- We quit because we chase perfectionism. If our attempt isn't perfect, we quit. We'd rather stop when everything is going well than endure some failures and keep pushing.
- We set too large goals which makes us much more likely to quit. The goals will seem insurmountable.
- When we choose something, we have to not choose something else. We can't have it this very moment.
- Goals have to be fun. You won't get anywhere trying to force yourself to do things that you don't enjoy.
- We use other tasks as 'hiding places' to avoid working on our goal. If not that, we aspire to 'noble obstacles' that make our non-pursuit noble. For example, not desiring wealth being 'noble'. Hiding places are very much like procrastination — watching Netflix when you should be doing something else.
- Getting rid of your secret rules is key. We all have these secret rules (limiting beliefs) that hold us back from doing what we want. We may, without knowing it, despise that which we actually want. Say you hate your job, but don't feel qualified for anything else — then your secret rule might be that you are lucky that anyone would hire you at all. This is obviously not the case.
- Use data to remove emotional uncertainty and doubt. You can see when you're progressing, so you can't lie to yourself and think that you aren't. And if you aren't, you now have metrics to help you adjust your actions and keep going.
- A lot of people quit just before the finish line. They get scared of what comes next. "What happens when I'm done?" or "What now?". Those things don't matter right now. Just focus on finishing your goal as well as you can. Then you can focus on what's next.
- You have to know if you're motivated by fear or fun. Are you motivated by preventing something from happening — say, issues from overweight — or are you motivated by causing something to happen — say, losing weight? If there isn't a 'natural punishment', you might just want to create one for yourself. That could be donating to your least favorite political party, for example.
Notes & Highlights
INTRODUCTION: The Wrong Ghost
the exercises that caused people to increase their progress dramatically were those that took the pressure off, those that did away with the crippling perfectionism that caused people to quit their goals. Whether they were trying to lose a pants size, write more content on a blog, or get a raise, the results were the same. The less that people aimed for perfect, the more productive they became.
It turns out that trying harder isn’t the answer. Grinding more isn’t the solution. Chronic starters can become consistent finishers. We can finish.
How’s that working out for you? Is trying harder helping? Is doing more making you like life more? Have any of the productivity tips, time management tricks, or life hacks helped even a little bit? They haven’t and they won’t.
That’s what was surprising about this whole adventure. The practical lessons the research taught me about what it takes to really finish are so counterintuitive that most of them will feel like shortcuts. You’ll feel like you’re cheating or that what you’re doing “doesn’t count.” Do you feel a little guilty about the word “shortcut”? Are you remembering every coach, boss, or parent who told you, “There are no shortcuts in life”? Fine, just promise me you’ll stop using Google. Next time you need to know something, write the Library of Congress a letter. On paper. With a stamp you have to lick with your naked tongue. Those sticker stamps are a shortcut.
Shortcuts aren't cheating. So don't worry about it being easy.
Turning Wi-Fi off on your laptop when you need to focus on something is a shortcut.
Refusing to keep ice cream in your house when you’re trying to lose weight is a shortcut.
“Well begun is half done” is one of my favorite false motivational statements. The other is “Sometimes you have to jump off the cliff and grow your wings on the way down.” I saw that one on a photo of a wolf, which was puzzling because in my limited understanding of the animal kingdom, no wolf has ever grown wings. Thank goodness they haven’t. If wolves ever figure out the mechanics of flight, it’s game over.
CHAPTER 1: The Day After Perfect
Once the streak is broken, I can’t pick it back up. My record is no longer perfect so I quit altogether. This is a surprisingly common reaction to mistakes.
If you interview people about why they quit their goals, they all use similar language.
“I fell behind and couldn’t get back on track.”
“Life got in the way and my plans got derailed.”
“The project jumped the tracks and got too messy to fix.”
The words might be different, but they’re all saying the redundant same thing: “When it stopped being perfect, I stopped, too.”
You missed one day of your diet and then decided the whole thing was dumb. You were too busy to write one morning and so you put your unfinished book back on the shelf.
You lost one receipt and then gave up on your entire budget for the month.
This is the first lie that perfectionism tells you about goals: Quit if it isn’t perfect.
This is troubling to us, because we don’t want B’s and C’s when we’ve got a goal. We want straight A’s, especially if it’s a goal we’ve thought about for any amount of time. We will gladly give up the whole thing when we discover some error or imperfection in our performance. More than that, we will even prequit, before we’ve even begun.
That’s why a lot of people won’t start a new goal. They’d rather get a zero than a fifty. They believe perfect is the only standard, and if they can’t hit it they won’t even take the first step. A dreary sense of “What’s the use?” settles about them like a thick fog. I can’t fail if I don’t try.
I don’t know how to tell you this, but your goal will not be perfect. It crushes me to break this to you, but you will fail. Maybe a lot. Maybe right out of the gate. You might even trip over the starting line.
Second, developing tolerance for imperfection is the key factor in turning chronic starters into consistent finishers. Chronic starters quit the day after perfect. What’s the use? The streak is over. Better to wallow in the mistake. I ate a crazy dinner last night, might as well eat a crazy breakfast, lunch, and dinner today, too.
Imperfection is fast, and when it arrives we usually quit.
That’s why the day after perfect is so important.
This is the make-or-break day for every goal. This is the day after you skipped the jog. This is the day after you failed to get up early. This is the day after you decided the serving size for a whole box of Krispy Kreme Doughnuts is one. The day after perfect is what separates finishers from starters.
The worst part of this whole situation is that starting goals and never completing them feels terrible.
When you make a goal, you make a promise to yourself. You’re going to lose a few pounds. You’re going to declutter a closet. You’re going to start a blog. You’re going to call an old friend. The moment you create that goal, you’ve made a silent promise. When you don’t finish it, you’ve broken that promise. You’ve lied to the person you spend the most time with. You.
If you break enough promises, you start to doubt yourself. This is not surprising. If someone told you a dozen different times that they’d meet you for coffee and they didn’t show every time, you wouldn’t trust them
If you break enough promises to yourself (and setting a goal is a promise to yourself), then you'll start to doubt yourself. It's a negative cycle. You start a goal. Don't finish. Doubt yourself, so when the next goal comes around, you'll remember that you aren't a finisher. You give up. Don't be that person.
Why do so many people quit their New Year’s resolutions? Because they quit last year and the year before that and the year before that. If you quit enough times, quitting is no longer just a possibility when you start a new goal, it’s your identity, and that feels terrible.
People remember uncompleted goals better than completed ones. Your inability to let something go, that feeling that something unfinished is gnawing at you, isn’t just a feeling. It’s a scratch in the record, a pothole in the road, a never forgotten reminder of a loop you did not close. That’s what happens to all of us when we make goals and then have them interrupted by life.
Conversely, finishing something you care about is the best feeling in the world. Starting definitely delivers a momentary burst of euphoria, but it’s nothing in comparison to the real finish
The problem is that perfectionism magnifies your mistakes and minimizes your progress
When we create a goal, we aim for something better. We want to look better. We want to feel better. We want to be better. But then better turns into best. We don’t want small growth. We want massive, overnight success.
Who wants to run a 5K when you can run a marathon? Who wants to write the outline for a book when you can write a three-part trilogy with space werewolf zombies who are in love? (Title: Full Moon, Full Heart.) Who wants to make $10,000 when you can make $100,000?
Instead of aiming for a marathon when you're just starting to run, try aiming for a mile.
The harder you try to be perfect, the less likely you’ll accomplish your goals.
I know that feels backward, but that’s what the research says over and over again.
Throughout this book, we will return to perfectionism as our ultimate villain. Perfectionism will do its best to knock you down when you work on a goal. At every turn, it will kick you in the shins, steal your lunch money, and fill you with doubt.
Day 1 isn’t the most important day of a goal.
The day after perfect is, and now we’re ready for it
CHAPTER 2: Cut Your Goal in Half
We all supersize our goals at the beginning and the reason why is simple.
We set too large goals due to perfectionism.
The first thing it says is that you won’t be able to do something perfectly and you shouldn’t even start. Far better to give up now than waste all that time and fail.
Perfectionism trots out a laundry list of reasons you shouldn’t begin. You’re too old. You’re too young. You’re too busy.
... and you never are. These are nothing but excuses.
If you ignore this initial barrage and start something, perfectionism changes its tune completely. Now it says that you have to do it perfectly. It’s the only possibility that is acceptable.
If you get past the first hurdles, there's this one; now it convinces you to do it perfectly.
We’ve now bumped into the second lie of perfectionism: Your goal should be bigger.
As seen above
That’s a fun sentiment, and the bigger the goal, the bigger the initial rush we get from imagining it, but today I’m going to dare you to do the opposite. In fact, I want you to cut your goal in half.
Instead, go smaller to achieve more. Instead of shooting for a marathon when you haven't even run yet, shoot for a single kilometer.
Scientists call this “planning fallacy,” a concept first studied by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. They described this problem as “a phenomenon in which predictions about how much time will be needed to complete a future task display an optimism bias and underestimate the time needed.”
Kahneman wrote a magnificent book, if you are interested, called "Thinking, Fast and Slow". You can read my book notes on it here.
Psychologist Roger Buehler asked the students to predict how long it would take to finish their theses, with both best-case and worst-case scenarios. On average, the students guessed it would take thirty-four days to finish. In reality, it took them fifty-six days, almost twice as long.
Example of planning fallacy
What’s really interesting is that not even half the students finished by their worst-case estimate. Even estimating that everything that could go wrong did, the students didn’t guess correctly.
Addition to the above example
What’s amazing about that is the goal wrecked what he was already doing. Before that massive goal showed up, he was consistently going to the gym. Not only did he not do the race, he quit everything that was already in motion. That’s how powerfully destructive a wrong-sized goal is.
Setting a huge goal can even destroy everything you are doing already. It can make you quit the gym — a habit that you already had — if you pile on a huge goal (running a triathlon, for example).
This goes against every sappy motivational statement in that cursive script on photos of a waterfall universe, but if you dream too big at the start, you curse your finish.
When my researcher sent me his report on the 30 Days of Hustle, one result stood out: Those who cut their goal in half increased their performance from past similar goal-related challenges on average by over 63 percent.
Not only that, 90 percent of the people who cut their goal in half said they had an increased desire to work on their goal; it encouraged them to keep going, and it motivated them to work harder because the goal seemed attainable.
Goals are a marathon, not a sprint. I know that if I can get you to do a little one month and win, you’re more likely to do a little more the next month and win even more
In the course of a year or maybe even a lifetime that approach will always beat the kill-yourself-for-a-month approach. That tends to end one of two ways: you miss your goal and give up, or you hit your goal and are so spent that you give up.
Some goals are difficult to cut in half. For those, don’t cut them in half; give yourself more time
Remember, we’re up against quitting. The options we’re talking about right now aren’t: 1. Finish perfectly, or 2. Cut the goal in half. Those aren’t the choices we’re debating. The options are: 1. Quit the goal because it was too big, or 2. Cut it in half and finish it.
Perfectionism will tell you it’s now or never, forever obsessed with the idea that if you don’t finish it now, you never will
Think back to other goals you’ve attempted. Were they too big? Write down what happened.
Write down a number associated with your goal. (It’s difficult to cut a feeling in half.)
Will you read ten books? Declutter four rooms? Lose twenty pounds? Make five thousand dollars?
Decide whether you can cut your goal in half or double the timeline.
Share your goal with someone you trust and ask him if it’s too extreme.
If you’re uncomfortable with cutting your goal in half, spend a few minutes answering the question “What’s the worst that could happen?”
CHAPTER 3: Choose What to Bomb
Perfectionism’s third lie is: You can do it all. I’m here to tell you that you can’t. You know this deep down, but there’s still a part of you, a part run by shame, that thinks you’re one or two apps away from doing it all. This is why chronic starters are always reading books about time management. Perhaps if we sliced the day just a little differently or combined an audiobook with the treadmill while also flossing, we could manage to get it all done.
The only way to accomplish a new goal is to feed it your most valuable resource: time. And what we never like to admit is that you don’t just give time to something, you take it from something else. To be good at one thing you have to be bad at something else.
You only have two options right now.
Attempt more than is humanly possible and fail.
Choose what to bomb and succeed at a goal that matters.
More than likely, you’ve spent most of your life choosing to do more than is possible and beating yourself up for not being able to keep up.
Something fails, and in that moment we feel shame.
We don’t pull grace out of our pocket and cut ourselves slack. No, on the contrary, most people quit right there. Not just the extra thing that proved to be too much—we give up on the whole goal.
We try to do too many things. When it fails, we give up - on everything
When you can’t do it all, you feel ashamed and give up.
Or you pick a strategy and decide in advance what things you’re going to bomb.
That’s the truly terrible part of trying too much. You don’t just drop the bonus item and carry on with your goal. You drop every ball you’re juggling when one gets out of sync, like our would-be Ironman participant from the last chapter.
When you choose in advance what those things will be, you remove the sting of shame. The surprise effect of shame pointing out something you’re bad at is removed. Instead of reacting in shock at some ball you’ve dropped, you get to say, “Oh, that ball I put down on purpose before the game even started? Thanks for noticing!”
When you choose something you want to do, also choose something not to do
But adding things to your already full life doesn’t make you feel better, it just makes you feel more stressed. If you’re going to avoid the shame trap, you need to decide ahead of time which activities in your life you can be bad at.
It’s admitting you don’t have time to do everything and something will deliberately go by the wayside during this season of your life.
Strategic Incompetence, coined by Josh Davis in his book Two Awesome Hours
As I started to work on my goals more aggressively, here are four things I chose to bomb:
Keeping up with TV conversations
The satisfaction of cutting my own lawn
What should you choose to bomb? Ultimately, it depends on what you’re trying to accomplish but there is a quick way to pick a few things. Think about it like traffic lights. Some activities are green lights, they push you forward and make it easier to hit your goal. Making a week’s worth of lunches might take time but it will help you reach your health goal. Other activities are red lights. They stop you from making progress and delay you. Going out late at night with friends might be fun, but it will tempt you to make terrible taco decisions. That’s a red light activity that slows your plan to lose weight. Spend a few minutes thinking through your day and label a couple of items you’re giving time to. This task is easier than you think. Putting down bark mulch in the beds in our front yard might make our house look better, but if my goal is to finish my taxes, there’s no doubt what color light that is. I promise you’ll be surprised how obvious some of your lights are, too.
You have to prioritize. Some actions help you in advancing towards your goal — these are green. Others don't — and these are red. Always go for green.
If you can’t think of something to bomb, I’ll give you a head start: social media.
It’s one thing to stop watching TV. It’s another thing to say no to spending time with friends. “I can’t hang out on Friday,” “No, I can’t come to your event,” and “I can’t do you that favor” are not words we perfectionists like to say. We want to be everyone’s best friend, to have every person in the world think we are wonderful, and we think that means spending as much time with every friend as he or she would like.
Sometimes you'll have to say no to social events.
For you, training for a race early in the morning might mean fewer nights out with friends
There are a variety of moments that might dictate that you be more deliberate with your relationships, but they all require one thing. The easiest way to deal with people in these situations is to say the most powerful word in the English language: No.
And remember, if someone gets mad at you for saying no, they just confirmed you were supposed to say that in the first place.
If a straight no makes you feel uncomfortable, or if stopping an activity is not possible, simplify instead.
Life is too complicated for us to just say no to everything. That’s fine. It’s not realistic to think you can drop everything.
For situations where no isn’t an option, write a “simplify list” and identify the wrinkled-shirt moments you’ll be all right with in your life.
You have some meals that could be simple.
You have some things that can wait.
Fortunately, the world is more than happy to help you simplify. Staying with the food example because most of us have to eat, grocery stores now allow you to order online and pick up at the store
Make a list of three things you could bomb during your goal. Use the red light, green light approach.
For time drains you can’t bomb, figure out a way you could simplify them.
Write down, in a secret place no one will see, three relationships you might need to pause in order to finish your goal.
CHAPTER 4: Make It Fun if You Want It Done
Make sure your goal is fun
It’s because perfectionism is sneaky. Perfectionism believes that the harder something is, the more miserable something is, the better it is.
Answer to why people pick goals they don't enjoy
The fourth lie it tells you is: Fun doesn’t count.
You see this lie manifest very clearly in the two most popular forms of goals: business and health.
The reason we pursue goals we don’t like is twofold:
We think goals have to be miserable.
We believe perfectionism when it tells us that fun goals don’t count.
That’s why my counselor asked me to quit reading self-help books for a while. I was OD’ing on tired tomes that only made me feel like a failure. I’d buy each new book, hoping secretly that it would be harder to follow through on than the last one, with deeper mud and more hot wires.
I thought that progress had to feel that way. I thought fun didn’t count. That’s a lie. Fun not only counts, but it’s necessary if you want to beat perfectionism and get to the finish.
The crazy thing is that the aggressively nonfun approach doesn’t work. It might make you look good on Instagram as you impress your friends with your miserable grind, but scientifically speaking, joyless goals fail.
When you study goal setting you look at a variety of statistical factors, but the two most interesting are: (1) satisfaction, and (2) performance success. One speaks to how you felt about the process and the second focuses on what you actually got done.
choosing a goal you believe will be enjoyable increases your likelihood of satisfaction by 31 percent
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.
The common myth about high-level performance is that it must be grueling, painful, and difficult. But the scientists researching elite swimmers found to their surprise that even at the 5:30 A.M. practices, the swimmers “were lively, laughing, talking, enjoying themselves.” They continued, “It is incorrect to believe that top athletes suffer great sacrifices to achieve their goals. Often, they don’t see what they do as sacrificial at all. They like it.”
But keep in mind that the shortcut isn’t “find something fun”; the shortcut is “make it fun if you want it done.” There’s action involved in that. You have to do the work of making it fun. How?
Ask this question: “How could this goal be more fun?”
For some people, once the reward is detailed and clear, some sort of motivational engine is fired up. Once the path to retirement or paying for college is laid out, they run down it with vigor.
People who are motivated by a reward have what psychologists call an approach motivation. They are wired to approach the reward that accomplishing a certain goal will generate. The positive outcome is what drives them. That’s their version of fun
This is Reward Motivation
The two types of 'fun', related to your goal.
For others, a reward doesn’t move the needle at all. The pretty picture of the future is too far off, too boring, or too safe. Dreaming about retirement when you’re thirty is like trying to tell fifteen-year-olds they’ll get a great job someday if they focus on their high school studies.
They are not motivated by what could be if they acted; they are driven by what won’t be if they don’t. The fear that their kids won’t be able to go to college jolts them awake. A future where there is no Florida and they must work until the day they die shocks them into action. The fear of the future forces them to change the present.
This is called avoidance motivation. People motivated this way are not trying to achieve a desired outcome, they are trying to prevent an undesired outcome
This is Fear motivation
If you’re motivated by fear, don’t fight it as an adversary. Use it.
Cus D’Amato, Floyd Patterson and Mike Tyson’s trainer during the healthy years, knew the importance of fear. “You must understand fear so you can manipulate it. Fear is like fire. You can make it work for you: it can warm you in the winter, cook your food when you’re hungry, give you light when you are in the dark, and produce energy. Fear is a friend of exceptional people.”
In the past, have you been driven by fear or by reward? Are you inspired by the thought of sailing back into the harbor successfully or preventing a shipwreck deep at sea? As author Jonathan Fields says, is your goal to push a failure away from yourself or pull a victory toward yourself?
Failing to recognize what is “fun” or motivating is a big part of why goals often fail
Doing this was also a reminder that most people are not either-or when it comes to reward and fear motivation. Fear motivates me to prepare my speeches but a reward encourages me to work hard at my writing. (Page 65)
What about the flip side, if you’re motivated by fear? It’s often hard to think of a punishment version if you don’t hit the goal, but don’t be afraid to get creative. The cocreator of the show Billions and cowriter of the movie Rounders, Brian Koppelman, once had a movie script he just couldn’t get financed. People in the business told him it would be impossible because of the dark subject matter. The financiers would never go along with his plan and it was a hopeless situation. Finally, after a few frustrating months, he went to Nike.com and designed an incredibly ugly pair of sneakers. Written across them in bright pink was the name of the movie he was working on. He had to wear the hideous shoes until he finished. That day he dedicated himself to taking at least one concrete action each day.
A fun example of a 'punishment version'.
What’s your reward going to be? Or if you’re more motivated by fear, what’s the threat?
The more fun you add to your goal, be it in the form of fear or reward, the more likely you’ll actually finish.
Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress. Working hard for something we love is called passion.
— Simon Sinek
Perfectionism must hate this book right now. Let’s review the three actions I’ve recommended:
Cut your goal in half.
Choose what you’ll bomb.
Make it fun if you want it done.
On a scale of 1 to 10, how fun is the goal you might be working on?
Decide whether you’re motivated by fear or by reward.
Fun is often weird. (See balsam candle.) To flesh it out a little, finish this sentence: “This is weird, but I find ____fun.”
Pick three small points of fun you can add to your goal.
CHAPTER 5: Leave Your Hiding Places and Ignore Noble Obstacles
At the beginning of any goal, perfectionism focuses on destroying it with a full frontal attack.
It tells you that if it isn’t perfect, you should quit.
It says your goal isn’t big enough.
It criticizes you for even thinking about making it fun.
But if you hold on, if you refuse to allow perfectionism to denigrate your goal, it will completely change tactics. Unexpectedly, it will move from destruction to distraction.
When we dare to focus, a thousand other things beg for our attention. Everyone has heard the phrase “paralysis by analysis.” You can get stuck drawing a perfect plan and never actually get work done if you’re not careful. But more than just analysis, perfectionism offers us two distinct distractions:
A hiding place is an activity you focus on instead of your goal.
A noble obstacle is a virtuous-sounding reason for not working toward a finish.
Both are toxic to your ability to finish.
Let’s discuss hiding places first. A hiding place is the safe place you go to hide from your fear of messing up. It’s the task that lets you get your perfectionism fix by making you feel successful even as you avoid your goal.
You’re afraid to face the fear of imperfection that comes along with every endeavor, so you’re hiding from it by doing something that requires no skill. You might write a bad sentence on your blog, but no one’s going to critique the way you watch TV
Some hiding places are easily spotted as the unproductive traps they are. If you’re watching Netflix every time it’s time for you to do X, that’s a hiding place
Hiding places are tricky like that. They make you feel like you’re doing well when in reality you’re not getting anywhere on your most important projects
Identifying hiding places
Do you find yourself going there accidentally?
Do you have to play Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon to justify why you’re giving it time?
If you ever have to do a complicated, multistep explanation to say why what you’re doing is valuable, it probably isn’t
What do your friends think?
If you really want to find a hiding place, ask a friend. It’s easy to deceive yourself by thinking a task is useful, and we can’t identify it as a hiding place as quickly as a friend can
Once you identify the hiding places, the logical thing is to take the time, energy, and money you are spending in the hiding place and spend them on the activities that help you meet your goals.
You have a limited amount of time, energy, and money. We all do.
If something is stealing from any of those reserves, be careful.
If you identify one of these hiding places, you should stop going there with your time
Don’t spend your energy on hiding places if you can help it.
Finally, stop spending money on your hiding places. If you can’t afford to go to the gym you really like because you don’t have the money, expensive vacations might be a hiding place.
You are never more creative for new ideas than when you are almost done with an old one.
“What’s next” will always look more interesting than “what’s now.”
I don’t know if it is, but I know that ignoring it is the wrong approach.
Fighting it is a waste of time and energy. Instead, embrace it. Admit that it might indeed be awesome. And then make exploring it a condition of finishing the goal you are working on.
As anyone who has struggled with hiding places knows, one of the best ways to fall in love with a new goal is to just try to finish an old one.
What if that new thing that came out of seemingly nowhere is actually something you should definitely do? What if that’s the best idea you’ve ever had and it got stirred up by all your hard work?
Instead of feeling shame and trying to ignore that project, I placed it directly after the finish line for this book.
I didn’t say never; I said later.
Want to create a reward you really love? When new ideas or new goals get shiny, put them at the finish line. Don’t try to grow callous to the shiny objects; if anything, let them gleam. Let them be brighter than the noonday sun. Just make sure they point the way to the finish line.
No podcast until the book is done.
No other diet until you’ve finished the one you already committed to.
No other small business idea until you’ve completed the original one.
Line your finish line with the dream goals you’re currently using as hiding places and then watch how fast you’ll run toward it.
A noble obstacle is what perfectionism throws at you next if you deal with the hiding places
In the first kind of noble obstacle, perfectionism sneakily tells you that you cannot move toward your goal until you do something else: “I can’t do X until Y.” In the second kind, perfectionism tells you that reaching your goal could actually produce bad results or make you a bad person.
At the heart of it, a noble obstacle is an attempt to make your goal harder than it has to be so you don’t have to finish, but can still look respectable.
Some noble obstacles are personal and unique. They’re tailor-made to you
Others are common and easily identified, such as the word “until.”
The tricky thing is that “until” often wears a cloak of responsibility. It pretends that it’s not about being lazy but rather about making sure everything is in order before you start
Until I know why I have an issue with food, I can’t walk around the block at a brisk pace for more minutes today than I did yesterday.
Until I know what my entire book is about I can’t write the first hundred words.
Until I know where all the stuff in every room of my house is going to go I can’t clean this one room.
Examples of noble obstacles.
Until I get rid of distractions I can’t get anything done. If we believe we have to eliminate all distractions before we get work done, we will never work. There will always be one more amazing distraction. Our minds will do anything to avoid the challenge of focusing on something.
Speaking of heavy lifting, few things are as funny as the noble obstacles used by guys who tell me they don’t work out because they don’t want to get “too bulky.”
These guys are deploying the second kind of noble obstacle. Instead of saying “until,” they say, “if . . . then.” They claim that if they pursue their goal something bad will happen. Maybe the finish will turn them into a monster. Maybe they will turn into a bad person. Either way, because they’re wise and good guys, they just can’t pursue their finish.
I often find that this is in relation to wealth. People think that chasing wealth will make them bad people.
Often, the second kind of noble obstacle shows up in finances. You might decide to avoid eating healthy because if you buy healthy food you’ll be poor. Everyone knows Taco Bell is a lot cheaper than anything grass fed or cage free, so because you want to be wise with your finances, you stop moving toward your goal
You know you’re employing an “if . . . then” noble obstacle if you are only offering yourself two extreme options. Either you don’t work out at all or you lose so much weight you have to buy new jeans and constantly take photos standing in your old ones with the waist pulled out to show your progress
There is no in-between, just two extremes. That’s the land of noble obstacles.
Remember, perfectionism has no sense of gray, things are only black or white.
You do it perfectly or you don’t do it at all.
That tangled rat’s nest of complication was a Noble Obstacle for me. I didn’t want to buy a new computer. I wanted to buy the perfect new computer, so instead of just hiring an IT guy to guide me through the process for a few hours, I made the whole experience as complex as possible.
I didn’t want things to get easier, which is unfortunate, because that is exactly what finishers focus on.
Instead of making things complicated and difficult, instead of giving in to noble obstacles, finishers stack the odds before they even start
The good news is they don’t have to be massive. We’re not talking about shiny eureka moments. Sometimes stacking the odds is simply putting out your workout clothes the night before because at 6 A.M., you are a jerk and you will quit if you can’t find socks easily in the dark
Sometimes stacking the deck is planning your important work in the morning when you’re fresh and your busywork in the afternoon
Perfectionism always makes things harder and more complicated.
Finishers make things easier and simpler.
The next time you work on a goal, I dare you to ask the following questions during the middle of the project:
Could things be easier?
Could things be simpler?
If you want it done, aim for simple.
Perfectionism will tell you that you’ve spent so long in a hiding place that there’s no more time. You’ve missed some magical window. Your opportunity is gone. The chance has passed. Ridiculous.
Ask the three questions to identify your hiding places.
Share your hiding places with a friend. Give them the permission and power to tell you when they see you hiding.
Start creating a list of “next goals” so that you have a home for any new ideas that come up.
Find a hose, like Jason, our furniture builder. (Try to simplify your goal in one way.)
Admit and eliminate any side goals that you’ve taken on.
Ask a close friend what he or she thinks your noble obstacles are.
Worrying about your book’s marketing plan when you haven’t even finished writing the book is a noble obstacle.
Weighing grams of carbohydrates when you haven’t exercised a single minute all month is a noble obstacle.
Goals are simple but they are not easy. You must leave your hiding places. You have to abandon your noble obstacles. And in perhaps the strangest way to end a chapter, you better get ready to kill some birds.
CHAPTER 6: Get Rid of Your Secret Rules
At the core, perfectionism is a desperate attempt to live up to impossible standards. We wouldn’t play if we knew the whole game was impossible, so perfectionism promises us that we just need to follow some secret rules. As long as we do that, perfect is possible. So over the years, as you chase goals, perfectionism quietly adds some secret rules to your life.
The bigger rule was “For something to count, it has to be difficult.” A lot of high performers carry that sort of secret rule along with them. If an exercise is enjoyable and you have fun doing it, it must not count.
Joy then becomes a good indicator that you’re not working hard enough or making enough progress.
Pull that thread far enough and you end up with the rule “If I’m not miserable, I’m not doing something productive.”
You’ve got some secret rules that make it really difficult for you to finish.
I can teach you a million strategies and tricks, but if you’re bringing them home to a nest chock-full of parasites, none of it matters.
To deal with our secret rules, we have to do three things:
Let’s start with figuring out what they are.
That friend of yours who has a terrible boyfriend she has been engaged to for nine years? She believes the secret rule that she doesn’t deserve better. That family member who hates his job but doesn’t feel qualified for anything else? His secret rule tells him he’s lucky anyone would hire him at all.
Call it baggage, call it limiting beliefs, call it secret rules—the name doesn’t matter. The results do, and it would be useless to teach you a thousand ways to finish when your secret rule is going to trip you five feet from the finish line every time.
Identifying secret rules — questions to ask yourself
Do I even like ____?
One of perfectionism’s favorite secret rules is “Only miserable, difficult goals count.” (Page 107)
So we do things we hate because we think they would benefit us more than what we enjoy
What’s my real goal?
If you’re not excited about your goal right now, ask yourself, “What’s my real goal?” Make sure that what you’re chasing is actually what you want to catch. As you progress with your goal you should continue to come back to this gut-check question because it’s really easy to get off track despite your best intentions.
Does the method I’m using match who I am?
A very common secret rule is “What I’m naturally talented at doesn’t count.” If something comes easily or comfortably, it must not be good.
Is it time to quit?
“Winners never quit!” might look good on a poster, but it’s actually a lie and a dangerous secret rule. The truth is, there are some things you can’t learn until you try them. You might need to run a month or two before you decide if you like it.
One of perfectionism’s favorite secret rules is “Winners never quit.” Of course they do — people quit stupid things regularly. At times like that, it’s important to get wise counsel from people you know and trust. We’re often so wrapped up in our secret rules that we have a hard time seeing that quitting might be the best option for us. Finishing a goal you absolutely hate isn’t a win.
If you don’t have any information of your own, someone else does and will give it to you if you ask the right way.
Don’t ever accept the secret rule that you have to go it alone. Don’t let perfectionism isolate you.
Find someone with an amazing diploma and then borrow it.
Learn from others
What do you do once you’ve identified them? What’s the best next step?
It’s time to destroy them.
The first thing you should do is simply ask the question, “What does that mean?” for each secret rule you encounter.
You want to see how ridiculous your fake rule really is.
The second question to ask is “Who says?”
In a lot of situations, the answer is going to be “nobody.” No one says it has to be as difficult as you’re making it, but when we believe a cuckoo we act as if some authority has made it so.
The third step to getting rid of a secret rule is to write a new rule to replace it.
Listen for a few secret rules and write them down. (This will take longer than one sitting since you’re asking your head to Google something that might be hidden.)
Write the truth next to each secret rule. To find it, ask “What does that mean” and “Who says?”
Create a new rule to replace the old one.
Enlist a friend to help you see when you’re living by a secret rule.
CHAPTER 7: Use Data to Celebrate Your Imperfect Progress
Use data to remove emotional uncertainty and doubt. You can see when you're progressing, so you can't lie to yourself and think that you aren't. And if you aren't, you now have metrics to help you adjust your actions and keep going.
Progress can slow down at times, which is very natural. Perfectionism will try to capitalize on that.
Your emotions ("I'm not getting anywhere") can easily be disproven by just a bit of data.
If you aren't progressing, don't give up. Adjust. Try something new.
You'll be tempted to ignore the data, as if you are scared of it. You just have to acknowledge reality and deal with it. Not checking your bank account doesn't mean you don't have debts. Not weighing yourself doesn't mean you aren't overweight. The first step is to realize that, acknowledge it, and start working or it - or adjusting, so you'll start to see progress. Hiding from your problems doesn't solve them.
Denial is easy to see in others, but incredibly hard to see in yourself.
If you are close to the finish line, then, by all means, look towards it. But if you're in the middle of your goal, look toward the beginning. See how far you've come. In order to do so, you must have data. But it can propel you.
Try to learn from your past. What happened in the past that you can learn from?
Changing your goal here is not failure. It’s success! I’d much rather you refine your goal or pick a better one than have you limp through a process that’s difficult, with a goal that doesn’t matter to you.
Reviewing your past is one of the best ways to understand who you really are and how you’ll work best on a goal. Keep in mind that perfectionism can’t stand self-awareness. If you’re self-aware, you’re more likely to know and accept your limitations, which means you won’t fall for the promise of a perfect performance.
Pay attention to what works for you and use it.
What if you collected data and the results aren’t what you were hoping for? That’s why a lot of people quit. They give in to disappointment and unmet expectations.
If you’re unhappy with your progress, you have three different dials you can adjust.
You either change the goal, the timeline for it, or what you are doing in order to achieve it
Perfection will tell you that your data must be complicated. If you dare to gather some, it will have you tracking every ounce of water, second of time, and vowels used in the book you’re writing.
Our goal in this chapter is to get one to three points we can use. For what? To finish, which is what we’re about to do.
Write down one to three things you can track concerning your goal.
Review a goal from the past to see if you can learn anything.
Find your airplane. What’s the way you work best?
If you’re already in the middle of a goal, decide if you need to adjust your goal, timeline, or actions.
CHAPTER 8: The Day Before Done
I’ve never seen someone quit at mile 25 of a marathon.
I’ve never seen someone say, “You know what? I’m almost done. I can see the finish line, but I don’t like free bananas. It’s time to call it a day.”
the day before done is terrifying.
That’s how perfection feels about the day before done.
You fought through the day after perfect. You cut your goal in half. You killed your cuckoos. You made sure your goal is fun. You are inches away from finished and perfectionism knows it.
It only has one last chance to wreck the whole thing, one last opportunity to topple the entire goal.
And unfortunately, most people never see it coming.
We don’t talk about it. We know the middle is a grind. We understand collectively that there will be doldrums in the center of any endeavor. That’s when the going gets tough.
The last three fears
- Fear of what happens next
- The fear that it won't be perfect
- The fear of "what now"?
Sometimes you’re not afraid of the finish; you’re afraid of what happens after the finish. It’s one thing to complete your book. It’s another thing to have that book open to feedback from strangers on Amazon.
Talent you don’t claim turns into bitterness eventually.
You’ll figure out what’s next when you get there. Don’t worry about it now.
Why should you ignore perfection when it tries to predict something won’t be good enough? Because no one knows the outcome until after. Perfectionism sure doesn’t. Bon Jovi didn’t want to put “Living on a Prayer” on his album. He didn’t like the song and thought other people wouldn’t either. History is littered with examples like this.
You need an answer to what now. That’s a legitimate thing to think through, but again, don’t let perfectionism sneak in. It will tell you that you need a perfect answer to what now before you finish. That’s nonsense. You don’t need to have the next thing figured out before you finish this thing. Finish anyway.
Don’t let the fear of what’s next steal the joy of finishing what’s now. Don’t let perfectionism distract you with a fictional second goal when you’ve got a real one almost done
If one of those fears doesn’t stop you, simple reality will.
It’s easier to start a new goal than it is to finish an old one.
It’s amazing how attractive all our other desires get the closer we get to completing one. The Sirens who wooed Odysseus had nothing on the distraction of new goals that would shipwreck us in this moment.
Here’s a question you’ve never asked yourself:
“What am I getting out of not finishing?”
Because you’re getting something.
What are some common benefits people receive from not finishing? Here are three different things that three people who have a hard time finishing told me:
Control over the outcome.
Because if I try, I might fail. If I never try, I at least know the outcome.
Praise for being a martyr.
If you are “sacrificing” your goals by focusing on other aspects of life (children, spouse’s goals, other life events, for example), you receive accolades from others who are impressed by that “selfless” act.
Lowered expectations from other people.
If I try to succeed, then the expectations of perfection will be even higher next time. I’d rather occasionally surprise people with what I can do rather than build up a reputation of success.
This is a classic benefit of not finishing. You get to hold on to the illusion that you could finish if you really wanted to. Rather than try to find out you might not be good, you hide in the myth of maybe.
Identify which of the final fears of perfectionism you struggle with the most. (If any.)
Write down the name of one friend you can reach out to.
Answer the question, “What am I getting out of not finishing?”