I was standing barefoot in my nightgown at the open window looking at the dark sky. It was 4 am. The night was at her coldest. I was shivering. It was a special moment. Autumn had started. I was happy. September has always carried for me the energy of a new beginning.
Cooler temperatures were no longer something I had to pray for. I could feel nature going into the new season with a deep breath. The September equinox was in the air and with it the last 100 days of the year – a perfect start for inspired action!
As I was standing there, enjoying the cold, crisp night, I thought about the new beginnings I wanted to create for myself. Where in my life did I want the pendulum to swing into a new direction?
Interestingly, I felt muddled. I stood there at the window, trying to put my finger on that feeling of “not quite ready yet” until I was thoroughly frozen 🙂 and finally crawled back into bed, trusting that things would become clear in the morning light.
The cliffhangers in our life
When I woke up, my first thoughts were about a couple of unfinished tasks that had been bugging me for a while, come to think for way too long. Then I remembered last night. Ah, that was it! The “not quite ready yet” feeling from last night I was experiencing is what psychologists know as the Zeigarnik effect.
In laymen’s terms: any unfinished task stays on the forefront of your brain, takes up all the space and keeps bugging you until there’s closure. Very much like a cliffhanger at the end of each episode in your favourite Netflix series, when we have to watch the next one!
Now while it is fun to wonder all week what is going to happen to your favourite character in Game of Thrones or Downton Abbey, it’s useful, but certainly not fun to be constantly bugged by thoughts about unfinished tasks in your life!
Your mind wants closure, whether it’s about the kingdoms of Westeros, the will-they-or-won’t-they of Mary and Matthew or your tax papers and the boxes in your basement.
(“Closure” to state this upfront, does not mean that you actually have to finish doing everything. More on that in a moment.)
But if you decide that you do want to finish something, get clear on why you want to finish that thing.
- Do you want to finish that half-knitted sweater because you can’t wait to wear it or because you spent too much money on the wool two years ago or because you don’t want your mother to give you that ‘told you so’ look?
- Do you want to write the novel because writing is your creative expression, or because you were boasting to all of your friends about your “upcoming” book or because you are enamored of the idea of being a ‘writer’?
- Do you want to start working out first thing in the morning, because you know it will improve your health, or because you want to feel cool or because you feel you ‘should’?
Are your reasons for finishing something by putting more time, more money and more energy into it good enough?
Make sure you like your reasons. Make sure that the best possible version of yourself likes your reasons. Make sure they are your reasons. Anything less than that is probably the reason why you didn’t finish it in the first place. Now is the time for a decision. You’ve had your experience. You learnt something. You’ll know in your heart of hearts when it’s time to move on.
But what exactly are unfinished things?
Unfinished things come in all forms and shapes. There is a thin line between something being ‘still current’ or ‘unfinished’. Do you feel that your energy drops when you think about it? Here’s your indicator! Some of those things might have been nagging you for quite a while, others you might have successfully – until now 🙂 pushed to the back of your mind.
Do you have unfinished things in
- Your life: that difficult decision/conversation about the state of your marriage, your sexual orientation or the fact that you want to leave your job or move to another country
- Your health: that exam or treatment you have been avoiding so far, because you fear the changes to your lifestyle it might entail.
- Your emotional health: forgiving yourself or someone else. Sometimes we carry an unresolved grief for decades…
- Your home: how long have you been planning to paint that wall, to organise that basement or to call a plumber for the upstairs bathroom?
- Your stuff: how about throwing out 100 things during the next 100 days?
- Your beauty & your elegance: do you look like the photo in your passport? It might be time for a new haircut, a facial and a new lipstick! While you’re at it, go and level up your lingerie! And don’t forget to go shopping in the back of your closet: what about those trousers that need hemming and the blouse with a button missing for over a year?
- Your habits: you know which ones!
- Your projects: the half-knitted sweater you started with so much enthusiasm two years ago, the novel where you got stuck at page 25, the symphony that gives you headaches, the flower bed which still looks like a mud bath.
- Your books. It grieves me to say it. But there is something like too many unread books…
- Your admin: tax papers. Bank statements. Invoices. Tax papers. Warranties. Checks to be cashed in (I have yet to see someone clearing out their paper stuff and not finding money! Here’s your motivation :). Oh, and tax papers.
Now we come to the real reason why you are reading this article:
How to finish anything unfinished
Broadly speaking, there are two categories of unfinished things: the ones with a deadline (your tax papers, the report for your work, the date when the moving van will stand in front of your house) and the ones without.
The first ones are stressful, but straightforward. In short, you’ll procrastinate until the deadline is close enough – read: the stress level high enough – for you to swing into action and to get the job done, swearing of course to the Universe that next time you will do it differently! (Spoiler alert: as long as you’ll get away with this, you won’t).
The really tricky ones are the ones without a deadline. The awkward conversation with your sister. The boxes in your basement. The everyday changes in the way you eat, sleep and move, aka habits. The novel you want to write.
These are the favourite playground of our inner procrastinator, who either binge watches Netflix or gets into feverish action with something that has nothing whatsoever to do with the task set initially out to do…
In the end, the only way through is to find a reason rooted in your values, your purpose, your beliefs that is stronger than your procrastination. Watch Tim Urban in his entertaining and oh-so-true TED talk: “Inside the mind of a master procrastinator.”
Now let’s assume that you are ready to swing into action and to finish that novel/basement/tax paper.
The (very often) best way to finish anything unfinished
I mentioned before that “finishing” something does not necessarily mean “working on it until it is finished.” Here’s a secret: you are only the second best person to finish that sweater/novel/symphony.
The best person, in many, many cases, is the bin.
That may hurt, but it remains true nevertheless.
So many people feel that they have to finish what they started, even if they have outgrown the thing, are no longer interested or realised that it was a mistake to start in the first place. And yet, they feel it would be a crime against humanity to simply let go of whatever it is. Letting go takes courage, for sure – but would you rather make peace with the fact that you wasted time and money in the past or will you continue to waste the time, money and energy of your life now? Give yourself permission to simply let go everything that doesn’t make sense any longer.
Remember that Zeigarnik effect we discussed earlier? You might believe that the agonising feeling you have right now about whether or not to sink the first 25 pages of your novel “Memories of an angry Virgo”, or the first 20 centimeters of that scratchy “easy-to-knit” sweater into the bin – but once the decision taken and the thing out of the house, there is closure – and you’ll be amazed how readily and easily your mind will forget all about it and, more importantly, how relieved you’ll feel!
Today is September 23: the autumn equinox and the first of this year’s last 100 days!
Mon amie, imagine yourself in 100 days: as the year closes you will have brought closure to unfinished business that has been cluttering your mind.
- how you will feel lighter, clearer, relieved, proud and in a much better mood.
- how you will have created inner and outer space.
- how new ideas, better habits, clearer decisions are shaping your life.
You will be able to say on January 1rst: “It’s already happening.”
Ah, I’ve already started this weekend! My patio is clean and fresh, waiting for new plants. I will finish unpacking any and all boxes from our move 1 year ago. I’ve just been waiting for this time of year to roll around. I need cooler weather to do this. Summer, for me, is time to hibernate. I seem to only venture out to cut the lawn. Otherwise, I’m in the cooler temps in my chateau. The last few years, September has taken on more of a new year feel. When I’m more ready and able to clean, change, and face challenges. January just seems too rushed after the holidays. Don’t you think? : )
Absolutely! Have a great time beautifying your château!
Thank you, Rima! I am especially embracing the “tax paper” part(s). It feels like you’ve repeated “tax papers” so many time just for me 😉
I’ve already finished 90 % of the papers in April before I’ve left for a course – and procrastinated since then… The last 10 % will be done on Friday!
Sending a big hug and love to you, you incredible inspiring woman!
Avec plaisir, Petra! I had to laugh so much about what you wrote about your tax papers – you _might_ not be the only one out there! 🙂 Good luck and don’t forget to celebrate when you are done!