When was the last time you stopped reading a book halfway through?
Walked out of a crappy movie?
Stopped playing a video game before beating it?
If you’re anything like me, you have an affinity for finishing whatever you’ve started. Heck, there are even sayings out there that tell us, “Don’t start what you can’t finish.”
Well, I’m here to tell you today that this can actually be the wrong attitude to have. In fact, there are PLENTY of reasons why you need to stop he unfinished. Not only that, but we often say “yes” to things only out of obligation and end up regretting our decision.
Today, we’re going to start using two important words in our life to stop doing crap we dislike, and start spending more time on the things that are TRULY important to us.
Those words are “STOP” and “NO.”
Well, four words, because my parents taught me to say “No, thank you.”
The myth of “complete”
Human beings, by nature, are wired to enjoy progress. We love seeing “the end.” We love being able to check off boxes that say “complete.”
Xbox Live changed the landscape of videogames by adding an achievement system – we now spend more time than ever chasing down elusive goals and spending dozens of extra hours playing games we no longer enjoy, just so we can get the coveted “100% complete.” In a way, we have become virtual addicts, chasing the next dopamine ‘high’ we get from the promise of achievement – whether or not we actually enjoy the activity.
For a long time, that was me, and I still struggle with it!
For example, a few nights ago I spent 20 minutes in bed playing freaking FLAPPY BIRD on my iPhone, trying to get to a score of 50. I woke up this morning and kept playing, until realizing I had spent another 20 minutes on it…then I immediately deleted it from my phone.
A few months back, I had completed Batman: Arkham City and was gearing up for another 40 hours of gameplay to collect all of the Riddler’s trophies, when I quickly pulled the disc out of the PS3 and left my apartment and moved onto another game.
If I had ever started something in the past, I was damn sure I was going to finish it. Any book, any movie, any TV series. And if there was a way to get to 100% on something, I would do everything in my power to get there, even at the sake of shirking other responsibilities and no longer enjoying myself, just to see that “complete” screen.
I’m sure I’m not the only person who can relate to Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory, who can’t leave anything unfinished:
I had to start reminding myself that my time is limited – that spending time on things that no longer produce happiness or joy simply because “I need to finish it” is not a valuable use of my time.
It’s called the “Sunk Cost Fallacy,” (explained perfectly here on LifeHack) AKA, “I’m already doing it/already paid for it, so I might as well keep doing it.” This is terribly destructive and unproductive.
Think of all of the things you’ve started, lost interest in, but kept doing long after its lost its appeal:
TV Shows and Books: Just because you watched seasons 1-3 of a show or bought books 1, 2, and 3 doesn’t mean you need to watch or read the rest…especially if you no longer enjoy the series! That time can go towards developing a new skill, reading a new book, spending more time with friends and family, and so on.
Projects: When was the last time you kept dumping time, energy, and resources into something because, “well, I started it.” This is me; I recently had to make a few very difficult decisions to halt projects that I was continuing simply because I had started them. Almost immediately there was a weight lifted off my shoulders, and I could get back to focusing on the things that truly brought me joy.
A meal: Just because you paid for a full meal at a restaurant does NOT mean you need to eat the whole thing, especially if you’re beyond full. The I “well, I already paid for it” argument doesn’t hold water. If you purchase a meal and don’t want to finish it, move on with your life, save yourself a bloated stomach and the “ugh why did I eat so much,” and leave it on the plate.
A crappy relationship! Just because you’ve been dating somebody for a year and you’re absolutely miserable doesn’t mean you need to stay in that relationship. It’s painful to come to this realization, and can require a difficult conversation, but it sure beats spending the rest of your life unhappy and unfulfilled.
Your career – Just because you got a degree in one thing and worked in a certain industry doesn’t mean you need to stay on that path. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been in that industry. As musician Stephen Kellogg points out in his fantastic TEDx talk, he’d rather be at the bottom of the ladder he wants to climb than the top of the one he doesn’t.
Now, I’m not going to tell you to “just follow your passion” and you’ll suddenly have a job that makes you a million dollars. It doesn’t work that way, and you don’t need to sit around beating yourself up when you can’t decide what your passion is.
What I will tell you is that it’s okay to stop playing a crappy game of life and start working towards a game you actually enjoy.
JUST BECAUSE YOU STARTED DOESN’T MEAN YOU NEED TO FINISH!
We all know grit is a key determinant in figuring out long term success, but throwing time and energy into things, out of sheer obstinance and stubbornness, isn’t recipe for success.
We all have things in our lives that we continue to do simply because we started them. Now, just quitting things all the time won’t make you successful. However, quitting things so that you can devote that extra time, energy, and willpower to completing more important projects WILL.
it’s okay to say No
Speaking of concepts that took me 29 years to grasp, I only am now getting to understand the importance of this one.
Up until about 6 months ago, I used to say YES to everything, like Jim Carey in Yes Man. Every trip, every night out, every adventure, every request for coffee, every interview…out of obligation or because I worried I would miss out on something if I said no. “FOMO” is a real thing, and I’ve lived a crazy amount of my life using it as a guiding tool.
However, I’ve recently come to realize that saying yes to anything and everything has kept me from many things that I truly need to accomplish.
I started saying “NO” to opportunities, trips, and requests, which was terrifying – my brain repeatedly says “WHAT IF I MISS SOMETHING EPIC!?!?!” However, this has allowed me to actually complete the important stuff that I need to get done, take care of myself and my health, and spend quality time with people who are important to me.
As Eric Barker points out on his fantastic blog:
“No” creates focus.
Warren Buffett once said: “The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say “no” to almost everything.”
And that’s what gives them the time to accomplish so much.
We need to stop saying “yes” to things out of obligation. Think of how many parties, events, or meetings we attend out of obligation, and end up spending our time being unhappy and miserable while there.
Now, I’m not telling you to stop being social. Obviously that is crucial to happiness what I’m saying is, don’t feel bad skipping out on events you never wanted to attend in the first place.
My friend Derek Sivers employs a fantastic tactic that I’ve recently started using with more regularity: “No more yes. It’s either HELL YEAH! or no.”
Yup, you MIGHT disappoint some people; you MIGHT miss out on something cool.
HOWEVER, more often than not, you’re going to avoid the things you don’t really care to attend, which will free up your most valuable resource (time) so that you can spend it on more important things such as friends, family, loved ones, advancing a new skill, exercising, or learning to cook a decent meal.
If you’re a busy parent, or somebody that spends their time trying to make EVERYBODY happy, you’re most likely going to miss out on important stuff because you say yes to too many things out of obligation. Try saying “No thanks!” to something, and spend that time instead on something you enjoy.
We all complain about not having enough time every day, but rarely do we take the time to sit down and look at the things that we unnecessarily spend our time on.
I have two missions for you today:
MISSION 1: Stop something you’ve started. A show, a book, a game, a project that no longer holds any appeal.
MISSION 2: Say no to something. Say no to something you felt obliged to say yes to, and spend that time instead doing something of importance or something that you truly enjoy.
Here’s what I did:
STOP: I stopped reading “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.“ I really wanted to like it, but my scatterbrain really struggled. After struggling to get halfway through, I’m setting it aside. Maybe I’ll come back to it in a few years and try again. Instead, I’m reading “The Everything Store” and I can’t put it down.
NO THANKS: I said no to a concert this weekend that I considered attending. After four straight weekends of travel, I’m going to stay home, read, recover, and get caught up on a few things I have been putting off due to over-committing recently.
Your turn! Leave a comment with something you said STOP to, and something you said NO to.
And then spend that time being more awesome 🙂