Book Discussion: Finish, Part 3 – Get Rid of Your Secret Rules and Use Data to Celebrate Your Imperfect Progress

Could you be making false assumptions which only serve to keep you from achieving your goals? Secret rules take self-reflection to discover, destroy, and replace with rules based on the truth. In addition to getting rid of secret rules, we can collect data to measure progress toward a goal. Even though our efforts working toward a goal won’t be perfect, data allows us to better understand that we are moving in the right direction.

In episode 274, we’re joined by guest host Jason Gass to discuss the following chapters from Finish by Jon Acuff:

  • Chapter 6: Get Rid of Your Secret Rules
  • Chapter 7: Use Data to Celebrate Your Imperfect Progress

Original Recording Date: 04-07-2024

Topics – A Book Discussion Series, Chapter 6: Get Rid of Your Secret Rules, Chapter 7: Use Data to Celebrate Your Imperfect Progress

A Book Discussion Series

  • This is part 3 of a book discussion series centered on Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done by Jon Acuff.
    • If you missed part 1 of our discussion, check out Episode 272.In that first episode we discussed the following topics:
      • Reasons Jason Gass (our special guest host in this series) recommended the book
      • Chapter 1 – The Day after Perfect
      • Chapter 2 – Cut Your Goal in Half
    • If you missed part 2 of our discussion, check out Episode 273. In that second episode in the series we discussed:
      • Chapter 3 – Choose What to Bomb
      • Chapter 4 – Make It Fun if You Want It Done
      • Chapter 5 – Leave Your Hiding Places and Ignore Noble Obstacles

2:56 – Chapter 6: Get Rid of Your Secret Rules

  • “Perfectionism is a desperate attempt to live up to impossible standards. We wouldn’t play if the game was impossible, so perfectionism promises us that we just need follow some secret rules. As long as we do that, perfect is possible. So over the years, as you chase goals, perfectionism quietly adds some secret rules to your life.” – Jon Acuff
  • One of the secret rules Acuff discusses is that a goal must be difficult in order for it to count (i.e. can’t be easy).
    • John mentions the goal to read books from an earlier chapter and the secret rules we impose on ourselves. When we think of reading books we might say that means the books must be paper books and a certain level of complexity.
      • This might make us think a book can’t be children’s books, an anthology of short stories, poems, an audiobook, a book of art, etc.
    • Nick mentions a secret rule related to technical conferences. People think they need to have a presentation written when they submit an abstract to speak. That’s not true at all. You just need a good abstract, and you can worry about writing the presentation if you are selected to speak.
  • Acuff tells us to deal with secret rules we have to:
    • Identify them
    • Destroy them
    • Replace them
  • According to the book, ask yourself these questions to identify secret rules:
    • Do I even like …?
    • What’s my real goal?
    • Does the method I’m using match who I am?
    • Is it time to quit?
  • Jason mentions people don’t often reassess goals to see if those goals are still things they want to accomplish. It may very well be time to quit.
    • If we’re studying a specific industry or for a technical certification in one area and things change (i.e. job change, etc.), the goal may no longer apply to our situation.
    • It’s ok to look at a goal and decide it needs to be replaced by something else.
    • The secret rule here is “winners never quit.”
  • John likes the question about the method being used matching who the person is.
    • He remembers hearing a stand up comedy routine from Nate Bargatze about the P90x in which Nate said he had ordered P90x after never having worked out in the past.
    • For the person who decides they want to run a marathon, do you even want to run? And furthermore, can you run?
      • Jason mentioned before he will run in short races for the experience but has no desire to run a marathon.
        • Maybe we should think back to why we’re doing what we are doing, if it’s actually enjoyable, and if there might be another way to accomplish the goal.
        • Playing a sport can provide some good exercise. Jason gives the example of his father-in-law playing golf and walking the course instead of renting a cart. It’s more fun than walking around a track, for example.
      • John says there seems to be a secret rule out there which states running marathons is a good goal. Consider whether marathon runners are healthy in the way you want to be healthy.
        • And why stop at just a marathon? What about ultramarathons? What determines the number of miles to run that gets you to “healthy?”
        • People have this idea that something difficult must be better.
  • Nick says deciding to quit is a hard one because of the potential shame, but we need to be careful. Quitting goal after goal may be a sign that you’re picking the wrong goal.
    • It’s not bad to quit, but pay attention to what you quit and why you quit to inform future goal setting.
    • John says it’s ok to refactor a goal. Maybe you want to be well rounded in your technical knowledge based on the technical position you hold today.
      • “So if you switch technical roles and it’s covering different technology, abandoning one set of certifications and replacing them with another set of certifications or even just general background knowledge isn’t quitting. It’s just reorienting around the new position and what it is that you’re doing.” – John White, on refactoring a goal
      • Changing positions a lot may be a different thing and a different goal.
  • Jason likes Acuff’s concept of borrowing someone else’s diploma.
    • At work Jason has his own technical specialties from studying, personal experiences, or previous jobs.
    • Take the example of Jason having a customer who wants to talk about networking. Though Jason has a strong networking background, he’s not a networking professional.
      • Should Jason set a goal to learn the company’s network product inside and out so he can go and speak to customers about it? Or, should he pull in a peer of his who loves networking to talk to the customer? The fastest path to achieving the goal of helping a customer would be for Jason to pull in his peer to help.
      • The section we’re discussing may mention borrowing someone else’s diploma, but it’s attacking the secret rule that we have to do it all on our own. John mentions it’s worth stating the secret rule here and how we can accomplish the true goal in Jason’s example (informing a customer).
    • “It’s the secret unstated addendum that is the problem. Sometimes these rules are secrets even to ourselves.” – John White
      • Jason feels it is about knowing your limitations and when to outsource. He gives the example of someone building a house who knows how to do the framing but decides to hire an electrician and a plumber instead of trying to develop the depth of expertise in those areas.
  • Once we have identified a secret rule we should state it explicitly and then the implications of the secret rule. Ask yourself “what does that mean?”
    • If the secret rule is I have to do everything myself, the implication is I need to go and learn everything needed / be an expert in all areas needed to inform a customer.
    • In the book Acuff gives the example that success is bad which must mean failure is good.
  • Jason reminds us that the last step after identifying and destroying a secret rule is to replace that rule.
    • If the secret rule is I must do everything on my own, it can be replaced with I need to know when to bring in outside expertise / when to ask for help. Or, more people in the boat is better and more helpful.
    • We want a new, flexible, reasonable rule based on the truth.
    • When Jason used to build things earlier in his life he wanted them to be perfect with no blemishes. He remembers his dad telling him no one would notice any imperfections in the finished work. This is another example of a secret rule. Jason thought he could never make a mistake in the process of building something.

14:27 – Chapter 7: Use Data to Celebrate Your Imperfect Progress

  • In this chapter Acuff brings up the idea of trying to achieve a goal you were not successful in achieving previously. Why were you not successful?
    • Jason reminds us that our memories are not as reliable as we think they are. This is easy to confirm by getting conflicting eyewitness accounts of an accident, for example.
    • Having the data keeps us directionally accurate. Jason gives the example of having data that shows 3 gym visits per week on average for a time and then only being able to make 2 gym visits one week. Maybe you did miss a day, but you might be doing way better than the previous 6 months. Your average is still quite good, and you may not remember your progress accurate in the absence of data.
      • Maybe you’re tracking waist size, shirt size, weight, bags of potato chips eaten in a month, etc. There could be any number of data points to collect.
  • "The funny thing about failure. It’s loud. Progress, on the other hand, is quiet. It whispers. Perfectionism screams failure and hides progress. That’s the reason a little data can make a big difference. It helps you see through perfectionism’s claims that you’re not getting anywhere and helps you celebrate your achievements. " – John White, on the thesis of this chapter, using some words from Jon Acuff
  • Jason says there’s not any guidance or warning in the book about how often we should check our data. Data can both encourage us and discourage us. We should collect the data, but consider how often you look at it.
    • Looking too often at data on your weight (like daily for example) may not show progress because our daily weight can fluctuate. Maybe checking every Friday would be better to show progress.
    • Were you looking at your weight daily before you started working out? Would it be better to think more carefully about what data you’re tracking and consider things like how many times you worked out in a week instead of weight lost?
      • “Maybe I didn’t lose any weight, but I lifted more weights. I walked farther. I went to the gym 3 times, which is more than I did the week before…. Having those…data points I think has a better rounded picture of what your progress is.” – Jason Gass, on taking multiple data points when measuring progress
    • There are many examples of possible points of data collection discussed in the book like:
      • How many items were donated, or how many trash bags were filled with things to donate?
      • A room can still subjectively look messy, but an objective measure is how many bags of stuff removed. Capturing the data moves us from subjective to objective.
    • Acuff would encourage us to start by choosing 1 to 3 data points to collect and no more. The intent is to start small and keep doing it. We might have to think carefully about what to track.
    • For Nick, tracking the data points is where the wheels fall off. Outside of financial things, he just doesn’t do this well.
      • Jason says find an easy way to track the data. He has a gym membership and has to scan an app on every visit. It’s easy for him to pull a report of gym visits over time.
      • Find something that does automated data tracking to decrease the required effort. Audible can easily show you how many books you have read over the course of a month, a year, etc. can also show you how much you have spent to date.
      • How much money did you save this year? We can setup rules at our back to automatically save specific amounts of money each month. Jason has a goal to max out his IRA and has a rule created to contribute to it automatically. At the end of the year or at any point he can pull a report to see how close he came to hitting the goal.
      • John mentions data collection might not be fun for some of us, but there are ways we can make it that way or gamify it. Fitness watches have done this by allowing us to track data against that of friends and others we know. The data collected from a fitness watch can be a point of accountability too (i.e. you remind yourself to wear the watch to track all activity so you “get credit for it”).
      • Jason mentions he has seen people print off a coloring book page that looks like a house as a visual reminder of progress toward paying off home debt. The idea is color in a small space each time you make a house payment. This creates excitement as people work toward their goal.
  • Other suggested data points in the book were things like meals made in a week, number of dates with a spouse, and many more. Jason points out the element of creativity present in how we collect data. We create the rules as to what will be collected.
    • This section we’re referencing is called “23 ways to measure your goal,” and it is not meant to be an exhaustive list but rather a reference to generate some ideas. Different types of goals may require different data.
    • Acuff encourages picking 3 data points at most when we start. There is nothing wrong with choosing only 1 or 2 data points.
  • Nick liked the encouragement to deconstruct goals we accomplished and pull some data points. This idea of reflection goes back to being intentional (something we don’t do enough).
    • How long did it take?
    • How much did it cost?
    • Was there a deadline?
    • What worked last time?
    • “If you don’t have the data from the previous time that you accomplished a goal, then you probably don’t remember how hard or easy it was. So maybe it’s not a good way to calibrate what it is that you’re doing this time and whether you’re making similar progress…. If you didn’t collect the data, then you don’t have anything to compare to.” – John White
    • Jason says the book also encourages us to reflect upon the goals we didn’t (something that many pf us probably do not do). Do we have data on progressing toward any unfinished goals? What went wrong? What would we change if we tried that goal again?
      • Jason recalls hearing personal development teacher Jim Rohn suggest attending a conference put on by someone who failed. The sole purpose would be for people to learn from that person’s mistakes. We can apply a similar idea to ourselves by analyzing where we failed and identifying what we need to change to ensure success the next time.
      • John references win notes about sales companies successfully make, but you don’t see a lot of loss notes about why a sales motion failed. These are probably even more important than the win notes.
      • “I feel like there’s so much information that we can learn from our failures so that we’re successful in the future.” – Jason Gass

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