What happens when goals remain incomplete

Finishing the unfinished business

By Delna Mistry Anand

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Unfulfilled goals due to quarantine concept. Hand tearing off a sticker from white wall. Strikethrough text Plans 2020.
Unfulfilled goals due to quarantine concept. Hand tearing off a sticker from white wall. Strikethrough text Plans 2020.

Published: Fri 17 Dec 2021, 4:20 AM

Last updated: Fri 17 Dec 2021, 4:51 AM

Each year, one of my clients lists the goals and tasks she wants to achieve by the end of the year. This year, she is rather proud of her progress on achieving her primary goals, but some of her smaller goals have become notorious for being passed on from one year’s list to the next. On asking what kind of goals these were, she replied “to learn a foreign language, join a Zumba class, go on a solo trip, start a blog, grow a vegetable garden”. It seemed that she didn’t have the time or a proper plan to see them through, but she intends to achieve them at some stage in her life, so they are back on the 2022 list.

We all have such stories in our life. Think of all the things you have wanted to do, but haven’t; all those books you wanted to read, but never actually got to them; the projects you started with full gusto that dwindled off; the business idea that never took off. The funny thing is that almost all of us have a long list of projects, books, emails, and to-do’s that have been faced with the fate of incompletion. And that feeling bothers us. As creative beings, we are always seeking newer, richer experiences, and often have a lot of things we want to do. But how many of these end up as another unfinished project?

We leave tasks incomplete when we lack either time, focus, clarity or motivation. Also, when we’re working on something without a clear deadline, seeing it through to its end can be a challenge.

However, by nature we are designed to complete tasks. That’s where the dichotomy lies. Have you ever left that uncomfortable, uneasy feeling with the thought of an incomplete project or goal? It’s probably the same reason why my client keeps pushing her unfinished goals to the next year’s list. There is a reason why it’s so hard to stop thinking about unfinished tasks. Psychologists refer to this as the Zeigarnik effect, or the tendency to think more about unfinished tasks than completed ones.

Here are some ideas to help you complete your tasks:

• Make realistic plans: Make sure your goals are realistic, achievable, time-bound, specific and attainable.

• Remind yourself of your desired outcome: Better clarity of your desired outcome gives you the necessary push.

• Flexibility of behaviour: Be ready to adapt your behaviour to the situation. If you want to achieve something you have never achieved before, you should be prepared to do something you’ve never done before, too. Goals need a certain amount of discipline. You will need to invest time, energy, and maybe even money. This means you might have less time for Netflix, sleep, socialising or family time. You must be ready to do all it takes.

• Ecology check: Does this goal fit into your overall lifestyle or plans? If your goal is not congruent with your lifestyle or beliefs, you may want to look into it again.

• Setting the bar too high: Sometimes it’s not failure, but success that makes people clam up and avoid completing a task or project. But remember that there is no such thing as failure, there’s only feedback. And the Universe operates on feedback. The law of inertia tells us that a body in motion stays in motion. So get moving. Now, here’s a question: what happens if you don’t feel like moving? What if the goal/task no longer sparks joy for you? Then try this: Drop the task. Leave it. Sign it off. And in that, find completion, find your peace.

Leaving things unfinished is not always a bad thing. Sometimes, you just need to stop yourself from doing something that has no value for you. Do it without guilt, do it to free up some mental space.

Often in life, we need to make a choice to find completion in chaos. Sometimes, it can be the only way to find peace and strength. Instead of struggling, we can choose to find completion even in a work-in-progress. “Completion” looks different to different people, and in different situations. Be ready to embrace and accept. Live fully and wholly, as though everything is perfect and complete. Or nothing ever will be.


Connect with Delna Mistry Anand across social media @DelnaAnand

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