You and I are adults. But let’s get real, there’s an aspect of our terrible twos that we haven’t fully outgrown: It is our reaction to the word “no.”

When we were toddlers, we didn’t like our parents and/or other caregivers saying, “no, you can’t…” or “no, don’t…” or “no, stop that!” Often, the purpose of their “no…” was to protect us, or to teach us about respect and boundaries. However, that butted up against our desire for independence. After all, we’re now two and we’ve gone from crawling to walking and there are places to explore and things to discover!

Fast forward however many years to today, and you still have places to explore and things to discover. And, you probably still don’t like being told “no.” (Heck, some of us have a hard time also saying “no,” but that’s another post.)

For many people, the word triggers the desire to do the exact opposite. It’s why when some people diet, they fail. Tell them not to eat something, and that is precisely what they crave and end up eating. It’s why some people fail at budgeting. Tell them to budget, and that is precisely when they start to spend even more!

In many instances, “no” is intended to help you. It is not meant to punish you. But chastised is often how you experience it because somehow the word “no” feels like someone is taking away your independence – of thought and in action.

Therefore, what I’m about to say next may make you scratch your head: to finish more, embrace the constraints that come with saying “no” to yourself.

Think Inside the Box

Fundamentally, “no” is all about limitations, boundaries and constraints.

Just as “no” says what you can’t do, if you are curious and discerning, that same “no” can also provide clues of what you perhaps can do. Why? Because creativity thrives amidst limitations, boundaries, and constraints.

We tend to think of creativity through the lens of artistic endeavors and activities, e.g., the storytellers; visual artists; designers; musicians, etc. However, I am a member of the tribe that believes everyone is creative – scientists of all types, business owners, lawyers, teachers, parents, etc.

After all, what characterizes creativity: “…the ability to perceive the world in new ways, to find hidden patterns, to make connections between seemingly unrelated phenomena, and to generate solutions.”

In my opinion, this is why creativity is an important part of getting stuff done. Especially with regards to moving the needle on your unfinished projects.

If you’re not finishing your projects due to indecision, how might viewing your project as if it were a puzzle with many pieces help you think differently about your approach and help you make progress?

If you’re stuck, how might pausing to see what all your stalled projects have in common help you identify a hidden pattern, which may unlock how best to move forward on one or all your unfinished projects?

If you’re waiting for more time to become available on your calendar, how might the constraint of one hour a day force you to think differently about how you spend your time in general, and what you do next and how with regards to your project/s?

”According to psychologists, when you have less to work with, you actually begin to see the world differently.”

I’m so glad you’ve read thus far (thank you). As you have, it still may seem unusual to suggest that you embrace and use limitations, boundaries and constraints as tools to finish what you’ve started.

Perhaps this will help: Your unfinished projects are incomplete for a host of reasons that are likely complex, nuanced and have very little to do with the project in and of itself.

Finishing what you start is hard work. Not just because of the work involved, but because as you work on your projects, you are also working on yourself.

Yeah, you might want to re-read that as this is a piece of the project puzzle that doesn’t get as much attention as it deserves.

See, the projects you choose and start; the projects you complete; the ones you abandon; the ones that are on your list of “unfinished” are all a reflection of what part of your relationship with yourself you are working on.

  • Are you working on loving and caring for yourself more?
  • Are you working on (re) claiming your power?
  • Are you working through fear and insecurity?
  • Are you working on being more brave?
  • Are you working on expressing more of your creativity and thinking independently?
  • Are you working on proving something to yourself?
  • Are you…

Does this all sound woo-woo? Okay, I’ll give you that. But just like money is never just about money and is a mirror for your beliefs, behavior and expectations, to name a few. The same is true of your projects.

Not always, but often, when you have unfinished projects, that don’t have a deadline imposed upon you by anyone else but yourself, and you lose momentum, it’s because you’ve bumped into an inconvenient truth about some aspect of your life. You probably weren’t expecting it; you probably don’t really want to deal with it right now; and it probably sucks.

What’s cool, though, is that you get to choose what you do next, how, and how quickly. And, you get to choose to use creativity – in the fullness of its meaning – to help you navigate and negotiate your way forward. You get to use creativity to help you make progress on your project and to deepen your self-awareness. #winwin

p.s. I used the word “no” to frame this discussion about constraints and creativity. It should go without saying, but just in case: When it comes to sexual harassment and sexual assault, “no” means “hell, no!”)

p.p.s. Our next Comfort Circle™ dinner is scheduled for Monday, September 24th at 6:30pm. During this dinner, we will explore what role indecision plays in your unfinished projects, along with your relationship with time and creativity. Keys to helping you finish the year strong(er)! To learn more and/or to RSVP, click here.

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