Are you good at starting something new, but struggle to finish? If you are like me, you develop incredible plans. Big ideas. Remarkable dreams. But your story seems the same.
It’s a great place to begin, but it’s not enough. The story you tell isn’t the one you start. It’s the one you finish.
The Tunnel of Awesome
One summer my next door neighbor and I decided to build a tunnel in our back yards. His dad had given him an “army shovel” and we decided to put it to good use.
An army shovel is basically a large spade with a short handle on it. The only thing I could imagine it being used for is digging latrines. To us it was perfect, probably because it was the only tool we had.
His parents typically grew a vegetable garden every summer, but for some reason they didn’t that year. After putting our 8 year old brains together, we hatched a plan. We would dig two gigantic holes, one on each side of the garden, and then connect them underground. We were gong to build a tunnel.
I know what you are thinking. Awesome, right? Best summer ever, right?
Wrong. Our plan was incredible, but we didn’t finish.
A Dying Dream
We began what felt like the most important project of our lives taking turns digging with our much-too-small shovel. You can imagine how excited we were as we watched the hole get deeper and the pile of dirt grow larger. Every five minutes we would pause just to give each other a chest bump.
By lunchtime we were beginning to grow tired, and before dinner we quit. I don’t remember making a decision to stop. It just happened. With each scoop of dirt, the amount of change that took place seemed to grow less and less. As our initial enthusiasm wore off, the work became more difficult. We stopped caring and we gave up.
And we did what so many people do, we moved on to the next big thing.
It was the first of many “incredible projects that would die without being completed.
How to Become a Finisher
When we start something new we often begin with an incredible amount of energy and enthusiasm. There is nothing better than that moment when we stand on a bare patch of dirt with an undersized shovel in hand, imagining the tunnel of awesome.
Then the work becomes hard. We are distracted by glasses of lemonade and plates of cookies and Bugs Bunny cartoons. We make excuses, like not having a bigger shovel or even a backhoe. We blame our friend for having a stupid idea. And we quit.
Starting projects without finishing doesn’t change our story. But every project has what Seth Godin calls The Dip, and is difficult to see through to the end.
Here are 7 ways to help you go from being a dreamer to a finisher.
1. Vision. Define where you are headed and why you are doing it. When the work becomes tough, use your vision as a reminder.
2. Discernment. Not every project is worth pursuing. It’s okay to quit the ones that are not worth pursuing, but be careful not to quit the ones worth pursuing.
3. Share your vision. The expectations of others can be a powerful motivator. Just imagine the peer pressure if I had told kids at school about my summer project.
4. Have the proper tools. Digging a tunnel with a spade was never a good idea. Don’t frustrate yourself by not being adequately prepared. Find the correct tools and people to help you with your dream.
5. Deadlines. Give your project a time-frame. Instead of trying to meet one big deadline for the end of the project, create smaller ones that you have to keep along the way.
6. Rewards. Everyone enjoys a present. Build a reward system into your plan. Each time you accomplish a step towards finishing, give yourself and your team a little bonus.
7. Display Accomplishments. Show off what you have done. Let others see the fruit of your labors. Let your team be encouraged by the visible evidence of progress. Having something to show for your work will help you to keep your hand to the shovel.
Any work that is worth doing will be hard. Unfortunately too many give up just before they start to see the benefits of their effort. Find ways to help yourself go from being a starter to a finisher.
How do you stay motivated?
Dr. Jeremy Statton is an Orthopedic surgeon, a small business owner, and a writer. Follow his blog at http://jeremystatton.com/