How To Not Give Up On Your Goals: Jon Acuff’s ‘Finish’

Joshua Poh
5 min readDec 13, 2017

3 more weeks to the new year.

Time to take stock of the past year — what did you finish? Do you dwell on all the things you’ve abandoned, failed or given up on?

But it’s okay, ‘new year, new you’ right? 2018 is going to be different you say!

Time to set new goals and crush it in the new year!

Well, you’re not alone. Check out this graph on Google Trends for the search terms ‘goal setting’ and ‘new year resolutions’.

People just like you are Googling how to set goals and making new resolutions

How many times have we told ourselves (or heard someone say) “2018 is going to be my year, dude! I’m going to quit smoking or go running every morning”.

Well, guess what?

Only 8% of people keep or finish the goals they set at their New Year’s resolutions.

From the Huffington Post:

“There are many reasons people can’t stick to their resolutions, from setting too many of them to getting derailed by small failures. Setting overly ambitious and restrictive goals… is one major cause of failure”

Jon Acuff’s aptly-titled ‘Finish’ is an antidote to this behaviour pattern.

Acuff’s approach runs counter to conventional personal productivity literature. In the mass of voices telling you to “dream big”, his is the voice of reason telling you “Wait, are you biting off more than you can chew?”

Have a look at the five main principles of goal setting and goal management advocated in the book:

1. Cut Yourself Some Slack

Let’s face it — no matter how well you start something, you will screw up and fail when pursuing a new project.

Let’s say you’re training for a marathon. There will be days where your boss forces you to work late. Or your water heater broke and you had to run emergency errands, forcing you to miss training. Or you can get sidelined by an injury.

You feel like you’ve failed. You’ve broken a promise to yourself and you feel like crap. It’s easier to give up.

But this is to be expected. Just because you’ve had a misstep, doesn’t mean you’ve failed.

Rise up and try again.

As Acuff says:

“The day after perfect is what separates finishes from starters. Reject tbe idea that the day after perfect means you’ve failed.”

2. To ‘Finish’, Cut Your Goal In Half

It’s better to do less more consistently, than aim for more and crash and burn permanently.

“Go big or go home”, says dime-a-dozen motivational speakers.

Big words appeal to our inherent desire for grandeur.

We want massive success. We want to awaken our inner power.

If it’s not big, it’s not worth doing, right? Big goals excite us and can be motivating. We dream of the glory — that person who completes a full marathon despite not running more than 1 kilometer before

This is not only dangerous (for health), it is also foolishly optimistic. Aim lower!

We often overestimate what we can achieve in a given time.

From ‘Finish’:

“This goes against every sappy motivational statement in that cursive script on photos of a waterfall universe, but if you dream too big at the start, you curse your finish”.

3. You Can’t Have It All

Choose what to focus on and willingly ‘bomb’ the rest.

We think we can train for a marathon while taking care of kids, being a career superstar and being a wonderful spouse.

When you’re tackling a big goal like raining for a marathon, you need to spend time out there running, money on replacing worn out running shoes and food. If you already have a packed life, expect yourself to lose something in that pursuit.

To accomplish a goal, you need to spend time on it.

You need to divert attention from something else to focus on that goal.

Willing ‘bomb’ things and celebrate small wins, and you’ll be more motivated to complete that ambitious goal

4. Beware Mind Tricks

Perfection is not our only enemy. Time-wasters, distractions abound.

Our minds love to come up with excuses why you can’t complete a goal. Beware what Acuff terms ‘noble obstacles and secret rules’.

Noble obstacles sound like “If only I had a good pair of shoes, then I can start my marathon training otherwise I will get injured”.

Hidden rules sound like “If I’m not miserable, I’m not doing something productive”.

Beware the tricks your mind will try to play on you to get you to give up on your goals.

5. Data Is Your Friend

In ‘Finish’, Acuff tells the story of a man Jason who is on a quest to lose weight.

With every weight-loss or muscle building quest, you will hit a snag or times when you don’t feel like progressing. The number on the scale doesn’t budge no matter what you do.

But wait, there are other measurements you can use to track your progress. If feelings are hotly screaming at you to give up, data is that calm, rational voice telling you “Wait, you’re making progress!”

For example, beyond the scale, Jason can also look at

  • Pants / shirt size
  • BMI
  • Number of times ran
  • Distance ran
  • Number of times went to the gym
  • Food diary

In the realm of constantly shifting feelings, social media comparisons and potential self-loathing, data is your friend. Measure data to see how far you’ve come and not just how far left you have to go.

Final Thoughts On ‘Finish’

Contrary to the typical self-improvement book, Acuff’s ‘Finish’ says there’s no shame in having small goals.

There’s no shame in stumbling or not having it together all the time. We are more efficient when we focus on one thing at a time and if that requires us to make the thing smaller or take a little longer to achieve it, it’s okay.

‘Finish’ was a very apt read for the holidays. Jon Acuff has a very humorous writing style. He peppers the narrative with stories and witty barbs allowing the 200-odd pages to go by fast. He manages to make a conventionally dry topic become humorous without sacrificing quality or readability. ‘Finish’ can also be used as a strategy guide, he lists quickly actionable points at the end of each chapter to quickly apply.

When we are surrounded by advice on goal-setting and ‘becoming a new you’, his book is a refreshing read in the self-improvement landscape. This book is a recommended read if you have no problems starting something, but always lose steam halfway and bail before reaching the finishing line.

Originally published at on December 13, 2017.



Joshua Poh

Freelance writer and content marketer for B2B SaaS companies. More at