When I’m not geeking out on systems, I’m thinking about finishing: how we start things, how we complete them, and all the tricky phases in between.
What I’ve been noticing lately is this:
I don’t know if it’s nature or nurture, biology or culture, but for all that goes undone in our lives, completion still seems to be one our deepest drives.
And if we can’t get completion one way, we’ll get it another.
Let’s say Today is the Day. Today is the day you are going to power through this Thing and Get. It. Done.
You’ve even set yourself up to be distraction-free and energetically-supported. The browser is closed, healthy snacks are at the ready, and so forth.
You dive in. You are focused. You are in flow. For hours. It’s happening. And then -slam- you hit the wall. Though you aren’t Done, you are done.
Fully spent, you walk away from the keyboard or the easel or the books and seek out your favorite – or at least habitual – form of post-work R&R.
You are exhausted. And yet restless – and here’s my hypothesis – because that drive for completion hasn’t been satiated.
So you go looking for it.
But a tired mind makes poor choices, so you go looking for completion in all the wrong places.
In that restlessness, your R&R slips into something more pernicious and next thing you know a snack with a rerun has morphed into a much-too-late-night marathon of back-to-back episodes and polishing off not just a bag of chips, but also that pint of ice cream.
Or it suddenly becomes inexplicably important to master all the levels of that new computer game. Never mind that it’s now past midnight and your mouse-clicking arm is burning up and tomorrow is going to be a slow-as-molasses-caboose-dragging hell.
At least you will have finished something today.
Except you still won’t feel satisfied. The unconscious choices of a tired mind are poor substitutes. They leave us wanting and create more problems than they solve.
It’s much better that we finish what we originally start.
Fortunately, completion is largely a matter of perception. And this isn’t about increased efficiency and productivity, it’s about transitions.
But let’s say you didn’t. Let’s say your Worried Hurried Mind Hamster insisted that you get started without any more of this dilly-dallying on preparation.
Or let’s say you ignored your WHMH and did name your Conditions, but you were way off in your estimate of the work at hand and/or your capacity to do that work. (It happens.)
By the time late afternoon came around, your body and your mind were giving you all kinds of small signals that your energy was waning, that the window of productivity was closing soon. But -goshdarnit- you were going to finish this Thing! So you kept powering through, congratulating yourself for your discipline, until you just couldn’t anymore – until you couldn’t do anything but step away from your project.
Then again, maybe you were interrupted. Or had to move on to another commitment.
Whatever the reason for the sudden stop, it was a lame transition. It was the sort of dismount in which you decidedly did not Stick Your Landing. Again, it’s my hypothesis that sloppy dismounts are what leave us in that wanting, restless state – a state in which we go looking for completion in all the wrong places.
I’m testing that hypothesis by acting on the signals of waning energy sooner, even especially when I’m nowhere near done, so I have oomph left for some kind of closure.
This is the real act of self-discipline. Having become attached to an outcome when setting my intention, I later find it challenging to step away sooner rather than later. It’s disappointing and frustrating.
Yet pushing to the point of exhaustion doesn’t make those feelings go away. I just end up tired on top of disappointed and frustrated. And again, a tired mind makes poor choices about how to feel those feelings (or not).
Sticking my landing is about feeling those feelings, acknowledging and celebrating what has been done, and declaring myself finished even though intent and reality didn’t match up – while I still have enough energy left to do so.
I’m sure there are as many ways as there are people to move through a conscious transition of closure. The crucial thing seems to be generating that sensation of completion for oneself in some way, otherwise we’re doomed to looking for it in all the wrong places – and a perpetual state of dissatisfaction. And that’s no way to have a healthy relationship with Time or ourselves.
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Do you end up looking for completion in all the wrong places on those days when it doesn’t come from where you expected it to?
Where do you end up seeking substitutes? Are they genuinely satisfying?
How do you generate a sense of completion when you come up short of a goal?
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