Have you begun a new writing project?
You had a brilliant idea and forged ahead with full enthusiasm.
You’re a third of the way in, and you’ve hit a wall.
The original spark that excited you has gone, leaving you facing pages (and pages) of boring, methodical work.
Wallowing in the doldrums, you suddenly hit upon another brilliant idea.
This new spark captures your attention, promising all the excitement and thrills your current project lacks.
You’re off again, starting a brand new project and leaving yet another work-in-progress in your wake.
It’s a cycle we’ve all repeated. Now it’s time to break the habit.
The problem is that we’re addicted to the intoxicating high of new ideas.
The initial rush we get when inspiration hits makes us feel intelligent, inspired, perhaps even invincible. We see where this new idea could take us, and how impressive the end result will be.
This high carries us through the initial planning and into the project, but it’s temporary. Sooner or later, the feeling peters out and we’re left facing the enormity of what we’ve started. Our mind begins looking for its next fix of exhilaration.
In order to move forward on a project, we have to transition from the intoxication of the initial idea into a calmer, longer-lasting positivity, which will carry us through to the finish.
Understanding the Addiction
To make the transition to an ongoing positivity, we first need to understand why we’re addicted to the high of inspiration.
As with all addictions, the high we crave disguises the emotional low we’re trying to avoid. Without the distraction of a fresh idea, we come face-to-face with our fears.
Fear paralyses us with a multitude of ‘what if’ scenarios:
- What if my writing isn’t good enough?
- What if this project turns out to be a flop?
- What if my readers hate this?
To protect us from confronting these questions, our mind searches desperately for a way to return us to the euphoria that blocked the fear. Hey presto! We have a new idea.
But there’s another way to view the situation: Fear means we’re attempting something amazing – something that requires courage and an adventurous spirit. If there wasn’t an element of fear to this, would it be worth doing?
Acknowledging our fears and working through them goes a long way in helping us deal with Idea Addiction.
Of course, even after having moved past our fears, we may still be addicted to fresh inspiration. After all, an idea is full of potential, and having new ideas is essential to our writing.
But to finish our projects, we need to replace Idea Addiction with a new habit, the addiction to completion.
Replacing the Addiction
Our brains are constantly searching for feelings of positivity and success. A simple compliment from a friend not only improves our mood, but also motivates us to repeat our actions in an attempt replicate the experience.
If the brain feels good doing an action once, then it figures it should do the action again and again. (Anyone who has eaten chocolate will understand this concept.)
When you get a new idea, your brain is flooded with excitement and happiness. It naturally wants to repeat the process.
But to complete a project, we need to replace Idea Addiction with Completion Addiction.
Completion Addiction uses the euphoric high you feel at the end of a project as incentive to continue working on it.
Stop for a moment and remember the last time you completed a project.
Remember the jubilant feeling of success that continued for days. Did you dance with glee? Did you shout your news from the rooftops? Did you treat yourself to dinner and spoil yourself with dessert? Do you still think back with happiness, weeks – even months – later, as you recall your completed project?
This ‘fix’ is a deeper, more lasting bliss than the brief elation of a new idea. By using this completion high as motivation, you can train your brain to remain focused and energized as you work on your project.
How does this work in practice?
How to Train Your Brain
You can train your brain to seek the completion high by completing a project and savoring the feeling of accomplishment this completion brings.
You’re effectively showing yourself that this is an achievable and desirable high that you can seek again and again.
As with all brain training, this takes time and dedication. To start this training, you will need:
- A small project you can complete relatively easily, perhaps a small e-book or short story.
- A vision of your end-product and the route you’ll take to get there.
- The determination to make it through the rough patches and the fears to reach the end of your project.
Armed with these, follow the process given below to train your brain for Completion Addiction.
1. Choose your small project. Pick something you’ve already started. If you’re in the middle of a big project, break it into smaller projects so you can ‘trick’ your brain into a completion high.
2. Commit to your project. Set yourself a deadline. Tell your friends and family what you’ve got planned. This accountability will keep you focused.
Envision this as a finished project. What will it look like? How will it be used?
3. Don’t envision fame. Envision satisfaction. Psych yourself up for the work ahead.
4. Make a list of the steps you need to tackle in order to complete this project. Keep the steps to a manageable size.
5. When you’re tempted by the high of a new idea, record the idea somewhere and return to your project. Keep envisioning your finished product and the satisfaction you’ll feel when it’s done.
6. Take note of the fears you face as you continue your project. Don’t hide from the fear, or push it away, but work through it. Treat each fear as a challenge to be overcome.
7. Breathe in the jubilant high of completion. When you finally finish your project, bask in that moment. Enjoy your accomplishment.
8. Carry the yearning for completion on to your next project.
You may need to repeat these steps several times before your brain gets addicted to completion, but using this technique will get you from write to done.
Once you learn how to complete every writing project you start, you will not only accomplish more, but also experience a calmness as you work.
With this new addiction in place, you’ll feel more in control of your goals and projects, instead of frantically jumping from one idea to another. You will also recognize and face your fears, a great way to keep them in check.
The high of new ideas and the fears we face will never go away. But with simple brain training, you can conquer your fears and bring each new idea to fruition.
How do you keep yourself focused and energized to complete your projects? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.