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There’s No Party for the Middle: Jon Acuff Talks Finish at Executive Leadership Series

Jon Acuff at Regent University’s Executive Leadership Series. New York Times bestselling author Jon Acuff has what he calls a “mausoleum” of objects representing unfinished hobbies in his garage: a snowboard, a fishing pole and even an estimated 19 sticks of half-used Chapsticks.

He has a history of setting “bad goals,” he told more than 300 guests at Regent University’s Executive Leadership Series on Thursday, September 21.

They’ve manifested in his life in several ways, including wanting to be a kicker for the Sanford football team – and he’d sneak into the stadium at midnight to practice.

“During that field goal practice I made approximately zero field goals,” said Acuff.

And he’s not alone. He quoted a whopping 92 percent of all New Year resolutions – goals – fail, because the majority of these bad goal-setters don’t finish what they start.

“You have a better shot of getting into Julliard and being a professional ballerina in New York – that’s an 8.6 percent [chance], tiny dancer – than you do of finishing a goal,” said Acuff.

Each year January rolls around. Overly optimistic individuals set goals and drop them three weeks later without ever considering a different approach to their dreams.

“If 92 percent of your neighbors were mauled by bears, you would treat your neighborhood differently,” said Acuff. “But we don’t change and we keep starting, starting and starting.”

In 2013, Acuff published his book Start under the surmise that the problem those 92 percent of goal-setters were facing was simply…starting. He explained that pop culture is full of platitudes like, “well-begun is half-done” and “the hardest part of the journey is the first step.”

“That sounds nice on Instagram on a picture of a unicorn,” said Acuff. “But that’s not even remotely true. The middle is a lot harder than the beginning. We have launch parties. There’s no party for ‘the middle.’”

Acuff launched his latest book, Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done, on September 12, with hopes to help his readers stop being haunted by the “ghosts” of their unfinished goals.

“Goals you don’t finish don’t disappear,” he said. “When you make a goal, you’re actually making a promise. A promise to yourself. And when you break that goal, you’re breaking a promise to the person you spend the most time with.”

There are a number of factors that prohibit these promises from being kept. One of the largest, according to Acuff, is perfectionism, or the fact that they’re “oversized” from the very beginning. A study in Finish found that those who cut their goals in half – say, setting out to lose five pounds instead of ten – led to a 63 percent higher success rate.

“If you want to fail before you even begin, make your goal too big,” said Acuff.

Additionally, Acuff said that focusing on the “game-changing” bonus of having fun, “borrowing the diplomas of others,” and not feeling like you have to do things on your own can help a goal go from start to finish.

“Starting is fun,” said Acuff. “But the future belongs to finishers.”