If you start a goal without thinking about the ending, you’re not alone.
Most of us can’t anticipate what the finish line will look like.
Oftentimes, it’s hard to plan for the end of something when we’ve just begun. We can envision the finished product, but what will it take to get there? That picture gets clearer the closer we get. It also becomes more apparent that a strong finish is the only way.
Psychology can actually explain part of that. Think about any major event in your life. It’s likely that your brain jumps to the end of that event (graduation, climbing a mountain peak, even paying off a credit card).
“We remember experiences in our lives as a series of snapshots rather than a complete catalog of events. Our minds quickly average the moments that most stand out in our memories to form our opinion of the past,” research experts at the Nielsen Norman Group explain. “The most emotionally intense points of an experience and the end of that experience are heavily weighted in how we remember an event.”
That means you might not remember the journey, but you’ll surely remember the finale, so you better make it count. That’s also an important thought to keep in mind throughout a project or goal. Your future self will thank you for it, especially when the clock is running out.
Prioritizing a big finish
When you start thinking about how you’re going to execute a strong finish, it’s important to think about the resources and energy it’s going to take.
Prioritization is key. Here’s how to do it:
- Revisit your journey: If you’re on the verge of completing a project or big goal, take a step back for a minute and recount what you’ve already done. Ask yourself which parts were most challenging. What would you have changed? Is there something you can change in the final stretch? You’ve surely learned some lessons along the way. It’s time to utilize them here.
- Eat the frog first: This simply means that you should put the least enjoyable tasks up front. Get through those before anything else, otherwise you run the risk of putting them off, making the whole ending more difficult.
- Thing big picture: Look at your goal or project holistically. What does this finish mean for all the work you’ve done? What is it setting you up for next? Rarely do projects or goals happen in a vacuum. Sometimes they’re the foundation for the next big thing, which is why it’s so important to focus on the finish.
- Speak up: It might take some planning to really nail a strong finish. Make sure your communication is clearer than ever during this time. Wires can easily get crossed when you’re tying up loose ends and finalizing details.
Setting priorities isn’t always easy. It can even feel a little bit like organized chaos. Getting it all down on paper is a critical step in getting through it all. This helps you develop a list of tasks while also showing you where you can pull back, delegate, or drop it altogether.
Make it worth it
Even under the best of circumstances, a strong finish is difficult, but it will be worth it if you put in the work. It’s easy to see why comparing any goal to a race is so accurate. At the beginning, energy and hopes are high, but as the race wears on, so does the runner. It’s harder to keep up the pace, fuel starts getting low, and it can feel like it might take crawling to make it across the finish line.
“As you approach that ‘this is when it really matters’ moment toward the end of your race when your body is getting really fatigued and experiencing increasing levels of pain, you need to reach into your endurance race toolkit and deploy some essential mental and physical tools,” says University of San Francisco professor Jim Taylor.
The same is true for any project or goal. It can feel both mentally and physically draining to keep up the pace, but keep in mind the distance left and how far you’ve come. Everything you’ve done is training for this exact moment (runners tend to think the same way too).
“Not only do you feel more fulfilled and proud of your effort by knowing that, in bringing it home with the pedal to the metal, you left it all out on the course; you also increase your chances of achieving your race goal,” Taylor says.
Beware arrival fallacy
What happens when we finally do arrive at the finish line? Certainly there is a lot of relief, feelings of joy, maybe some time to reflect. The part we don’t often anticipate, though, is the pang of loss. Something we’ve worked so hard for is finally done and the journey is over, and we don’t feel quite the way we thought we would at the end.
Some experts call this feeling the “arrival fallacy.”
“Arrival fallacy is this illusion that once we make it, once we attain our goal or reach our destination, we will reach lasting happiness,” explains Tal Ben-Shahar, a positive psychology expert who coined the term as a young squash player. “I thought if I win this tournament then I’ll be happy. And I won, and I was happy. And then the same stress and pressure and emptiness returned.”
It’s important to remember as the finish line approaches that achieving a goal can sometimes feel more bitter than sweet, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t set them. Instead, Ben-Shahar recommends setting concurrent goals, that way there’s more to focus on as you wind down from one major achievement.
As you near the end of a big project, goal, or event in life, take some time to set expectations. Remember that life is ever-evolving and it’s normal if the finish line doesn’t feel like you thought it would. In fact, it’s normal. Remember that the accomplishment is worth celebrating and another exciting endeavor is on the way!
Written by Kara Mason.