Do you collect half-completed projects? Do you get close to the end of a task, and then leave the last step undone?
Do you allow small repairs to accumulate and put off quick-fixes — sometimes indefinitely?
Whenever you think of these examples of things left undone, how do you feel? Imagine how it would feel to have these things behind you, checked off your list. Ahhh, what a relief!
These half-done tasks and unfinished projects have a way of taking on a life of their own. In this state of incompleteness, they won’t leave you alone. They are needy reminders of your past, pulling at your attention and depleting your energy. They are mental nags, rooted in the past, getting in the way of you living fully in the present. It’s difficult to be here now with positive expectation of a brighter future when incompletes continue to pull you back to the past.
“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-82)
Inspiration for taking on new projects is also diminished when you have a collection of other projects still in limbo. Instead of celebrating the joy of creation, you dread adding yet another thing to your growing list of unfinished business.
“There are two kinds of people, those who finish what they start and so on.” – Robert Byrne
Why Do We Leave Things Half-Done?
Could it be fear of failure? Or fear of success? Could it be related to a self-image problem or a lack of self-confidence? Whatever the reason(s), it’s clear that a habit of avoiding completion gets in the way of your best life.
Your best life involves choosing carefully what you start and then sticking with it until it is complete. The process itself is gratifying, but the completion also brings a significant payoff. The payoff is increased self-confidence and a personal feeling of satisfaction in a job well-done.
Finishing the Old Makes Way for the New
The completion phase frees you mentally to consider the next step. Confidence in your ability gets a boost, and you feel inspired and challenged to take on something a little more ambitious. Creativity and ambition are wide open, and you are ready to take on whatever strikes your imagination. If you feel good when thinking about the next project, you know you are on the right track.
Compare this exhilarating feeling to what happens when you are in the habit of beginning things you don’t finish. Instead of joyful anticipation of the next, more ambitious project, you shrink away thinking maybe you’ve been biting off more than you can chew.
To compensate, you scale down a bit. That’s not invigorating or inspiring. It’s demeaning. When you don’t complete the new scaled-down project either, the cycle repeats and you scale down the next project even more. If this diminishing cycle is not broken, before long, you will be frozen into inactivity.
“Doing nothing is very hard to do … you never know when you’re finished.” – Leslie Nielsen (b. 1926)
It may feel like fear of failure, but it’s really a simple matter of non-completion. It’s just a bad habit you picked up somewhere along the way. It’s so common it can be misconstrued as normal, but just because it is a prevalent stumbling block doesn’t mean you are stuck with it. Like any bad habit, it can be broken and replaced with a good habit.
Replace the Bad Habit of Incompletions with the Good Habit of Prioritizing
Since we never get it ALL done, the first step in replacing the bad habit of collecting incompletes is to choose more deliberately. Start only those projects you fully intend to complete. The first step, before you take any action, is to really think it through and imagine the end before you begin. Ask yourself . . .
What will it feel like to complete the project in question? Who will benefit from its completion? Exactly how will it benefit myself and others? Is it worth the effort? Will I enjoy the process? Is the project interesting enough to continue to fire my imagination throughout all phases, all the way to the last step — completion?
“He who begins many things finishes but few.” – Italian Proverb
Another half-done project will not add to your self-image, self-confidence, creative self-expression or personal satisfaction. So why would you choose to add to the mental nags tugging at your attention? Instead, modify your prospective project idea or replace it with something else that is sufficiently exciting to assure its completion. If you honestly can’t do that, it’s likely time to look over your collection of incomplete projects and choose the one that holds the most promise, roll up your sleeves and get it done.
“Begin — to begin is half the work, let half still remain; again begin this, and thou wilt have finished.” — Ausonius
Even Little Things Can Be Big Mental Nags
Here’s a simple exercise to reveal where your creative energy is slipping away. Grab a pencil and paper and take a walk through your home and work place, and make a list of all the little things that annoy you. Try to see through fresh eyes, as if this is the first time you are seeing these things while evaluating how they make you feel. Here are some examples to get you started . . .
· Is random clutter monopolizing your working space and living space?
· Is your closet full of clothes and shoes you never wear?
· Are your junk drawers stuffed full of things you don’t use?
· Are little things broken that could be fixed relatively quickly and easily?
· Has junk accumulated outside that has begun to be an eyesore?
· See the books, furniture and decorations in your home and office with new eyes. Do these things keep you psychologically locked into where you’ve been rather than inspiring you toward where you want to be?
· What bugs you to the point of distracting you?
Even though these are small points in the overall scheme of things, they accumulate to the point where they can be a significant psychic drain. They pull energy from your creativity and productivity by remaining incomplete. As long as they are undone, your attention is drawn to them. They nag you and taunt you subtly but incessantly until you finally get around to dealing with them.
How to Deal with Mental Nags
I know. You’re busy. We all are. That’s why they were left undone, right? It’s not a matter of “busy-ness” . . . it’s a matter of priorities. Once you understand how these incompletes work against you as psychic drains, you can prioritize dealing with them.
Many of them can be delegated. Others can be fixed by a hired handyman. Some must be done by you.
You don’t have to do them all at once. Set aside an hour and pick an easy task you can complete. When you can find 2 or 3 hours, pick one that will require a little more time, and do your best to keep working on it until it is complete.
Try to maintain a positive attitude, and have fun while you’re at it. Music works well for me. If it’s mindless busywork, I like to listen to upbeat music with inspiring lyrics. If the project in question requires my mental attention, I like hearing energetic instrumental music. It keeps me engaged and keeps me moving but there are no lyrics to break my concentration and distract me from the task at hand. Music also keeps me from thinking I am wasting valuable time doing some menial task. I don’t get bored doing busywork as long as I have good music to engage my attention.
When the task is done, it feels great, and I haven’t lost anything. Instead, I have gained a completion while having a good time listening to great music.
Even Big Projects Eventually End When Your Are Determined
For example, last summer was the time we set aside to clean out the garage. It has been in the family ever since it was built by Janey’s grand-dad in the 50’s. Three generations have lived in the house, and they all left their stuff there . . . and it wasn’t their good stuff! After several weeks, many trips to Salvation Army and many more to the dump, the garage finally began to feel like our space — useable, organized storage instead of a catch-all for discarded, unwanted junk.
“No matter how long it takes,
If you keep moving,
One step at a time,
You will reach the finish line…”
For Janey, it was like a treasure hunt. For me, I knew the end result was worth the effort. We kept at it by playing lots of old music from our collection that we hadn’t heard for many years. We did our best to keep an upbeat attitude, even though it was a huge, daunting and often unpleasant process. Now that it’s done, it feels great! It feels like a burden has been lifted. Before, it was unusable – an embarrassing eyesore. That trashed out garage of yesteryear is no longer a mental nag, no longer a psychic drain where energy seeps away.
“I will persist until I succeed. Always will I take another step. If that is of no avail I will take another, and yet another. In truth, one step at a time is not too difficult…. I know that small attempts, repeated, will complete any undertaking.” – Og Mandino
Why Do We Think We Need So Much Stored Stuff
We also went through the house and de-cluttered considerably. It feels so good, we will continue next summer. We intend to go through all our stuff and eliminate the unnecessary, the unused and the redundant. It feels great to lighten our load.
“Complete possession is proved only by giving. All you are unable to give possesses you.” – André Gide (1869-1951)
This de-cluttering process has helped us realize just how little we actually need. For instance, for many years, during half the year, we are on the road with our music and comedy show performing concert dates. We live in a 33′ motorhome with only a small fraction of the stuff we have at home. We get along fine with a much abbreviated version of our stuff and rarely miss any of the stuff we left at home.
Isn’t it interesting how we seem to spend the first half of our lives accumulating stuff, only to spend the second half trying to get rid of it?!
“There’s stuff in the kid’s room, plastic galore,
Covering the wall and covering the floor.
Expensive landfill, wouldn’t you say?
Got so much stuff, there’s no room to play.
Our lives are stuffed full from cradle to grave,
With stuff we should buy, and stuff we should save.
But the stuff we take with us, we rarely put first,
Have you seen a luggage rack up on a hearse?”
- from the song, “Stuff, Stuff, Stuff, Stuff” by Tupelo Kenyon
The Value of Completion
As you develop the new habit of completion, its value becomes obvious. Instead of having three unfinished manuscripts lying around gathering dust, pick one and finish it. Release it to the world where it has the opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life. Your unfinished manuscripts are useless to everyone.
Do you write songs and have a collection of unfinished ones? Finish them . . . make a CD. It’s never been easier with today’s more affordable technology. Buy your own gear and learn how to do it yourself if you are so inclined, or you may prefer to go to a recording studio where you can get some professional help.
Allow people the option of experiencing the fruit of your creativity. An unfinished, unrecorded song is little more than a vague daydream. Finish it — give it a life of its own.
These principles of completion apply to all arts and crafts, or whatever creative endeavors you enjoy: quilting, woodworking, knitting, writing, music, painting, or sculpture, to name a few. Your creativity will blossom as you develop the habit of prioritizing what you begin, and then finishing what you start. Help yourself to remain curious and enthusiastic by not allowing yourself to bog down in the mental and emotional clutter of the badly begun and the half-done.
Developing the habit of completion adds energy to your life and makes room in your life for something new. The old habit of collecting incompletes chokes creativity and sucks energy from your life. The physical clutter (and the psychological clutter) keeps us from enjoying the fruits of our on-going creativity. Make this your motto: “Out with the old and in with the new.”
Instead of bogging down in the remnants of the past, clear it out and be receptive to the creative process. Fill your life with things and experiences in sync with where you are going, rather than where you’ve been.
While reading, did you choose to hear the relaxing instrumental music linked at the beginning of this article? To learn more about it, click here.
Listen FREE to the song samples below . . . chosen to enhance the ideas in this article.
Stuff, Stuff, Stuff, Stuff, Stuff
About all the stuff you’ve been keeping that’s not good enough to actually use, but it’s way too good to throw away.
Hell or a Whole Lotta Fun
Don’t Tell Me No
All That We Take With Us
Just One Step
You Gotta Have Fun
Songs by Tupelo
The Power of Beginning
Your Passion as Your Compass
Quarter Million Dollar Idea for Productivity
The Subtle Side of Manifestation
Work – Just a Job or Visible Love
Action and Satisfaction
Integrity Through Self-Reliance
Goal Setting or Let Go and Let God
Choose Excellence and Lose Mediocrity
Persistence and Perseverance for Winners – Losers Just Quit
Inspire Yourself on Purpose – Inspiration from Inside Out
Articles by Tupelo
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