The “Poor Finisher” Myth – Why There Are Only Poor Starters

running sunset

“Starting isn’t my problem, it’s finishing I struggle with.”

If you think finishing is your weakness, I want you to think about a time when you didn’t finish a project. Have one in mind? Ok, now think about what this question means and answer it honestly.

Wasn’t the real problem that you stopped starting?
The “poor finisher” thought comes from thinking too broadly. You may start a project and not finish it, and then call yourself a weak finisher, but the initial start of a project is nothing more than a single work session with plans for more. If you don’t start the other sessions, you call yourself a weak finisher, but it was your failure to start again that foiled your plans.

This is the case with exercise, writing a book, or starting a company. You need 74 individual work sessions to finish the project or goal, and each of those sessions requires a decision to start again. Finishing comes from starting a whole lot.

If you quit a session sooner than planned, is that being a poor finisher? Maybe for that one session, but it only becomes an issue for your project if you don’t start again on another day. Even looking at an individual session, you view that early withdrawal as a failure to start again. After all, because humans lose their focus so often, we must restart it frequently.

Finishing is merely the byproduct of a consistent and dedicated starter. Finishers are the people who wake up sore in the morning and say, “I’m going to start anyways.” The person who can start and restart at will, always finishes.

To start or restart, you need three key things:

  1. A decision to start – a common reason for failure is the lack of a committed decision to succeed.
  2. A starting time – If you’re not starting at a specific time, you aren’t starting. What’s worked well for me is this timer tab. I simply start the timer for an hour, and when the clock starts, so do I. When it stops, so do I (unless I’m in a rhythm and want to continue).
  3. A good reason to start – humans don’t like to do anything for no reason. Make sure you have 1+ reason(s) to start, and that you run through the benefits to remind yourself.

I heard a story about a man who paid workers to dig a hole in the ground. The next day, he offered the double the pay, but their job was to fill in the hole they had worked all day to dig before. On the third day, he doubled their pay again, and you guessed it, their job was to dig another hole where they had just filled it in. Before too long, all of the workers quit, even though they would have been making a lot of money.

I can’t remember if this was a parable or a true story, but the point remains that we need to feel like our actions are meaningful in order to keep doing something.

So if you have these three things…

  1. The decision to start
  2. A time to start
  3. A good reason to start

Then you will start. And if you keep starting, you’ll finish too!

For those of you who are thinking, “this is just semantics,” consider that words affect the way the mind perceives data and solves problems.

I honestly don’t know how to “finish” something, and neither does my brain. What does it mean? Is that like tipping in a missed shot from another basketball player?

But I do know how to start working on something until it’s finished. Finishing is always the result of starting – it’s a result, not a task.

Thinking about finishing as a goal is vague in the same way that big tasks are – you have to give yourself small sequential steps or else you’ll procrastinate and stall because either you don’t have a clear “step one” or step one looks like a small mountain.

If you want to finish something, simply start and start again until it’s done.

PS. Happy 100th Postday To Deep Existence!

About the Author

I'm lazy, but you can call me Stephen. When you're as lazy as I am, you need superior strategies to live well. My strategies are so effective that I'm productive every single day. As the world tries to figure out how to always stay motivated, I create strategies that don't require it.

Vincent Nguyen

Whoa, I’ve honestly never looked at progress like that before. That’s a very interesting way to look at it. Did you think of this idea yourself or did something/someone inspire you?

Stephen Guise

I just thought of it myself today. I’ve been focusing a lot on what it takes to start and the impact of starting small, and then I realized that if you can always get yourself to start, you’ll finish eventually. It was an “aha” moment for me. 🙂

Trevor Wilson

This was great Stephen! I’ve never thought about it like that before. Very cool way of looking at things. Original. Out of the box.

And I gotta say . . . I think you’re on to something.

I’m gonna try and apply that thinking to my own current projects and see if the different perspective provides additional drive. I have a feeling it will.

Thanks for the unique insight Stephen! Great stuff!


Oh, and congrats on the 100th post! That’s a real milestone!

Stephen Guise

Thanks! That’s great Trevor. Let me know if you notice a difference with this mindset.

I am seeing a difference so far. It simplifies life when I’m only concerned with starting. It works too. Once I start, I get into whatever it is.


Onder Hassan

Such a great article Stephen,
This article reminds me of the idea that we can never be too ready or to perfect to start and that the only way around it is to just start and to learn from your mistakes.
Even if you finish poor, at least you finished, and that’s all that matter.

Stephen Guise

Thanks Onder. I agree that we should not try for perfection, but simply try and learn. What isn’t obvious in the beginning is that you can often try multiple times by the time you had the perfect situation and strategy set up. And when you try, you get real world experience, which is more reliable than any projection.

Onder Hassan

Exactly. It makes complete sense because no matter how well we know the path, there’s simply no preventing mistakes that will come along the way due to lack of experience, understanding and the fact that we’re only humans and meant to make mistakes.

Stephen Guise

Well said. We can’t prevent mistakes with knowledge alone, so we might as well dive in!

Comments are closed