Why can’t I finish what I started?

Idle Achiever

There’s great satisfaction in getting things done.

We get involved. We learn things. We find order in chaos. And the ultimate reward: We make progress that is appreciated (even if it’s just by us).

This kind of soul-nourishing effort rates as high as money, if not higher, when it comes to motivation. It helps define purpose and give us the ambition to stick with it.

But every so often, almost unwittingly, our ambition withers and things languish half finished. At Unstuck, we call this acting like an Idle Achiever. We’re unable to commit to the project or the person or the mission at hand. Instead, we start and stop like we’re driving a stick shift for the first time.

To smooth out this herky-jerky moment, it helps to understand how we got there in the first place. Take our mini-quiz to find out what type of Idle Achiever you tend to be. Then, the next time idleness strikes, try out the exercises on our “Done and Done” printable worksheet.

Idle Achiever mini-quiz: Think of a time when your obligation was clear (a project or relationship), but you just couldn’t stick with it. Then quickly answer the following three questions:

How did you Feel when you didn’t stick with it?
A. Uneasy
B. Tapped out
C. Energized

What did you Think when you didn’t stick with it?
A. Maybe it will work out after all
B. I wish I had the mind space but I don’t
C. This is going to be fabulous one day!

What did you Do when you didn’t stick with it?
A. Kept putting it on the bottom of my to-do list
B. Made half-hearted attempts
C. Talked about the idea, which led to more ideas

If you chose mostly A answers, read about Doubtful Achievers, below. Mostly Bs, you’re likely a Frazzled Achiever. Cs are Daydream Achievers. If you had a mix of letters, you’re a hybrid, which means you’ll find parts of yourself in all three types.

A. When you act like a Doubtful Achiever…
Your belief isn’t nearly as strong as your capability. Certainly you can do what’s required, but you’re not sure it’s worth it. Your sense of duty pushes you forward, your misgivings pull you back. And so begins the cycle of starting and stopping that churns away in your gut.

You need to decide if you can fully get on board or not. Your doubt will continue to do a number on you until you dismiss it or determine if it’s valid. Sometimes, an ulterior force masquerading as doubt could steer you in the wrong direction. On the other hand, if your doubt is legit, definitely pay heed to it.

Try this exercise to get to the root of your doubt.

B. When you act like a Frazzled Achiever…
It means your supersonic multitasking is at capacity — you don’t have the wherewithal for anything more. But, oh, how you wish you did, so you keep your hat in the ring. “I’m doing the best I can at the moment,” you think. But to others, your efforts may seem spotty.

You need to trade one bite-size commitment for another. If your schedule has no give at the moment, pretending otherwise cheats everyone involved. Instead, focus your planning-and-doing prowess on swapping out a current obligation for a new one. Maybe even put a second responsibility on the shelf to give yourself some leeway.

Try this exercise to figure out a workable way to participate.

C. When you act like a Daydream Achiever…
The world is your oyster…except that your romance with the idea outweighs your momentum to make it happen. Of course you want to see it to fruition, but it’s far more rewarding right now to think and plan and discuss. You’ll worry about actually getting it done later.

You need to recruit some assistance to shift from thinking to doing. Left to your own devices, you might blue-sky things past their expiration date. And that’s okay if the point is to think about the possibilities rather than act on them. But assuming you want to achieve the goal, find someone to help you do that — a coach, an expert, or an assistant.

Try this exercise to kick start your doer mode.

DOWNLOAD THE PRINTABLE WORKSHEET: Done and Done — How to break the start-stop cycle so you can finish

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