Listen to this lesson:
What’s really stopping you from finishing what you start?
If you’re reading these words, I know you’ve been struggling to get traction on your self-generated creative work and actually finish what you start. You probably have a backlog of projects you dream of finishing.
Kind of at the heart of the problem
No matter how vividly you imagine yourself reaching the project’s finish line…
No matter how much this work forms the core of your identity…
You can’t seem to make yourself do the work
Instead, something will “come up.”
Maybe you find yourself binging a new series, or folding laundry, or digging schmutz out of the cracks of the dishwasher, or mopping your already-clean-enough floors…
…or starting a new project because inspiration just struck.
(Funny how that happens just as you try to focus on what you’ve already got going!)
If you’re constantly flitting from project to project, following every ping of inspiration, never allowing yourself to dive deep…it will keep you out of creative flow. It means you won’t finish any of the things you’ve started working on, let alone create work at the level you dream of.
I know you know this.
But the shame that arises from abandoning your creative projects is what leads to ending up waist deep in the molasses of procrastination.
Here’s the truth: Procrastination is a symptom, not a cause.
Procrastination and distraction result when you haven’t made a decision
Sitting with all the possible options (and all the feelings those options bring up! We’ll talk about that on Day 4…) …is what leads to not doing anything. Or doing anything…that isn’t the thing you want to do.
This is where all the bogeymen who haunt creatives come from: perfectionism, imposter syndrome, overwhelm, self-doubt…
…they turn your suffering into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
So, why haven’t you decided?
To be clear: procrastinating or feeling stuck instead of making the creative work you dream of doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you.
It’s more likely because you are facing a painful dilemma.
A dilemma is not just a decision to make; it’s a situation where there are several options, all of which carry real, non-negligible, competing tradeoffs.
That means, when you choose one option, you specifically lose out on aspects of the other option.
The decision of whether to work on your novel or watch Netflix sounds like small beans, but when you realize it’s truly a dilemma, that can help minimize the guilt and anxiety of choosing.
There are real benefits and real costs to each choice.
Writing > Netflix: You make progress that will give you a sense of pride. But you have to live with the discomfort of facing your work and all the feelings that come with that.
Netflix > Writing: It’s a nice break and it allows you to share in the social bonding that comes with watching the new shows, but now you have to live with guilt and self-blame for the writing you haven’t done.
The problem is not enduring the discomfort of the tradeoffs that come with the decision to stop procrastinating. You’re totally capable of that—you’re handling some major discomfort right now!
The reason a fun activity can lead to feeling horrible about yourself is not because you don’t deserve free time. It’s because you feel out of control of your choices, and that’s because you didn’t consciously choose to do that fun activity.
It was a reactive (non-)choice.
The core principle I teach to creative people struggling to stop procrastinating and finish what they start is CONSCIOUS decision.
Conscious decision means:
- Intentionally picking ONE project to focus on (at a time) so you can actually finish what you start (Day 1)
- Assessing your available time, and your real life, and identifying how and where you’re going to do the thing. (Day 2)
- Clearing the path by saying no to other commitments (Day 3)
- Taking your inner critic in hand (Day 4)
- Identifying your next possible step (Day 5)
Notice, none of this is actually butt-in-chair working. This process is about taking a calm and nonjudgmental look at your work process, and making conscious decisions about it.
If you want to finish what you start, you need a plan that fits your needs.
Butt-in-chair is also part of the formula, of course. But that part comes after making observations and decisions.
If you’re caught in a whirlpool of procrastination and distraction, unable to see the path to finishing what you started, you need to identify your dilemma and make a decision. That’s your homework today.