatt might possibly be more suitable.