How to get great at finishing what you started

Successful people are not only great at starting things happening but are also great at finishing. Most people tend to fall into one camp or the other, i.e., they are either an ‘idea generator’ or a ‘completer-finisher’ and this tends to be an innate preference that we are born with. So what is the trick that successful starters and finishers know? How do they, not only, create new ideas but also think and focus differently to get things finished?

More than anything else, becoming a effective Finisher is about staying motivated from a project’s beginning to its end. Recent research has uncovered the reason why that can be so difficult, and a simple and effective strategy you can use to keep motivation high. In their studies, University of Chicago psychologists Minjung Koo and Ayelet Fishbach examined how people pursuing goals were affected by focusing on either how far they had already come (to-date thinking) or what was left to be accomplished (to-go thinking).

People routinely use both kinds of thinking to motivate themselves. A marathon runner may choose to think about the miles already traveled or the ones that lie ahead. A dieter who wants to lose 30 pounds may try to encourage themselves (especially when things get difficult) by reminding themselves of the 20 pounds already lost, or the 10 left to go. Intuitively, both approaches have their appeal. But too much to-date thinking, focusing on what you’ve accomplished so far, will actually undermine your motivation to finish rather than sustain it.

Koo and Fishbach’s studies consistently show that when we are pursuing a goal and consider how far we’ve already come, we feel a premature sense of accomplishment and begin to lose the energy we had at the start. For instance, in one study, college students studying for an exam in an important course were significantly more motivated to study after being told that they had 52% of the material left to cover, compared to being told that they had already completed 48%.

When we focus on progress made, we’re also more likely to start focussing on other goals and projects which now take up our time and attention. This is classic ‘Starter’ behaviour — lots of pots on the stove, but nothing is ever ready to eat. If, instead, we focus on how far we have left to go (to-go thinking), motivation is not only sustained, it’s heightened. Fundamentally, this has to do with the way our brains are wired. To-go thinking helps us tune in to the presence of a discrepancy between where we are now and where we want to be. When the human brain detects a discrepancy, it reacts by throwing resources at it: attention, time, money, effort, deeper processing of information, and willpower. In fact, it’s the discrepancy that signals that an action is needed — to-date thinking masks that signal. You might feel good about how far you have come but you might not get much further.

Great Finishers force themselves to stay focused on the goal, and never congratulate themselves on a job half-done. So what loose ends have you got to tie up? How will you truly finish what you started?

To find out more about your innate behavioural preferences and to create the life you want take a look at our NLP Diploma programme.

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