Monday, April 11, 2016

You’ve got to be stronger than the story

Humans have a natural aversion to completion. 

We don’t like when things end. Endings represent loss and change and death and dying and saying goodbye. What’s more, if we stop, that means we have to start over. And starting over is hard. 

And so, instead of erring on the side of completion, instead choosing to call the work done, we leave the door open. Our projects suffer from a lack of follow through. And the story we tell ourselves is that we’re taking our time. We’re working slowly. We’re approaching the creative process as a fluid, continuous experience. 

But that’s a lie. It’s subterfuge. It’s a convenient excuse to justify our inability to finish our projects. 

I’m reminded of a groundbreaking study from the twenties about the cognitive availability of regrettable actions and inactions. Zeigarnik’s research found that unfinished tasks enjoyed in memory a special advantage over those that have been completed. She learned, not surprisingly, that people regret the things they don’t do more than the things they do. In fact, her experiments reported that unfinished tasks were remembered approximately twice as well as completed ones. 

Meanwhile, people still choose not to finish. The story they tell themselves about completion is stronger than the brain’s desire to close that open loop. And as a result, projects get abandoned, shelved, or worse yet, worked on forever. 

Woody famously said that eighty percent of life is showing up. And maybe that’s true. But we do ourselves a disservice when overlook the value of following through. 

Be stronger than the story. View finishing as a form of commitment. Because you can’t build a body of work solely around piecemeal. 

Are you willing to err on the side of completion?

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Scott Ginsberg
That Guy with the Nametag
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