Feb 9, 2016

How to be a good finisher

Image Source: https://thebonablog.com/2016/02/22/top-5-a-race-to-the-finish-line/
 On my farewell day at Oracle in 2006, one of my senior colleagues said to me "You are a good finisher". It struck me and I was glad that someone else was able to spot something about my personality that I wasn't even aware of.

A finisher is someone who takes initiatives to completion and persists at them for long enough. In today's distracted world, we start multiple new initiatives at work, at home, as part of our continuous learning process, new hobbies etc. But the steam dies down after a few days, weeks or months. The opportunities are aplenty and there's no reason to stick to one thing if it doesn't work out. But persisting, keeping at it and taking it to completion has numerous advantages.

It helps us to proceed down the road of mastery. As we practice a skill long enough, we become exponentially better, it gives us tremendous confidence and boosts our self-esteem. Even if we started out as novice, we can progress step by step and reach the pinnacle if we persist.

Having said that, I don't think I'm the perfect finisher yet. There have been many new projects and initiatives that I had started but dropped mid-way. But there have been instances where I'm carrying through without losing interest. These provided me opportunities to learn what it takes to be a good finisher. In short, it requires these 6 steps.

(1) Be a great starter
Yes, that's right. You ought to be a great starter to become a good finisher. A starter is someone who is curious, willing to learn and explore new avenues and ready to step out of his/her comfort zone. I'm a firm believer that learning is an ongoing process and the moment you stop learning, you become dull and boring. Read up on new topics, research about experts in those areas, listen to their talks, be curious.

(2) Address niggling, resistance-inducing excuses
After you begin a new initiative - be it learning a new skill, practicing a new hobby or starting a positive habit, the initial few weeks are extremely important. This time period can be exciting but can also make you anxious and feel overwhelmed. We start to look for excuses that will make us eventually quit. Ever tried starting a new form of physical exercise? The number of excuses our mind throws up is just unbelievable - "Oh, the gym is too far", "my shoes are not comfortable", "the instructor pushes me too much", "I'm tired" etc etc. Be conscious of these excuses and try addressing atleast a few of them to quieten your excuse-spewing mind.

(3) Give yourself time
I started with blogging way back in 2004. It was jittery and I was struggling with getting the right words. The thoughts weren't free flowing as I wanted them to be. But I kept at it for more than 10 years. There have been weeks (and sometimes months) when I hadn't written a single word but the slump didn't push me out of the track. After 10+ years, I'm more confident with my writing abilities. Words flow much more faster and easier. And most importantly, I enjoy the process of writing. It's one such activity where I experience "flow" most of the times in a week. Many of my friends who started along with me and who were better writers than me blogged for a couple of years with some interesting, creative work but unfortunately they dropped out.

(4) Accept your current skill level
My colleague had commented about me being a good finisher, seeing my persistence at Toastmasters for nearly 4 years. Public speaking didn't come naturally to me. I was struggling a lot. Stage fear, excess use of filler words, lack of clear structure and many such areas that I needed to improve upon. There were wonderful speakers who spoke with clarity and conviction during my initial few Toastmasters sessions. It was easy to just give up, looking at their performance levels. But I decided to accept that I needed to climb a tall ladder to address many of my shortcomings. At the end of 4 years of Toastmasters, I became a confident speaker, learnt a lot and made many friends.

Just like writing, public speaking has become an activity that I started to enjoy and look forward to. With every speaking opportunity, I learn more about my abilities - what works and what doesn't. Acceptance is a critical requirement towards mastery. Accept yourself for who you are and where you are currently.  Do not criticize or loathe yourself. Most importantly, do not compare yourself with others who might be better.

(5) Don't let the steam blow out
When we start learning any new skill, there's the initial novelty period where we go full steam and try to learn as much as we can. But the steam dies out after a few weeks, either naturally or due to some obstacles on the way. It's better to take it slow and admit that roadblocks are bound to happen. In 2012, I started learning Python (the programming language) and was progressing nicely with full enthusiasm for a couple of months. But as I started stepping into more advanced concepts, I hit some roadblocks and then eventually quit learning Python.

(6) Set intermediate, tangible milestones
The power of goals cannot be undermined when you seek mastery. They motivate us and keep us on our toes, specifically those with timelines. As we set out to master a new skill or a new hobby, plan and setup a few intermediate milestones that are tangible. Create a roadmap for yourself. Keep them realistic and at the same time, a little challenging to push your limits. Celebrate when you hit those intermediate checkpoints. If you are unable to, don't fret too much. Do course correction and keep moving.

Are you a good finisher? What other steps do you take to keep up your motivation and persist with the initiative/skill/hobby? How do you handle obstacles along the way? Do share your thoughts. Would love to hear from you.

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