Transcript of Secrets to Finishing What You Start

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How many things have you not finished? Come on, let’s be honest. A recent statistic I read said 92% of people give up on their New Years resolutions during the first week. There are a lot of reasons we don’t finish, perfectionism, rationalization, fear, we don’t give ourselves the right goals and things to finish. You are going to want to listen to this episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast where I visit with Jon Acuff the author of Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done. This is important listening, important topic.

This episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast is brought to you by Reputation management is not something you want to mess around with, is the tool we use with all of our clients.

Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. This is John Jantsch, and my guest today is Jon Acuff. He is a New York Times best selling author of I think now six books. More recently Do Over: Make Today the First Day of Your New Career, and the one we’re going to talk about today, Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done. So Jon, thanks for joining me today.

Jon Acuff: Yeah, thanks for having me.

John Jantsch: So let’s just get the statistics out of the way, why don’t people finish?

Jon Acuff: Well I mean it is an epidemic, the stat is 92% of New Years resolutions fail for instance. I think there’s a million reasons. One of them that’s really interesting, I have a 14-year-old daughter, so she’s in the eighth grade and she knows I’m working on this finish project, obviously. It’s kind of been the thing I’ve done for the past two years, and she said dad, there’s a poster at school that says it’s not the finish line that matters, it’s having the courage to start. And so even our kids are being taught the wrong thing. It is 100% the finish line that matters, like are you kidding me? If you gave somebody that, if somebody was struggling in a marathon you wouldn’t say don’t worry you started, you’re fine.

John Jantsch: Mine one, woo-hoo.

Jon Acuff: Yeah, mile four is really the most important mile. You’d be like, no it’s not, mile 26.1 to 26.2 is. So I think culturally part of the problem is that we romanticize the power and importance of the start and we never talk about the finish.

John Jantsch: You know it’s funny I have read a statistic that said that more people drop out of a marathon, using your example, at mile 20.

Jon Acuff: Really?

John Jantsch: Yeah.

Jon Acuff: Well, but people say things like well begun is half done, or the hardest part of any journey is the first step. No it’s not, mile 20 is pretty difficult.

John Jantsch: Yeah, or you know how many other people have run 20 miles. That’s another good sort of rationalization. So one of the things that comes up early in the book and it’s a recurring theme, and it’s actually one that I kind of scratched, I mean I agreed with every word of the book, but I did find myself scratching my head at this a little bit that really the culprit that you point out often is perfectionism. And I’m guilty of not finishing things but I don’t think I suffer from perfectionism, I usually don’t finish something because I get bored. So I’m sure you’re going to like wack me across the head and tell me something different.

Jon Acuff: No I mean I don’t think everybody who doesn’t finish is because they’re a perfectionist. I think the majority of people, like here’s an example, the book tried to attack common myths about goal setting that just aren’t true. One of them is, reach for the moon because even if you’ll fail you’ll land amongst the stars. So the thought is like even if I only make it to mile 20, I’m super happy. But psychologically, that’s never how it works. So perfectionism comes in and says grade on a pass/fail basis. So you either did 100% or it was zero, and so people sometimes hear perfectionist and they think, well I’m not type A, or I’m not detailed, I’m not organized. That’s a very narrow definition of perfectionism. Perfectionism also says to the person that wants to run five miles a day, you only have time for three, don’t even run one because it doesn’t count.

John Jantsch: Yeah.

Jon Acuff: So I would argue, if you and I had coffee there’s probably some degree of that somewhere in your life. But when you define perfectionism as type A, super clean, super neat, then like I’m not that way either.

John Jantsch: Yeah. So I dug up some Amazon stats and now that the Kindle books are out there and they can lurk and know exactly what we’re reading and how far we’re reading, 77% of people don’t finish books that they start, and 98% if it’s Moby Dick.

Jon Acuff: Yeah.

John Jantsch: Now my wife is the opposite of that. I mean even if she’s like 10 pages in and is like I hate this book, she’s going to finish it. And I’m like I wouldn’t, if I don’t like it I’m getting rid of it. But to some degree I felt in reading your book that I had to finish it because …

Jon Acuff: Well good.

John Jantsch: … what kind of loser doesn’t finish a book called Finish.

Jon Acuff: I know, I know right, good.

John Jantsch: That’s almost cheating, it’s almost cheating.

Jon Acuff: That’s positive peer pressure then. That’s fantastic.

John Jantsch: So one of the first interesting kind of counterintuitive thoughts in this book is this idea of cutting your goals in half. So tell me why you think that’s not only good advice but one of the reasons that people don’t finish.

Jon Acuff: Yeah well I mean part of what I wanted to do with this, I had a researcher from the University of Memphis approach me and say hey, I want to study what you do and see if it works. And that was intimidating at first because prior to that I was like everybody else on the Internet just like saying what I feel is true in my heart, hopefully it’s right.

John Jantsch: Yeah.

Jon Acuff: And so he and I spent six months studying nearly 900 people, and I had this theory about goals. The theory was if you tried to lose 10 pounds and you only lost eight, you don’t feel like wow look how close I got. You feel like you failed by two, and you quit.

John Jantsch: Yeah.

Jon Acuff: And then I had the theory that if I asked you got cut it to five and you still lost the same exact eight pounds, you’ve won by three and you’ll try again. So we asked people in the middle of this goal setting challenge to cut their goals in half and they were 63% more successful. Now when you’re looking for an up or an advantage, you’re looking for 5%, 10%, so 63 is staggering. But it’s more indicative of that we do things too big. And I have some huge goals, I just have a lot of small goals along the way. I think one of the misconceptions with this idea is oh, so you should only do small things that are easy to do? I’m like no not at all, but you shouldn’t try to do them all at once.

John Jantsch: Yeah.

Jon Acuff: There’s this habit where people go I’m going to run, and I go that’s awesome, and they go yeah I’m going to run a marathon. And I say well have you run a half marathon or like a 10k or 5k or even like a k, have you run a single k? And they’re like no, but for it to count it has to be this massive thing. And I just don’t think that’s helpful and I think that’s why a lot of people … People do that with writing books.

John Jantsch: Yep.

Jon Acuff: You know statistically 81 to 90% of people in America want to write a book, that’s according to the New York Times, and less than 1% do. And part of it is they don’t write for 10 years and then they’re like I’m doing it this weekend, I’m finishing my book. And you go that’s not going to work, that’s not how it works. And so I’m really encouraging people to have the right size. And you see companies do this. I just worked with a group of CEOs and one of them was saying yeah, we’ve got this person who’s going to become the CEO at our company in a year and he’s already come out with this statement about how we’re going to double revenue in the next two years, and we haven’t done that in 30 years. And he said he did that because he wants to look strong, and confident, and aggressive, but everyone there knows it’s going to fail and so he’s starting his CEO leadership on a failure.

John Jantsch: Yeah.

Jon Acuff: And that’s toxic for teams.

John Jantsch: Yeah, a friend of mine owns a bar and he has a run every year and it is a 0.1k, you basically run across the parking lot.

Jon Acuff: There you go.

John Jantsch: So you might want to suggest some of your folks start there, that’s a great starting point.

Jon Acuff: I bet, does he have a sticker because that would be great.

John Jantsch: I’m sure he does, there’s a T-shirt I know that for sure.

Jon Acuff: Nice.

John Jantsch: Alright, another concept that I thought was really interesting, and we all can relate to this, you start the big diet then 10 days in you’re doing great and then you just like lose it one day and eat pizza and then you’re like oh screw it, why go back. So day after perfect.

Jon Acuff: Well again it gets back to this idea of how it’s going to be. So it’s the concept of you know, I have a nine day streak going, I have a five day streak, and then the minute I fail the whole thing … It’s kind of like I ate a french fry so I might as well eat 1,000, which is really, really easy to do. And so I’d much rather know that ahead of time, not be surprised by the imperfection but say okay yeah it didn’t work, and that’s okay, and here we go I’m going to start again. I think most goals are a pattern of 1,000 different starts and going okay, fell off let me try again, okay got this let me try again.

And I don’t think that’s failure, I think that’s the reality of it. So rather than be surprised I want you to keep going. And there’s days where I have a goal and I do great on it, and then there’s other days where like I eat queso. And I don’t know any diet that’s like more queso, and so you still have to pick it up back up. But that gets back to that all-or-nothing kind of mentality of I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it. And I meet so many people that say I missed one day and that ruled into a month. And you’d think mathematically that’s dumb, no way that happens, but everybody has a story like that.

John Jantsch: Sure. So a couple of the most enjoyable, at least laughable, moments in the book for me is when you kind of started rambling about your kids and using them as examples, or in some cases just using as an excuse to write funny dad stuff. And I have four daughters, and I actually used to write a column for the local paper, the Kansas City Star, and it was just kind of supposed to be funny parent-kid stuff. Did you, you’ve written enough books now that you probably have a lot of license, but this is sort of an author asking this question. Did your editor push back on any of those?

Jon Acuff: Because of the nature of my kids?

John Jantsch: No just more because they weren’t always, and here I’m going to get myself in trouble here, but as an author they weren’t always the same tone of the book. They were really almost stand up comedy, which I absolutely loved, but I was curious if that was even a conversation.

Jon Acuff: No, I would say they wanted me to go harder.

John Jantsch: Yeah, okay.

Jon Acuff: I mean I honestly think this is the best book I’ve written and I think it’s the funniest.

John Jantsch: It is the funniest, it is yeah.

Jon Acuff: Because like the Apple computer riff, that is a stand up comedy bit about where do you even buy things in there? Like they’ve gotten rid of registers, I was good with registers, we’ve had 100 year streak of registers, like that was fine with me. And so we’re like no, those are the things, I like doing that riff, you know you get it as a communicator, as an idea guy. You find your niche and then you kind of have fun it, and I know my niche I’ll never be as smart as a lot of authors, but a lot of business authors won’t be as funny as me.

John Jantsch: Well so my …

Jon Acuff: And so that’s where I try to live.

John Jantsch: Yeah, so my wife read this book and I mean I get stacks and stacks of books every week and she rarely is interested in them. And she read the entire book and she said that was one of the best business books I’ve seen and I think she was including mine in that. And I think that that ability to have humor and still teach is really a gift.

Jon Acuff: Yeah, and it’s how I was raised. I always tell people that’s kind of, it’s from my dad. But I would say this, yesterday I got into the car with my eighth grade daughter to go out to her sister’s cross country meet and she’s like hey can we listen to a comedian? And so I was like sure and so we listened to Nate Bargatze on the drive over to the event. I think that’s part of my, like one of my favorite things of parenting is when you get to an age where you can do stuff like that.

John Jantsch: Sure.

Jon Acuff: Where they have the self awareness, they have the intelligence, and you get to have that kind of fun with them. That’s really enjoyable.

John Jantsch: Another great, back to the book, another great concept I think, and we’ve all been guilty of this because I mean if you were to set a goal or you’re trying to create a new healthy habit, you’re kind of cramming something into what you’ve already got going. And so this idea of choosing what to [inaudible 00:13:11] you can’t do it all, and I think that’s clearly a mistake a lot of people make is I’m going to run a marathon, which is now going to take me like five hours on a Saturday and nothing else is going to suffer.

Jon Acuff: Yeah, isn’t that a funny belief. And the reality is nobody listening to this right now is like oh, I hope there’s a lot for me to do because I have so much free time, I’m tired of being on my yacht. So we’re all busy, we all feel that stress, and so I think the problem is we forget that when you add something you have to remove something. I think a lot of like, that’s where a lot of mom guilt comes from.

John Jantsch: Right.

Jon Acuff: Because we see other mothers online and they’re doing it all, and their kid speaks Mandarin, and like all this stuff and you go oh my gosh, I need to add, I need to add. And I think that’s the problem with most time management books, very few of them are like they might way delegate some stuff but they don’t say suck at some stuff.

John Jantsch: Yeah.

Jon Acuff: And that’s where I tried to go a little harder and a little more aggressive is to come out and say like your yard is going to look terrible when you have toddlers, and that’s fine. Or like some other part, your exercise, I put that in there, Shonda Rhimes who just signed a huge deal with Netflix does the show Scandal and she said when I’m running a show I don’t get to run much. So you have two options, you ahead of time go I’m not going to care about this thing on purpose, or you can try to do it all and feel shame in the middle. And shame always stops, it never propels you forward.

John Jantsch: Yeah, and I wonder how often that derails the goals too or the path towards the goal is you just get exhausted.

Jon Acuff: Oh yeah, and I think that’s part of it. And it is popular in our culture to say like always hustle, sleep when you’re dead, all that kind of stuff, and that’s never been my style. And I think there are definitely busy times and there’s seasons where I’m going to travel a ton this fall, but I won’t in December. And I just said no to something in November, so there’s times for it but I don’t, hustle ’til you fall it means you failed.

John Jantsch: Yeah, that doesn’t sound like much fun if you ask me.

Jon Acuff: Nope.

John Jantsch: So one of the things I was really happy to see you point out, I work with a lot of business owners and as a business grows their objectives change, their goals change, and it’s almost a cruel trick. The horizon keeps moving away as you move towards it. And I think a lot of times what they fail to do is turn around and look how far they’ve come. And I love your chapter on using data to kind of look back at how far you’ve come.

Jon Acuff: Yeah, I think it’s just honest.

John Jantsch: Yeah.

Jon Acuff: I think you know, starting a business, running a business, being an entrepreneur, all these things I think that it’s all just data. And if you’ll listen to your emotions, your emotions sometimes don’t tell you the truth. And so the example I put in there, or there’s a million examples where somebody says … Like the one I gave was we did a big launch, I’ve got courses I sell to help people work on their goals, and I had an idea in my head it was going to be huge because I’m still a sucker for the promise of the Internet. And it was super small, and I was bummed out and my partner said hey remember it’s always 4%. And it was 4% today, and it was 4% last time, and without that data I just get to feel like a failure. But with the data I get to go, oh that’s right I still want to change it, I want to grow it, but oh that’s right.

I just had this moment, my daughter had a private Instagram account and she has now a public like photography one, and I never talk about them just because I want to give her some time to kind of figure herself out before I send over an audience. But she said, dad I put a story in my Instagram stories about my new account and asked people to follow it and 100 people looked at it and only one followed it. And I was like welcome to social media, but I get to tell her my data. And so the problem, which I talk about in the book, is we don’t like the reality. So we hate that restaurants in some states are required by law to put the calories on, because I don’t want to know them. Ignorance is bliss, but I really think in the long run data serves you so well.

John Jantsch: Hey as I mentioned at the beginning of this show, this episode is brought to you by, that’s This is a tool that we use with all of our clients for reputation management. It works so well to build a review funnel, getting those reviews on places like Google Plus, and Yelp, and industry review sites. So, so important today both for SEO, and certainly for social proof. Reviews, ratings, your reputation depends on it, why not use a tool that makes it as easy as possible for those raving fans to give you the reviews in the places that you need it? Check it out at

Another component, and I’ve seen this on my own and I think it’s true of pretty much everybody who starts a business let alone trying to achieve a goal, and that’s the role of fun. That if there’s not something that you enjoy about what you’re doing, you’re probably not going to stick with it.

Jon Acuff: Yeah, I think that was the biggest surprise of the book for me was the ROI of fun. Because I think sometimes teams or companies go, we’re not Google, we don’t have a water slide in our lobby, we can’t be fun. Or like what we do isn’t naturally fun so therefore, we are not fun. But that’s not the point, the principle is to make it fun. Fun takes you being deliberate. And so I was really encouraged to see that there’s statistical data that applies to here’s what happens if you have fun. And it’s just intuitive, you do things that you … Like when you enjoy something you’ll naturally do it more than you would otherwise. When you don’t do something it’s like pulling teeth, and you’ll find a million different reasons not to do it. So yeah, I was excited to go wow this gives me some ammo to go talk to companies and say hey it’s not just me being silly or goofy like I’m not talking about whimsy necessarily, I’m talking about being deliberate about fun.

John Jantsch: And I, a lot of times in marketing companies will ask well what social media platforms should we be on? And there are some instances where well gosh, where do your customers hang out? But there are also instances where I’ve had people say well I love Pinterest, but I think Facebook’s dumb. Well go play on Facebook then, or I mean go play on Pinterest then because if you enjoy it you’ll actually probably stick with it.

Jon Acuff: You’ll actually be there, yeah that’s the … For me, with that to your audience, I always when people ask me like okay I’ve got $100 where should I invest it, I always say email. Like it’s still the one that like man, I love email. And I, if you ask me biggest marketing mistake I made the last 10 years, I would say not focusing enough on email.

John Jantsch: Yeah.

Jon Acuff: Well, one of the examples I use is I’ve heard people say, many friends have told me, yeah I took three months off of Facebook, or yeah I only check Twitter once a week, I’ve never heard somebody say that about email.

John Jantsch: Yeah.

Jon Acuff: I’ve never heard somebody say oh, I took four months off of email. Like no, you didn’t because you don’t know anything then, your kids school stuff, your work. So I’m just suck a fan of email now.

John Jantsch: So one of the factors I think that plays a huge role in this as far as I’m concerned, and really it comes down to fear, you talk about hiding places and I can’t remember the other term you used but essentially rationalization. But what, so like some people talk about fear of success being as bad as fear of failure. I mean what role does that come into achieving or finishing goals?

Jon Acuff: I think it plays a huge role. And if you don’t ever struggle with it, it sounds like crazy talk.

John Jantsch: Yep.

Jon Acuff: Like if you’ve never had it, it sounds like fear of enjoying life. But it happens for a number of reasons. One, it could happen because you had weird information from your parents.

John Jantsch: Right.

Jon Acuff: Like maybe, you had a mom that when she’d see a nice car or when she’d walk down the street and see a nice house, would say must be nice and there was some sense of like they have a different life than we do. Or my friend who’s really successful his mom used to always say, the only way they could have a house that big is they’re doing something illegal.

John Jantsch: Yeah.

Jon Acuff: And he eventually had to say like mom, that doesn’t makes any sense. But she probably inherited that from her mom. Now in the south, where I live the Bible Belt, people add a religious element to that.

John Jantsch: Right.

Jon Acuff: So I had a friend the other day say that CEO makes $20 million a year, how do you think he sleeps at night?

John Jantsch: And I wanted to say probably on like Hungarian down pillows, like probably pretty nice.

Jon Acuff: But he had established a secret rule in his life that 5 million is okay but 10 million, that’s where it’s sinful. I had a musician in Nashville, a Christian musician, say if you drive a $75,000 Suburban people say good for you, it’s a good family car. If you $75,000 BMW they say, oh Jesus, could have used that money. So it’s interesting what hang-ups we bring into the success conversation. The other thing is that then it creates expectation. I have a friend, she’s a brilliant public speaker, she doesn’t like to do it a lot because once people find out she’s good, they expect it. She’d rather show up and surprise you than have the reputation of being really good and not be able to live up to it. So there’s a lot of those factors.

John Jantsch: I always thought it the other way around, once I had a best selling book I didn’t have to be good anymore, it was awesome.

Jon Acuff: Yeah, you just got to coast on all the money authors make? Sure.

John Jantsch: Exactly, so the last chapter of course Final Fears of Perfection, and kind of what happens if you’re going to actually achieve the goal. In my earliest part of my career, earliest part of my business I worked on a lot of political campaigns and I distinctly remember sort of an era of depression after a campaign was over. Because I mean, talk about a goal, a deadline, it’s done.

Jon Acuff: Yep.

John Jantsch: Win or lose, it’s done. And I remember distinctly being sort of depressed fr the next week because that thing was done. And I think that you touch on that being kind of something that holds people back too, it’s like what’s going to happen now?

Jon Acuff: Well and especially if you wrapped up your identity into it.

John Jantsch: Yeah.

Jon Acuff: You know, if you’ve decided this is the thing that … Like it’s not what I’m doing, it’s who I am, and then it ends. But you see football players deal with that all the time, like God bless professional athletes who from the age of six played Pop Warner and now at 28 are considered old, and you’ve got like 50 years of life left. That’s really intimidating.

John Jantsch: Yeah.

Jon Acuff: And so yeah, I think there is a fear of what’s next, there’s a fear … Well one of the other fears is once it’s out, it’s different. Like it’s one thing for you to have a book you love and you wrote and it’s your baby, it’s another thing for it to be on Amazon and having strangers go I thought it was dumb and the main character I hated so much, and that’s very different. So a lot of people they’re afraid to actually finish because it kicks off another part of the project.

John Jantsch: Yeah.

Jon Acuff: Where like oh now there’s people in your store shopping, you’d much rather go it’s just something I dream about and I’ll go to the grave with it. Nobody says that, but that’s what they do.

John Jantsch: So do you think there’s any, a lot of people set goals with I’m going to make x money, or I’m going to lose x weight because then I’ll be happy. And then they reach that and it’s like wait a minute, I’m not instantly happy, what role does that play?

Jon Acuff: Yeah, the goal won’t fix you.

John Jantsch: Yeah.

Jon Acuff: That’s what’s fascinating to me about there are certain states that people think will fix them, I would say Florida and California for instance.

John Jantsch: Oh, wow.

Jon Acuff: Where people move …

John Jantsch: You meant geography, I thought you meant like states of being but …

Jon Acuff: No, I mean there are people in Florida that thought I just need to be around the beach more and then my problems will go away, or once I get to California I’ll be a different me. And that’s intimidating, I mean it’s the same thing with goals, once I acquire this thing they I’ll be happy. But I don’t know if I’m completely bought into the, it’s not the destination it’s the journey. But I think that gets back to the joy, you have to enjoy it. Here’s kind of how I look at it, I don’t believe any longer that the definition of success for me as an author is to sell a million books, then I’ll know it was a successful book. That can’t be my definition because I don’t control that.

John Jantsch: Right.

Jon Acuff: What I can say is I want to write about something that regardless of how well it sales, I’m a better person because I went though the experience. So this year I’ll read 156 books, I read 10 last year because I learned how to finish. So I can say the book hasn’t even come out yet, I can say I know it’s a success because I’ve applied the principles and it’s been awesome.

John Jantsch: Well I think it’s time for us to finish, I’m sorry I had that like …

Jon Acuff: No, that was locked and loaded probably the entire interview.

John Jantsch: Jon, thanks so much for joining us. Where can people find out more about you and all of your books and anything else they want to know?

Jon Acuff: Yeah, so is my website. So it’s just is the easiest way. And then on Twitter I’m Jon Acuff, J-O-N-A-C-U-F-F. And Facebook I’m author Jon Acuff. But I would say probably what’s most helpful if you’ve got an audience of folks that like marketing, like you and I do, is that I write a kind of entrepreneur’s kind of marketing idea once a week. And it’s just

John Jantsch: Cool.

Jon Acuff: And it’s me sharing what I’ve learned, what’s worked, what didn’t work just in an honest kind of email conversation.

John Jantsch: And we’ll have all these in the show notes for those of you who are listening. So you’re in Nashville and hopefully next time I’m down there I’ll be able to bump into you. But I think one of my last guests Jeff Goins, is he somebody you know?

Jon Acuff: Oh yeah, we live in the same town. He’s 10 minutes from here. I’m a big Jeff Goins fan.

John Jantsch: Yeah, he was just on. In fact, when you were talking about these hiding places his work on Starving Artists certainly is a great place that you were talking about how you’ll sell out if you sell your art and that’s a reason to not actually go out there and try to sell it.

Jon Acuff: Yeah, that’s silly.

John Jantsch: That was definitely there. So Jon, thanks for joining us and again like I said, well now I got two reasons to come to Nashville.

Jon Acuff: Well thanks for having me, I’m sure we’ll run into each other at some point.

John Jantsch: Hey thanks for listening to this episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. I wonder if you could do me a favor, could you leave an honest review on iTunes? Your ratings and reviews really help and I promise I read each and every one, thanks.


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