We all fall into the temptation of procrastinating what we start but fail to finish. We misplace our priorities, we fail to delay gratification, we do not exercise our free will and self-discipline. Hence we continuously fail to execute on our ideas and fail to follow through. Author Peter Hollins shares strategies and tactics to deal with procrastination by following through, taking action, executing, and using self-discipline to honor our commitments and resolutions.
Too often, we’ll say we’ll do something, and we might even start it one lucky weekend. But at the first sign of hardship, fatigue, boredom, or busyness, we abandon it all too easily, and it sits in our garage (mental, figurative, or literal) for the rest of eternity.
Finishing what you start and following through is breaking through that common loop and taking hold of your life.
Here are my favourite take-aways from reading, Finish What You Start by Peter Hollins:
Following through is related to focus, self-discipline, action, and persistence, but it is not synonymous to any of them. Rather, it is a composite of all of them—a bit like how those big Japanese anime robots come to be formed by the fusion of smaller individual robot parts. Power Rangers, or Voltron, to be specific. And much like how each smaller robot forms a different body part in the big robot, so too does each of these four elements—focus, self-discipline, action, and persistence—correspond to a body part that, when pieced with the others, forms the whole of following through.
The Four Elements of Follow Through – focus, self-discipline, action, and persistence
The head: focus.
Following through involves having focus. It’s akin to the head because it is focus that keeps your head in the game and your eyes on the prize. Focus guides your thoughts in figuring out how to follow through and directs your actions toward achieving your vision.
Following through is not just about exerting effort; it’s about exerting effort that’s concentrated on a single goal
The spine: self-discipline.
The spine of following through, self-discipline, is what enables you to get your head down and work when you need to, even if you don’t want to. It’s the ability to control yourself so that you retain focus on what needs to be done, despite the temptations and distractions you may encounter. This element is essential to following through because it’s what gives you the power to regulate your own thoughts, feelings, and actions toward ends that are meaningful to you. Without self-discipline, you wouldn’t be able to consistently exert effort on something until it’s done, which is what following through is all about.
If you are focused on what you need to do, self-discipline will naturally follow. Likewise, if you are self-disciplined, it will be easier for you to focus on what needs to be done and avoid distractions.
The hands and feet: action.
Action, the hands and feet of following through, means prioritizing execution and simple motion. This is what makes following through more than just having focus and self-discipline. Following through is an intention that’s been translated into action. It is action that will move things in the real world and take you from Point A to Point B—that is, from where you are now to where the fulfillment of your goals lies. It is the visible aspect of following through, the one that’s actually observed, measured, and evaluated against your goals.
Action is crucial to the execution of your plans and the realization of your goals, for without it, plans remain abstract and goals remain dreams.
The heart: persistence.
Finally, at the heart of following through is persistence. Persistence is firmly sticking to something for a prolonged period of time, even as you encounter things that try to unstick you. It’s the tenacity to adhere to a course of action even in the face of obstacles. It is not enough to just start; you need stick with it until it’s done. Following through is about having enough heart to keep pushing even in the face of obstacles, distractions, and setbacks.
Many of the goals worth aiming for in life call for not just a sprint but a marathon. If your heart is not fit enough to run the length of it, then you will find yourself stopping halfway through and giving up before you reach the finish line.
Why Don’t We Follow Through?
We don’t follow through for two main reasons: we have an entire selection of
(1) inhibiting tactics and/or
(2) psychological roadblocks that hinder us from finishing what we start
Inhibiting tactics refer to our schemes for misusing time and effort, with the end result of our being held back from following through. These are ways we sabotage ourselves, sometimes consciously. These tactics, which include (1) setting bad goals, (2) procrastination, (3) indulging in temptations and distractions, and (4) poor time management, inhibit us from maximizing the time and energy we have toward productive ends.
Psychological roadblocks refer to the internal, often unconscious mechanisms in our psyches that act as barriers to following through. Among these mechanisms are (1) laziness and lack of discipline, (2) fear of judgment, rejection, and failure, (3) perfectionism out of insecurity, and (4) lack of self-awareness. These psychological roadblocks operate internally to inhibit external action, thus preventing us from following through.
We start with excitement and enthusiasm but end up with excuses and explanations. We start with anticipation but end up with alibis. And all too often, we don’t bother looking past what’s in front of us because what’s in front of us is easy and convenient. A part of us doesn’t want to know what’s possible beyond that because we’re afraid to want it and to have to do the hard work that will get us there.
Chapter 2: Staying Hungry
External motivations are mostly about avoiding pain, so figure out what pains you are avoiding or can create for yourself. Then let your urge to avoid those pains drive you. Avoiding negative social emotions works well because no one wants to feel shame, guilt, or rejection. Use your fear of negative social emotions to carry you through a project or commitment to the very end.
Sometimes we just don’t care about what we are doing, and thus we don’t follow through. We lose steam because of disinterest. That’s understandable. But even caring about something is not always the key to following through. Sometimes, even for things we care about, we still can’t follow through because we lack a drive to push us forward.
This lack of drive is caused by a massive disconnect between three important aspects: (1) what the things we care about represent, (2) the positive benefits we receive from our actions, and (3) the negative consequences we can avoid related to our causes. When we lose steam, we aren’t tied closely enough to any of those aspects, which come together to create motivation.
Accountability partners are people who hold you accountable. This is a person that you commit to something with. This person lets you know when you need to do things, and he or she chides you when you want to give up. Then he or she gets on your case for not following through.
An accountability group can be more effective than a single partner. By having multiple people holding you accountable, you face the possibility of exponential shame—the shame and disappointment of multiple people building on top of each other is a horrible feeling that you will want to avoid. Plus, you will still have people to hold you accountable should one person drop out of the race.
This is where you promise yourself a reward if you follow through. Therefore, you let that reward drive you and surmount your difficulties.
External motivators drive you forward out of fear of something unpleasant, while internal motivators make you feel that reaching your goal is going to give you a big reward and lots of pleasant benefits.
Internal motivators are about what you want, as opposed to avoiding a negative consequence or punishment. These are universal needs, drives, and desires that are easy to lose track of. The easy way to find these is to answer a set of questions that directly asks things such as how am I going to benefit from this and how does my life stand to improve from this? It’s only through answering these questions that you realize what you are neglecting.
Everything in life is an opportunity cost, which means that everything you do will call for something from you. Every act takes away time or effort that could be committed to something else.
If the opportunity cost is too expensive for you to want to pay it, then you will not follow through. Therefore, you must find a motivator that drives you to accept the opportunity cost. If you don’t feel motivated enough to pay that cost, then you are guaranteed to lose steam and give up.
A manifesto is nothing more than a set of rules to follow every day.
Chapter 3: Create a Manifesto
Rules hold you accountable so that you are not winging it every day but instead are guided. Use your rules to guide your worldview and your daily actions.
Rule 1: Evaluate Yourself
Rule 1 is to ask yourself, “If not for laziness or fear, would I be giving up?” This makes it very clear to yourself that you are not acting out of a lack of ability or talent, but rather you are just taking the easy way out. Is that what you want to admit to yourself?
Rule 2: Three Tasks Maximum
Rule 2 is to focus on three things a day maximum. Only. Tops. Being overwhelmed or disorganized can kill your ability to get things done. Sometimes we can’t follow through on what we want because we don’t plan smartly. We give ourselves too much to do and we become overwhelmed. But using this rule enables you to plan against that problem by only allowing yourself to focus on three things a day maximum.
Rule 3: Create Limitations and Requirements
Rule 3 is to make actual rules for yourself. Create an actual code of conduct for you to follow in terms of being more disciplined and following through more. Write your code down in detail and then post it in a visible area. While you may not adhere to all of them every day, you at least stand a better chance of follow-through when you actually take the time to think about your code of conduct and write them down.
Rule 4: Reaffirm Your Intentions
This rule comes into play when you are faced with a fork in the road between deciding to follow through or not. This rule seeks to reaffirm your intentions by reminding yourself what they are and why you want to achieve them.
Rule 5: Think in Terms of 10-10-10
The next time you feel that you’re about to give in to an urge or temptation, stop and ask yourself how you will feel 10 minutes, 10 hours, and 10 days from now. This rule may not seem all that powerful, but it’s effective because it forces you to think about your future self and to see how your actions are going to affect yourself in the future—for better or worse.
Rule 6: Just 10 Minutes
If you want something negative, harmful, or detrimental to your follow through, wait at least 10 minutes before getting it. It’s simple and leaves no room for debate or excuses. When you feel an urge, force yourself to wait for 10 minutes before giving in to whatever the urge is. If you’re still craving it after 10 minutes, then have it. Or wait 10 more minutes because you’ve already done it and survived just fine.
Chapter 4: Follow-Through Mindsets
Follow-through is 100% mental. It takes a cognitive effort to follow through on something, especially when you hit discouraging obstacles. Mindsets help with that. A mindset is a set way of visualizing and approaching situations and problems. Certain mindsets are all it takes to find the will and motivation necessary to follow through on something.
Chapter 5: The Science of Smashing Procrastination
The main component in this self-defeating habit is called time inconsistency. This is where humans value immediate and instant gratification over long-term rewards.
The best way to counteract time inconsistency is to move future long-term rewards into the present more effectively. That way, your present self sees the benefit and wants to stick to the long-term program. Waiting for a future reward is often not sufficient to motivate your present self because your present self does not want to wait.
Temptation bundling is an excellent and efficient way to kill procrastination and increase productivity by combining present and future selves and their conflicting needs. There is no need to suffer in the present to get something done for your future self; if you do suffer, then you will lose all motivation and procrastinate. So find ways to bundle your temptations with your long-term goals. In other words, pair your obligations with instantaneous rewards.
Small, Easy Increments
Another way to mitigate procrastination is to start in small, easy increments. Really, you want to break tasks down into minuscule, microscopic components. This makes your first step seem incredibly easy—and taking that first step is the hardest part with procrastination.
Inertia is the force that builds as you are at rest. On the other hand, momentum is the drive to keep moving forward until you get everything done. Your task here is to break inertia and gain momentum.
Chapter 6. No Distraction Zone
If you’re constantly distracted, you succumb to temptations without even giving yourself a chance to exercise your willpower. It just doesn’t occur to you, and you choose the path of least resistance despite your best intentions. Distractions sneakily eat away at our self-discipline. This process can go on in the background so that we don’t even realize that our discipline is lapsing until it’s too late and all of our past efforts have been wasted.
Batching is when you group similar tasks together to complete them all at once. Ford’s assembly line was essentially 100% batching because his workers only performed one task incredibly efficiently. Batching allows you to save your mental energy for the tasks themselves and not waste your energy on the process of switching back and forth between them.
Chapter 7: Deadly Pitfalls
False Hope Syndrome
False hope syndrome occurs when you think that you can do everything on your to-do list and reach your dreams in a short amount of time. You promise yourself, or a client, the moon. Then you are sorely disappointed when you cannot deliver, and those big expectations have actually caused a negative effect on your working spirit.
Chapter 8. Daily Systems for Success
A system is a set of actions that you consistently perform every day in order to streamline your success and reach your goals. Unlike your self-discipline and willpower, a system organizes you and helps you perform your duties without having to push yourself. Willpower and self-discipline, on the other hand, only offer you strength to force yourself to do things; they do not give you a set way of doing things or a streamlined list of actions to complete.
A system becomes routine so that you do not have to think about what you need to do, but instead you just do it.
Lower Your Transaction Costs
Transaction costs is an economic term for the cost you must expend to be in the market.
Whenever you do something, you have some sort of cost associated with it. The cost may be monetary, such as an investment to start a business. Or it may be emotional, such as the apprehension of embarking on a new business opportunity without knowing if you will succeed or fail. Or it could even be physical, demanding your physical prowess and labor. These are simply the costs, or obstacles, you have to overcome to play the game. Build a system around manipulating these costs to your benefit. Cut out the costs that tax you and make the gains you want convenient and easy.
All the Best in your quest to get Better. Don’t Settle: Live with Passion.