The Awful Truth About Not Finishing Things We Start – A Gentle Perspective on New Years Resolutions

Jan 11, 2022

by Carey Little 
Clinical Psychologist – The Self Centre


Not finishing something is okay!  

 Yup…turns out that it is fine to not finish all our projects. Especially or perhaps despite that they were started with enthusiasm, good will, good intentions, or a strong belief in the greater good or beneficial outcome for the self or others.  

 Of course, don’t misunderstand me, finishing something we have started is an excellent thing to do. Completion of a task or project brings a sense of mastery, fulfilment, achievement, and pride. So, I am not about to write here that it is bad to finish things. No, no, no, finishing what we start is highly recommended. However, the guilt and shame often felt or directed at others when they fail to complete something can be extremely damaging. I mean, even look at that sentence. “Fail to complete”. What about saying ‘discontinued’ instead? Or saying, I did not like it so I stopped; found no benefit so did not continue; found ill effects (lost time, lost money, lost energy, increased worry, and stress – because something has not been done and there is worry about that or what others will think).  

It’s very easy to become ‘fused’ with thoughts of lower self-worth just because somewhere at some time in our life we were told that to not finish is a bad thing.  

Lots of things stop us getting to the end of a project or activity, including a sudden realisation about a lack of skills, time, money, and sometimes life just gets in the way. The big one of course, is the fear of evaluation; “what if I don’t do this very well or someone does it better than me?”  

These kinds of thoughts create several issues that mean something will not get done;  

Firstly, we stop trying to start. Most successful people will tell you that it is the perseverance to keep starting that gets us to the end. Once we stop “starting” there can be no end.  

Secondly, setting goals in the project that are too big and overwhelming rather than baby steps that bring satisfaction and a willingness to keep going.  

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, we forget that the pleasure, sense of mastery and satisfaction comes from the “doing”, not from having to be the best or even “good” at something. Remember also, what others might say is often only what we think others will say, not a reality. What others think should be less important to us than doing something we think we want to do.   

Fourth, not being able to settle on a choice; what if I could have done something better or different? Too much choice can really get in the way of sticking steadfastly to a project. Choosing and doing, knowing there is probably the option to do the “other thing” another time, is a really great way to give completion a chance.  

And, finally, we often don’t keep going with something because we had a poor reason for doing whatever it is. It’s a lovely idea to learn to speak French, or paint watercolours or bench-press 65kg, but if there is not purpose or joy in the doing, then it is less likely to eventuate.  I have lots of clients who tell me they are going to start running or go to the gym to get fit, but even if they start, they don’t stick to it. Usually because they hate running and the gym! Ten points for the good intention; zero points in continuing if we are only pretending it’s going to happen. The answer, to the get fit dilemma, is to find another way to get fit and “start” that. And keep starting different ways until you find the one that you do keep going back to. Who cares if it is running, tai chi or dancing if it works for you?  

Apply this to work, hobbies and activities and the guilt of discontinuation will dissipate.  

So, for a fulfilling, and meaningful 2022, start by setting goals and listing all the things you would like to try. If you do not get to them, so what? If you start them and do not finish or continue with them, celebrate that you gave something a try, that you chose to put your energy elsewhere, that you had a nibble at the smorgasbord of life. Before you stop though, ask yourself, why you thought you wanted to do the activity? What purpose was it going to serve? What was the emotional response you wanted from it? Then reassess and start over. 

Remember, if you need some comfort or inspiration, you can always draw on the quotes of some achievers to help you. None of them talk about “finishing”, just the importance of “doing”. 

  • “What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?”  Van Gogh 
  • “Creativity is thinking up new things. Innovation is doing new things.”  Theodore Levitt 
  • Open yourself to new ideas and new things even if you find you don’t like them in the end – but at least knowing them has taken you that much further along into being a more experienced and well-rounded person in this world.”  Josh Barnett 
  • “Try new things every day. Don’t be afraid of failures. You will not lose anything. But your brain will be packed with experiences.”  Akash Ryan Agarwal 

If you would like some help with goal setting, procrastination, getting things finished, or a fear of not being/doing good enough, the Self Centre team can help. Call the office and book a session today; let that be something you get started now. 

Have a great 2022!