Completion Anxiety

The word PROJECTS in bold letter indented against a wall
Image by Octavia Dan on Unplash

Introduction

I’m going to split this article into 2 parts: my personal experience and others/academics perspective. I’m taking this approach because i always strive to bring a personal aspect to my writing. If anyone reads this, they know that someone else out there has went through the same experiences.

In the first chapter i’ll simply summarise my thoughts, feelings and opinions on this phenomenon before beginning to research. With this approach i can remain completely unbiased and without external influence, thus my writing remains more personal and less likely to degrade into scientific regurgitation.

I also love the idea that my personal experience might be a common occurrence. Something i’m defining in real-time may have been studied by psychologists for decades. Or not, who knows?

You ever get that feeling of satisfaction when you put a name to a particular way you’ve been feeling? Like when you tried to describe deja vu to someone as a young child and you’re told it’s a thing. Yes, this a thing, other people feel this way.

Anyways, i’m getting sidetracked, without further ado, here’s my experience.

My Experience

I’ve had this struggle to complete the last 10% of a project/job/skill for as long as i can remember. I’ll be able to put in months of hard work and graft but at the last hurdle my legs will turn to stone and it suddenly becomes a monumental effort to do something i’d previously glide over.

This can take a variety of forms. I can get 90% of a uni project finished but writing that conclusion and spell-checking the document feels like a death sentence. I can get 90% of a van converted but putting water in the tanks is borderline impossible. I can write an article on Medium but the editing is swift and careless.

It’s not an inability to complete things; just a struggle. For the most part this only applies to mental tasks as with physical tasks (such as workouts) i seem to have the most fun at the end.

Perhaps it’s mental exhaustion?

  • But for the most part i can come back to these projects on a different day with a clear mind and just not have the motivation to finish.

Perhaps it’s a fear of completion?

  • This is what seems the most reasonable answer to me but for the life of me i can’t think why i’d want a project to remain incomplete. Maybe it’s the satisfaction of knowing that you’re 90% done, you’re making excellent progress, you’ve done a helluva job and if you complete it then you’re back to square 1. The next project will always present itself, right?

My unconscious brain might have grown accustomed to the project. Somewhere deep down in my subconscious, i’m content with having this project/experience as part of my routine. Sort of like a habit, once you’ve spent so long doing something it’s hard to let go.

This is all pure conjecture and i’m at the stage of maximum curiosity, so let’s consult the experts.

A Bloggers Perspective (Belle, B., Cooper)

The first article i consulted mentioned the fear that your project won’t be good enough. It further clarifies saying that you might never get it to the standard you expected or dreamed it would be. It’s perhaps about you not living up to your own expectations, not meeting your own goals. Put simply, it’s the fear that you, and the things you create, aren’t good enough.

Another Bloggers Perspective (Rands Response)

This individual proposes the idea that finishing an article is just the least interesting and most time consuming. Apparently finishing is the hardest work because it involves the most adaptations, changes and workarounds. It’s simply a result of correcting all the other work. He proposes a model, which measures happiness against time.

As we can see from the above graph, finishing is a fucking mission and no fun whatsoever. He does offer one antidote — finish strong and your source of happiness and satisfaction can come from the appreciation of the audience.

A Publications Perspective (Fast Company)

This article also highlights our inability to complete projects and puts forth the argument, that it’s down to 3 problems:

  1. Fear of failing to impress — we’ve witnessed this before in the first bloggers response but this point is re-iterated with the publication stating that not finishing is our way of avoiding harsh criticism.
  2. Fear of setting the bar too high — If you’ve received an excellent grade for a past piece of work and know your next project can’t possibly live up to the expectations set, then you’ll simply avoid finishing.
  3. No wanting to put an end to the fun — they state here that if “you’re having a good time on a project, the prospect of finishing can be disappointing”. This relates to my earlier point about your subconscious mind becoming attached to a particular project.

Clearly, i’m not the only one to ever suffer through the last 10%, and i wont be the last. While there seemed to be a lot of information via blogs and publications, there was nothing produced by academics. Interesting.

Closing Thoughts

Finishing a project is often the most difficult part. This is usually fuelled by a subconscious fear of failure, fear or disappointment, attachment to a project or simply because it’s the longest and most tiresome part.

Whatever the reasons are, they’re usually subconscious. For me, the best way to tackle this is to bring this to the front of the brain and challenge it. Say it out loud, write it down, mime it to your neighbour. Whatever you do, make sure you know why you’re struggling to finish. Much like journalling, i believe visualising or making your problems tangible makes them easier to overcome.

Note that i’m not an academic, a psychologist or any sort of professional. Just a thinker who thinks a lot of thoughts. I am in no way qualified to give any advice.

I am interested to know what others think. Have you experienced this before? How much does it affect your life? How do you overcome it?

As Always,

Yours Honestly,

Liam Lawson.

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