Tips  on spiritual growth, emotional health, and relational healing.


Secrets to Finish: How to Keep Going When You Want to Give Up

Nov 21, 2017

“Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.”
-Dale Carnegie

secrets to finish jon acuff bicycle sunset

When to Quit, When to Keep Going, and How to Know the Difference

Over the last couple weeks, I’ve tried to provide a grid for you to process through whether you should quit or whether you should keep going.

If you feel you need to keep going, then this article is for you. Despite a sense of clarity about pressing forward, many of us still “feel like” giving up. It is a lot easier to keep going when we want to keep going. It’s a lot tougher to keep going when you want to give up.

So, what do you do in that moment? Dig deeper? Try harder? Deny those feelings?

What if it your next step was a lot more fun and lot less work?

That’s what I learned from Jon Acuff.


The Science Behind Finishing

Jon Acuff wrote the New York Times bestselling book, Start, in 2013. But as he toured in support of the book, what he found was people didn’t have a hard time starting. They had a hard time finishing.

Acuff began leading his tribe of online followers through a program called 30 Days of Hustle. The program caught the attention of a professor at a university in Memphis. Together, they tracked 900 people in his program, along with their progress pursuing their goals.

Based on this research, Acuff released his newest book in October 2017, entitled Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done. The Wall Street Journal bestseller lays out the results of the research, walking through eight major shifts we need to take in order to finish the goals which mean the most to us.

As I was reading the book earlier this fall, I was reminded the way to the finish line is often counter-intuitive. Several of Acuff’s takeaways surprised me and I’m sure the tens of thousands who’ve bought the book would say the same.


5 Secrets to Help You Finish

I’ve compiled 5 secrets regarding steps we can take to keep going when we want to give up, some originating with the Finish book and others coming from my own experience.

None of them are terribly hard, deeply serious, or intellectually rigorous.


1. Make it fun.

Finishing can be fun. At least that’s what Jon Acuff learned. “Choosing a goal you believe will be enjoyable increases your likelihood of satisfaction by 31 percent.” It’s not surprising that satisfaction and enjoyment are linked.

But the data regarding performance is even more interesting. “The second benefit to picking something you enjoy is that it increases performance success by 46 percent. You perform better when you pick something you think is fun.”

Choosing to pursue things we enjoy is one secret to finishing strong, even when we feel like giving up. But not every goal or area where we need to finish will fit this qualification. What do we do then?

Find a way to make it fun. As my friend Ashley reminded me for years when we lived in the same city, “fun is a choice.” Look for ways to make your work/goal/pursuit fun. Turn it into a game.

Acuff has great ideas to make your goal fun in chapter 4 of his book. I’ll leave those tips to him. You can grab the book here.


2. Cut your goals in half or double your time period.

This was my second insight from Acuff. He explored the overly ambitious goals we set for ourselves and the ways they become anchors around our necks weighing us down. No one forced us to set such lofty goals, yet we feel suffocated by the potential of failing to achieve them.

In his research, Acuff found that those who cut their goal in half “increased their performance from past similar goal-related challenges on average by over 63 percent.” This is a massive improvement.

The research also indicated that whopping “90 percent of the people who cut their goal in half said they had an increased desire to work on their goal.”

While you might bristle at the idea of cutting your goal in half, pause for a second and ask why. If this is your goal and you chose it, then it’s your call to change it!

Stop comparing where you are to where someone else is. Celebrate where you are compared to where you used to be and all you can become.

If you can’t cut the goal in half, then relieve the pressure by doubling the time period to get there.

What I’ve found is that most of us underestimate how long it will take to accomplish what we’re pursuing. We also tend to overestimate what we can do in the short-term and underestimate what we can do in the long-term.


3. Tie what you’re doing to something bigger.

We persevere when we feel there’s a bigger purpose to what we’re doing. This purpose is often self-evident in the work we’re doing. But, in certain areas, you might feel like there’s no greater value or significance in your efforts.

If that’s the case, it’s time to get creative and activate your imagination.

In a recent interview, I heard Charles Duhigg, the author of the wildly popular book, The Power of Habit, talk about an oncology researcher he met at a leading university in England. This professor had reframed his grading (a task he loathed) in light of a larger purpose.

The professor’s thinking went like this. “If I grade this test, our school can collect tuition. If they can collect tuition, I’ll have money to do my research. If I have money to do research, I can find a cure to cancer. If I can cure cancer, I’ll save millions of lives. Therefore, by grading this test, I’ll have an opportunity to save millions of lives.”

You might think that line of thinking sounds crazy, but that kind of significance is what it takes.

When we tie what we’re doing to something bigger, we see how it matters and we keep going.


4. Add a reward at the end (or consider your fears).

In Finish, Acuff talks about how we’re motivated to achieve a reward or avoid a fear. Adding a reward at the end of something we’re doing motivates us to push through a day when we don’t feel like continuing.

Not every reward has to be monetary. I know people who reward themselves with a cheat day or a cheat meal after living within a modified diet for a period of time. Others will allow themselves to take a trip or buy something they want once they’ve achieved a certain outcome.

In my next article, I’m going to talk more about the power of celebration, so I’ll save the rest of my thoughts for that post.

If you don’t want to add a reward, you can choose a fear to avoid. I know of multiple people who’ve written large, post-dated checks to political candidates or causes with whom they fundamentally disagree. The check is then handed to a trusted friend who is empowered to mail the check if a certain goal is not achieved by the date on the check.

This idea initially sounded extreme, but I can see how such an act would motivate me.

Think about it. What would you hate to do? How could you tie your achievement of your goal to that undesirable outcome?


5. Pursue your goal with a friend.

November is NaNoWriMo (shorthand for National Novel Writing Month). During this month, novelists commit to writing a 50,000 manuscript. While writing a book is always a daunting task, completing a first draft in a month is seriously ambitious.

The community effect of thousands of other writers sharing their milestones each day pushes each writer forward. Pursuing any goal is easier with friends.

This principle explains the success of fitness phenomenons like CrossFit and Orange Theory Fitness. Working alongside others increases our accountability and encourages our sustained effort.

Whether your goal is physical fitness, writing or something else, find a friend who is going the same direction. This relationship can greatly increase your chances of defeating the feelings which make you want to give up.

secrets to finish concrete with word finish

What Do You Do?

These five steps (or secrets) help people keep going towards their goals, even when they don’t feel like pressing forward.

But, I know there are many more than five steps within the readers of this blog. You’ve found resources and hacks to help you keep going.

I’d love to hear from you in the comments. What do you do? If you’re tried one of these steps, what has your experience looked like?

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