Completion Anxiety

Q: I have difficulty turning ideas into action. I find myself rapidly switching directions on what I want to accomplish (both short term goals and long term) which essentially freezes me into inaction.

A: The concern you express here actually implies the solution. The solution is to find the alternative to ‘rapidly switching directions’: To identify a task and take it to its conclusion. What is getting in the way of this? I will tell you two common things that get in the way for people. (1) A failure to identify an end point. For example: ‘This task will be completed when ‘.’ [Insert concrete illustration of ‘completed’ here.] (2) Interest in other things diverts attention. This second, like the first, is a matter choice and volition. It doesn’t have to be this way. You can train your mind to not get diverted. You can make a resolution to require yourself to finish the existing task (with its defined conclusion) and not get started on the new task until you finish the first.

What would keep a person from doing this? One issue might be a concern that you will forget the matter that diverted your attention. ‘Oh, I’m in the middle of project A, but I just thought of a potential project B’I don’t want to lose it!’ That can be resolved by writing it down or otherwise recording what it is you want to get to. Some people call this a ‘get to it’ list, which is like a to do list, only it refers to things for which you had ideas about but cannot get to right now because you first need to complete the other task. It’s a simple solution to a complex problem, but most complex problems start out with simple errors that merely compound over time.

You mention being frozen into inaction and therefore failing to turn ideas into action. Being frozen into inaction is understandable in the above context. When you start one thing, don’t complete it, get excited about another, then don’t complete that, then get excited about another, and so forth’It’s understandable you will become frozen into inaction. Failure to complete leads to paralysis because in effect you end up cheating yourself out of the pleasure of completion. Completion is an end in itself. Imagine having a shelf full of books, all by authors whom you like. Now imagine reading the first chapter of one book, half of the second book, three chapters in the next one, and so on—never completing one of them. What would happen to your motivation to read? You would lose interest in reading. You would say, ‘I value reading, but I get paralyzed when I try to read.’ This is why. In order to reverse the paralysis, you’d have to inaugurate a recovery period in which you simply make yourself read a bunch of books to completion.

This would lead you to experience first-hand, not just in an empty abstract way, the value of reading. Now you would REALLY value reading—as something felt and experienced, not just dogmatically abstracted.