The Danger Of The Finish Line

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Finish line.
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As I've mentioned many times before, I'm hard at work on a book about how we make and break habits. This masterpiece will hit the shelves in 2015.

One thing that took me a long time to realize, in the study of habits: the danger of finish lines.

Setting a finish line does indeed help people reach a goal, but although it's widely assumed to help habit-formation, the reward of hitting a specific goal actually can undermine habits.

A finish line marks a stopping point, and once we stop, we must start over, and starting over is harder than starting.

The more dramatic the goal, the more decisive the end-and the more effort required to start over. By providing a specific goal, a temporary motivation, and requiring a new "start" once reached, hitting a milestone may interfere with habit-formation.

Also, once we decide that we've achieved success, we tend to stop moving forward.

Even an intermediate finish line can interfere with good habits. In a letter, novelist Kurt Vonnegut advised his son Mark:

"I have seen a lot of writers stop writing or at least slow down after getting an advance. They have a feeling of completion after making a deal. That's bad news creatively...I advise you to carry on without an advance, without that false feeling of completion."

Have you ever found that hitting a finish line meant that you stopped doing something, even though you'd been doing it successfully to that point? That you thought you'd been forging a habit, but it turned out not to be?

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