Book Discussion: Finish, Part 1 – The Day after Perfect and Cut Your Goal in Half

What if the reason you aren’t completing the goals you start working toward is really a symptom of being a perfectionist? Maybe you don’t think you have a problem with perfectionism. Think again, friend.

According Jon Acuff, author of Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done, perfectionism is the villain we each have to overcome on our quest to complete more of the goals we start. In episode 272, we’re joined by guest host Jason Gass for the first in a series of collaborative discussions centered on Jon Acuff’s book and the practical tips within. In this first discussion, we’ll talk through the thesis of Finish by Jon Acuff and reactions to its first two chapters – The Day after Perfect and Cut Your Goal in Half.

Original Recording Date: 04-07-2024

Topics – A Guest Host and Our Episode Format, Overall Thesis of Finish by Jon Acuff, Chapter 1: The Day after Perfect, Chapter 2: Cut Your Goal in Half

2:14 – A Guest Host and Our Episode Format

  • Jason Gass joins us this week as a guest host. He is a Solution Architect at VMware by Broadcom and colleague of Nick’s who recommended Nick read Finish by Jon Acuff.
    • Nick admits he is a perfectionist and struggles with perfectionism.
    • Interestingly enough, it took Nick 6 months or more to actually buy the book and read it after Jason recommended it. He read it on Audible (his preferred consumption medium for books) and loved it.
  • Our episode format will be a boot review of Finish by Jon Acuff which has 3 specific framing questions throughout:
    • Do I believe this?
    • How did this affect me?
    • What am I going to do about it, or what have I done about it?
  • We will start with overall reactions to the book and then look at specific chapters.

4:01 – Overall Thesis of Finish by Jon Acuff

  • Jason says the main thesis of the book is centered on actually completing the goals we start. We get a number of ideas, set a goal, and tend to never finish / see them through to fruition.
    • John feels this could be on a macro scale or micro scale and span from changing your life drastically this year to what you might want to achieve over the course of a weekend.
    • Jason has micro level goals like taking his vitamins every day and still sometimes fails.
      • You’re not alone, Jason!
    • Making goals something we can achieve is extremely powerful, and part of getting there is conquering perfectionism.
  • Overall reactions:
    • John had a very positive reaction to the book and found it to be both consumable and believable. The advice within seemed to be something one could implement and achieve. Furthermore, John feels the book and its contents will help people accomplish more goals.
    • Jason reads this book every year now, finishing his second reading for the year a few weeks before we recorded this episode, and felt like the author was writing the book specifically for him. Jason recommended it to Nick and gave another friend a copy of the book as a gift.
    • Nick loves Acuff’s writing style, personal touch, and use of humor throughout. And Acuff narrates the book if you get on Audible! Nick really enjoys it when authors narrate their books on Audible.
    • Nick admits to consistently getting tons of ideas that he can never finish. Nick and John have never had a shortage of ideas for the podcast, and there have been so many times they have said something was a good idea only to leave it there and never take action to complete it.
    • Jason read the paper book but noticed some of Acuff’s other books on Audible had bonus content in their audio forms. Nick mentioned there is no bonus content on Audible specifically for Finish, but Audible did recommend Nick read some of Acuff’s other books (especially if Acuff narrates).
    • Nick feels like the theme of the book is frameworks we need and can use to shape the path to finishing, somewhat like molding the clay to shape the ideal environment to enable completing the tasks on the way to finishing.
    • Jason says the book is easy reading. He remembers reading it on a plane and being excited to read the next chapter. When Jason tells people about the book, the first thing he is usually asked is whether he finished it.
    • John listened to the book on Audible 5-6 times at 1.6x speed to do highlighting and note taking of relevant points. It was easy reading and easy listening. Though John would agree Acuff does well narrating the book, he does not think every author has the same skills as a narrator. Acuff’s performance did make John want to go explore other titles Acuff has written.
    • Structurally, John felt each chapter had a main point which was clearly stated. Sometimes the reveal of the main point was delayed longer than he would prefer. Each chapter had a series of points backed up by anecdotes and sometimes referencing data-backed studies.
    • Jason liked the way Acuff spoke about perfectionism as a villain in the first chapter and then each chapter shares how we can fight that villain. Jason thinks some points were repeated at times to make sure listeners really understand by the end of the book.
      • John agrees he liked the externalizing of the character of perfectionism as a 3rd party who wants to keep us from our goals. This framing is a lot like the way our self-talk works.
    • Jason never thought about perfectionism being the reason he doesn’t complete goals, especially since he feels a bit disorganized at times. After some reflection, Jason does like to “color inside the lines” and struggles when he feels he has gone outside them (a little obsessive compulsive at times too).
      • John thinks perfectionism with obsessive compulsion feels more like two different things. Obsessive compulsive might just be what we go to automatically when we think of perfectionism. John thinks you can be a perfectionist without being neat and without being tidy, but one thing may lead to the other (i.e. not being able to find a place for your stuff might keep you from cleaning up entirely).
    • Nick likes Acuff’s own stories of personal struggle with perfectionism. It makes you as the reader a bit more self-aware of how these struggles might manifest themselves in your own life. Nick hadn’t thought about some of the things covered in the book until he heard it presented in the book, which made Nick realize he definitely has the same struggle.

13:38 – Chapter 1: The Day after Perfect

  • This chapter’s thesis:
    • People tend to stop pursuing their goals once they can no longer perfectly accomplish what they set out to do.
    • We focus on the streak or unbroken chain, and when it is broken, we do not often restart. John mentions it is partially do to focusing on the wrong thing. The unbroken chain was a means to an end of the final goal.
      • If you’re trying to read the newspaper every day, it’s not that doing that task daily is the goal, but it becomes our focus. Being more well informed is the real goal. The daily reading is a means to an end.
    • Jason says it was a strong point right up front. We hear stories of people running or going to the gym consistently, and then something happens.
      • “The day after perfection is really the day that you choose to continue on or just quit, and that bar is unattainable. Let’s face it…. Ok, I couldn’t make it to the gym yesterday. What do I do? What’s more important? Well, what about tomorrow? If I get up and go tomorrow, then I beat that mindset that my track record is now ruined.” – Jason Gass
      • Any number of life circumstances could keep us from doing something like going to the gym (sickness, busy schedule, etc.).
      • Nick says the unbeaten sports team who finally loses a game in a season doesn’t just quit the league. They have more games to play.
  • When we create a goal, who are we promising? Jason reminds us that a goal is a promise to ourselves according to Acuff. We tend to remember the goals we failed to complete and forget about the ones we did complete.
    • Nick thinks of it as a loop that is not closed. It reminds him of the burnout discussion with Tom Hollingsworth from Episode 127. In that episode we talk about having things on your task list for months and not being able to complete them. It can eat away at you to have so many unfinished tasks.
    • These things take up head space according to John. Abandoning a goal means abandoning a promise to yourself, and this can create self-talk on the abandonment rather than the things you’ve completed.
    • “Moving forward imperfectly” is what John reacted to most strongly and plans to internalize.
      • “It’s not the streak. It’s not the perfection. It’s the overall goal…the metagoal of doing this that is the main point, the why of why I even started this…not the streak itself…not the perfection.” – John White
      • If we take the example of having one great work conversation per day, John might ask why to remind himself of the reason he set out to do it. Missing one day does not invalidate the goal.
  • Jason liked the story Acuff shared in the book on how we relate not finishing our goals to a train wreck (which in reality is an awful event that is expensive and may cause loss of life).
    • It was interesting how we relate not accomplishing a goal to a huge disaster. Nothing that horrible will happen if we miss going to the gym one day, for example. Tomorrow is another chance.
  • Developing a tolerance for imperfection is what can turn people into consistent finishers according to Acuff.
    • John says achieving the goal has to be more important than the perfect streak.
    • Jason mentions even starting in grade school, we want to get an A. This continues throughout school. But each person who completes their education (even if they didn’t make all As or any As) has accomplished the same goal of getting the diploma / degree. We can have the occasional B or C.
    • Nick says perhaps it’s submission of control. When we are focused on being perfect we may be trying to control the outcome. Once we become imperfect, it makes us feel like we have lost control of the outcome.
    • “I think we have to abandon the idea that we can be perfect period.” – Jason Gass
    • Acuff tells us in the book our goals will be imperfect at some point (whether quickly after we start or otherwise). Jason says we need to understand something is going to happen, and it’s more about what we decide to do when something does happen.
    • “It’s…regaining the control over the outcome and your ability to achieve it as opposed to measuring it by every little intermediate step that you might think that you need to do along the way.” – John White
    • “The day after perfect is what separates the finishers from the starters. The day after is the make it or break it for every goal.” – Jon Acuff (quote Jason wrote down)
    • We should also reject the idea that we’ve failed when the day after perfect comes. John may print out the sequence of quotes and hang it on the wall to help remind himself.
  • Jason says he’s read a lot of books on goal setting, and this book is different.
    • Many people think we have problems starting goals, but Jason does not believe we have problems starting the goal but rather the continuation of the goal.
    • We have to figure out how to keep up the hype and momentum to continue.

22:41 – Chapter 2: Cut Your Goal in Half

  • Acuff starts this chapter by essentially telling us we’re stating our goals incorrectly and that we’re a little overambitious. Maybe we should seek to make our goals consistently achievable.
    • The Planning Fallacy can be self-defeating. If someone wanted to run a marathon and didn’t run, maybe that person should start with working to run 1 kilometer and then set a higher distance goal.
    • Nick says cutting your goal in half is like immediately being told and having to accept you were wrong. It can be hard to accept this.
  • An alternative point here is to double the time to achieve your goal if you cannot cut your goal in half.
    • If you need to pay off debts, for example, you wouldn’t pay off only half of them. But you can give yourself more time to do it. Despite the potential for paying more in interest, giving yourself more time to pay off debts increases your chances of actually doing it.
  • Mention of the Planning Fallacy resonated with Jason. Sometimes he will go into even a weekend with a long list of tasks to accomplish, and once Sunday comes around, he may be nowhere close to finishing everything on the list.
    • Not accomplishing everything we set out to do makes us feel bad.
    • Now Jason makes his list for the weekend knowing he will only achieve so much and being ok with some tasks waiting until the following weekend.
    • John says we shouldn’t have a negative opinion of ourselves for not realizing the complexity of a task and incorrectly estimating the time something really takes.
    • Jason feels we are awful at estimating and gives the example of some home projects taking far longer than he imagined. He also references a study Acuff shares in the book about a group of college students underestimating the time it would take to complete their thesis for both a best case and worst case time estimate.
    • This idea of cutting the goal in half or doubling the time really helps narrow down what is reasonable to accomplish.
    • And if we do have success when cutting a goal in half or doubling the time, we get a feeling of success. Those successes can stack on top of one another, and you become someone who more consistently completes goals instead of just starting and abandoning.
    • Jason mentions the snowball effect of accomplishing even the smallest goals. He follows Dave Ramsey and references The Debt Snowball. This video is a great explanation of the debt snowball concept, which is the idea of starting with the smallest debt first and focus all effort there until it is paid. Then focus on the next highest debt.
    • Nick remembers reading Why Smart Kids Worry and the importance of helping children remember their wins to decrease anxiety.
  • John plans to incorporate these ideas into all of his goals.
  • Jason mentions we have work goals that don’t allow for doubling the time or cutting them in half (like the salesperson who has a specific quota).
    • When Jason was in IT Operations, he remembers migration or upgrade projects whose deadlines couldn’t be moved, and in those cases, they had to get creative and add more resources / personnel to help meet the deadline. That’s another idea on how to get creative to hit a goal.
    • We have to prioritize and might even have to put another goal on hold if something has an immovable deadline.

Mentioned in the Outro

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