Some people join a gym but never end up going
Some people start a book but only read the first chapter
Some people buy a guitar but never learn how to play a single chord
Some people create an artist Instagram account but never release any music
Let’s say you’re going on vacation to Spain, so you want to learn how to speak Spanish, but after one lesson, you decide it would be easier to just hire a translator. Sure, you solved the problem of not being able to speak the native language while on vacation, but you’re also succumbing to your tendency not to finish things.
Giving up on something you set out to do when it stops being fun or relevant saves time and frustration, but it also reinforces an extremely detrimental habit. I’ve never been good at finishing things. I don’t think I completed a single self-motivated project until I was well into my adult years. And at age 30, it’s still something that I struggle with.
I decided to change when I realized that not completing projects was taking a drastic toll on my self-esteem, confidence, and, ultimately, my happiness. That may sound dramatic, but it’s true. It was almost like I was living a lie, and my brain knew it.
I knew I could actually do the things I wanted to, but I still didn’t have much of anything to show for it. Time and time again, I would set out to do something and be unable to mark it complete and share it with the world. At the time, it was hard to correlate my unhappiness and feelings of self-worth to my ability to complete projects, but looking back now, it’s blatantly obvious.
I realized that finalizing and sharing my music was the part that scared me the most. I was afraid. I was afraid of marking something complete because then I would have to answer to my own work. I could and would be held accountable for the result, which my perfectionism was never going to be happy with. If I was going to wait until I was 100% happy with something, I was going to be waiting a very long time. But sharing what we create with others is the whole reason the majority of us make things. We create to inspire, invoke emotion, entertain and teach and that doesn’t work without an audience.
My whole life, I was coming up with excuses as to why I didn’t finish things, and since these were mostly personal endeavors, there were no immediate consequences. The consequence eventually caught up and arrived in the form of my inner turmoil. My soul couldn’t stand being a phony anymore. My brain subconsciously was trying to protect my ego at the cost of my happiness. If I don’t finish something, it can never be judged, and if it can never be judged, then I’ll never have to answer to the true quality of my work. If people can’t judge my work, I can continue pretending I’m better than I really am.
The truth is talent has nothing to do with any of it. I was being held back by an extremely detrimental habit. It took a deliberate change in my mindset and a newfound dedication to self-discipline to snap out of it and begin to realize my potential.
Unfortunately, there’s no quick, easy way to break a bad habit. It’s a long, drawn-out, and uncomfortable process that requires taking a lot of small steps. I was going to have to do the one thing I was most afraid of, declare my projects complete and send them out into the world. The main thing I needed to work on was changing my mindset. I needed to stop judging the quality. My goal needed to change from completing a great song to completing a song.
One trick I’ve started to adopt that’s extremely helpful is giving myself smaller checkpoints to reach. According to PsychologyToday.com, “It’s possible to manipulate your dopamine levels by setting small goals and then accomplishing them” Keeping a list of small things that you need to do that will lead you towards completing whatever you’re working on will make you feel good when you go to cross them off. This keeps me motivated with daily tasks.
For instance, if you want to be an artist but can’t finish a song. Start small. Give yourself a task of completing a 10-30 second piece of music with no vocals. Make a list of the instruments you want to include, then give yourself a reasonable time limit. When the time limit is up, stop. Mark it complete and share it with the internet or even just a friend. Pretend you’re being commissioned by a client, and you have a deadline that can’t be missed. In the real world, deadlines are a very real thing, and it’s extremely rare you’ll ever have an unlimited amount of time to work on something. So why give yourself that kind of freedom when working on your own projects? This was my problem. I was giving myself an unlimited amount of time to work on things, so I was using it! A lot of us work better with restrictions. Leaving tasks open-ended and giving ourselves too many choices can lead to being less productive. If you’re struggling to finish your songs, try giving yourself fewer options. Leaving projects open-ended makes things feel daunting and difficult to complete.
Start treating projects like they are jobs. Be a professional. Professionals don’t need motivation or inspiration. They show up to work and do their job. Start treating your projects, whatever that is, whether it’s writing a book, starting a youtube channel, or learning a language, like you’re a professional and it’s your job. You’re not always going to be motivated to work on something.
Whenever you first start something you enjoy, it’s fun and exciting, but that feeling doesn’t last, it will fade away, and you’ll realize there’s hard work to be done. Projects aren’t always going to seem fun, exciting, or even relevant. You might not get an immediate reward, and it might be difficult, annoying, or strenuous, but there’s a reason you started them.
Embrace failure. Focus on completing your art rather than judging the quality.
“Art is never finished, only abandoned”– Leonardo da Vinci