Can't finish anything.
May 15, 2008 6:04 PM   Subscribe

How can I prevent myself from getting sick of something long enough to finish it?

I don't know if this is just an unfortunate personality trait I've developed or something "deeper", but I seem to have the inability to finish things, and it's made me miserable. I have no real hobbies anymore because of it. I can't finish books, video games, television series, et cetera. In the past, I've tried to do new things, such as how to play an instrument or a new language, but fairly early on, I'll get sick of it and quit. If you've ever eaten too much of something, and gotten so sick of it that just the mention of it makes you ill, then you know exactly how I feel. That's the best way I can describe how I feel about the things I try.

I've tried spacing out what I do, such as reading only one chapter of a book a week, but that didn't help.

Does anyone know how I can prevent this from happening so I can actually finish something, or, can anyone figure out from this short description why I get sick of things so quick? I'm sure someone will suggest I see a therapist or something, but this isn't an option at the moment.
posted by Rhadamanthus to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Two things:

1- There's nothing wrong with starting a hobby/book/movie and getting sick of it. If you aren't enjoying what is supposed to be a pleasurable experience, why do it?

2- Are you really sure it's the thing that's causing your ennui? Or are you embarking on these things as a substitute for something else? I'm picturing a scenario like "I don't have a significant other, but maybe filling my life with contrived hobbies will fill the void" or something like that. Not saying you're doing this on purpose or consciously. Just something to think about.
posted by gjc at 6:14 PM on May 15, 2008

As I get older, I find my attention span for learning new things has gone down less and less. I don't think this has anything to do with me losing my ability to focus, I think it's more of a result of getting to know myself better.

There's a small handful of things that I really get passionate about and really stay interested in. Then there's a large number of things that I have a mild interest in and that in theory I would love to be able to do, but I've learned to let a lot of those go and not to force myself to delve too deeply into it if I'm not feeling it. It's been hard. There's been certain activities that I could have sworn would be "my thing," but my eventual lack of momentum always signals to me that perhaps I should focus on something else.

I still try a variety of new things as often as I can, but it's rare for me to find a new interest that really sticks. Completely awesome when I do, but also rare considering the number of things I try.

So my thought for you is maybe you are still simply getting to know yourself and your real interests? Perhaps, despite the variety of things that you've tried so far, you simply haven't found some that really move you? My suggestion would be to keep trying the new things that perk your interest....I would guess you would eventually find a hobby that you really love and could commit to without effort.

Also I imagine it can be nice to be a very well-rounded person who's dabbled in a great variety of things but never mastered one....I know many people like this, it doesn't strike me as a bad thing.
posted by Squee at 6:33 PM on May 15, 2008 [3 favorites]

Along the same lines as what gjc said, the stuff you're mentioning doesn't seem like it's worth finishing if you don't enjoy it. The easiest way to finish a book or a video game or a TV series is to watch one you really like. If you don't like it enough to finish it, there's nothing wrong with it. I'm very much like this with some video games and tv series. The purpose of those things is to entertain you, and if it's not entertaining, don't force it.

My advice is to find hobbies that you sincerely enjoy, that don't feel like a chore. Or, on the chance that you really like the stuff you start, don't sweat it when you reach that "full" point. It served its purpose for a while, dump it when it doesn't anymore.

It shouldn't be a big deal as long as you're applying this to recreational things, and not your job or school or obligations to other people.
posted by Nattie at 6:38 PM on May 15, 2008

I don't think that what you're feeling is unnatural in any way. Everyone goes through these feelings to some extent or another. Personally, I find it gets worse if I spread myself too thin or try and tackle things that have no immediate benefit (i.e. learning Italian if I have no plans on going there anytime soon). I used to try and cram so many things into my free time that I'd just end up bouncing from one project to the next. As I've become wiser in my age, I've learned that If I think of something that may interest me I'll write it down in a book I keep. Every so often I'll dive into the book and pick a few things to do (whatever my free time will allow) and amuse myself with those until I finish them, and then back into the book for something new. I find this helps in a number of ways, some of which are:

- I can pick out activities, books, etc... that fit into my time schedule.
- I don't overload myself with too many things at once.
- I can prioritize my learning and activities.
- I can choose only those things that most interest me at any given time.

Anyhow, that's how I've grown to deal with burn-out. Hope it helps in some way.
posted by ISeemToBeAVerb at 6:49 PM on May 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

Loosing interest in things you once enjoyed is a symptom of depression. If you are loosing interest in new things you are trying it could just be that these things aren't what you thought they would be.

I do suffer from depression but I'm taking Welbutrin these days and some of the things that I thought I loved and lost interest in because of my depression are things I just didn't enjoy I guess. Like the violin. I asked my husband to buy me one for Christmas 5 years ago since I used to sing opera and chorus, I enjoy classical music, and my hands are too small to play piano. But I found the violin more difficult then I thought it would be and now it's sitting in it's case in the top of my closet.

I think as we grow older and learn more about ourselves we also learn we like different things than we used to. I would suggest trying a different genre of book. If you're reading sci-fi try horror or mystery. Since getting treatment for my depression I've discovered that I don't like enjoy reading classic literature anymore but after a trip to a book sale last week I've read 3 books by Dave Barry and two "Uncle John's Bathroom Readers"

So unless you're showing other symptoms of depression or even (I shudder to say it because it is way over used) attention deficit disorder then just try changing things up a bit.
posted by Kioki-Silver at 6:50 PM on May 15, 2008

I am *very* much the same.

I get very interested in something, take it up with great enthusiasm, and a month later it's with all the other things. I take it a bit like Squee says, I know the basics of how to play a guitar, how to sew, how to knit, how to woodcarve, how to do basic carpentry, how to grow fruit and vegetables, how to play the recorder, how to fly a real plane, how to fly a model plane, how to paraglide, how to decorate a cake, how to draw, how to rollerblade, how to play piano, how to sing in a choir, how to speak chinese, how to speak german, etc. etc. etc. I have all the equipment and information I need to get into any of those things seriously, but the urge just isn't there.

Now, while I have actually been professionally diagnosed with ADD (yay!), I also recognise that this is largely who I am, and therefore I think that I am probably going to spend a lot of my life trying out new things without necessarily mastering any of them.

Try and see it as an exploration of how things work, and gaining practical skills. I learned how to sew in a series of classes, made some garments, bought the machinery, enjoyed it for a month or two and have barely touched it in a year or so. But now I know how sewing works, and given the need can go back to it.

I honestly cannot grasp the concept of having a driving passion for one thing, say, playing an instrument. I have friends who are wonderful at music, but despite searching for it within myself, it's not there. I like to know how it's done at a basic level, not necessarily feel the need to be able to do it. The passion for it isn't there.

Do you find yourself all of a sudden being sick of a hobby? Like, learning something and then all of a sudden one night you're thinking about nothing in particular and BAM, you realise that you just aren't interested in doing the hobby anymore? This happens to me on occasion.

What has worked for me with some things is scheduling time, such as `I will read a book for an hour tonight', and removing distractions, but I am somewhat resigned to it. Not necessarily a bad thing, I just need to keep finding new things to try. I have done many more activities than a lot of my friends, and that's not a bad thing.
posted by tomble at 7:03 PM on May 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

Have you read the book Refuse To Choose? I didn't love everything about it but it did a great job of describing people like me...who tend to get involved with things serially, to dabble a bit, to be interested in a lot of things but maybe not enough in any one thing to become an expert.

I know that doesn't answer your question, which is "how do I learn to finish thing?" But reading the book helped me understand and accept myself a little bit more.
posted by not that girl at 7:49 PM on May 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

I was initially going to give a completely different response, but I looked at your previous question, and based on that I'm going to nth Kioki-silver's suggestion. I do not mean this in a bad way--but perhaps you should see a psychiatrist or a GP and be evaluated. Losing interest in things you enjoyed is a symptom of depression (plus more symptoms of course) - but it is not uncommon to have an anxiety disorder plus depression so I think seeing a physician may be the best step. With treatment, the symptoms will probably go away.

Returning to your initial question, have you tried any of these approaches? These are just philosophical or different ways to try something new. In all honesty, there is nothing wrong with not having many hobbies or not finishing a book. But if it is that important, perhaps if you try a different approach such as one of the following:

--If you want to start a new hobby that is challenging at times (running or exercise X), find some activity buddies. Either do this with a friend or find someone new (craigslist is good in a large city for this). If you know your buddy is standing there waiting for you - waiting for you to run 1 mile, you will be more likely to go. If there is a social activity, etc, linked to it, you may be more likely to do the activity week after week.

--Add some way of assessing that you complete the event or goal to work towards (eg, run in a 5 K race; read one book; etc.). If there are other things you enjoy, give yourself a point system and a reward.

--Try new activities. If you cannot finish movies - try going to a play - or camel racing, whatever, you may enjoy the other activity.

--Try to get the same information in different ways. IF you cannot finish a book, try the book on CD -- or a short version of the book -- or just reading newspaper articles, etc. There is nothing wrong with getting the info in a different format.

--If you have a short attention span (nothing wrong with that, me too) -- try some of these things in short intervals. Read a few words of a book or newspaper article on a subway or bus, but don't sit down and plan to read the entire book.

Good luck.
posted by Wolfster at 7:52 PM on May 15, 2008

If you don't think it's a result of depression, then I highly recommend the book Refuse to Choose... it can be a little cheesy at times, but reading it was the first time in my life where I felt totally okay about the fact that I have crazy interests all over the place without really following through on any of them.
posted by logic vs love at 8:00 PM on May 15, 2008

Sometimes you can build some short term "goof-off" stuff into whatever long term activities or goals you have. I have several podcasts that I like to listen to, but I only listen to them while I commute to and from work by bicycle each day. I get about 7-8 hours of exercise that way each week without using up any extra time away from my wife and children (it takes me the same amount of time to take the train as it does to ride my bike). It might sound funny, but what gets me going in the morning is thinking about what podcast I'm going to be listening to. I'm still trying to think of something like that that will get me to practice on my guitar a few hours a week.
posted by Rafaelloello at 8:01 PM on May 15, 2008

As far as TV series, heck, they lose my interest all the time. Last year Ghost Whisperer and Medium were 2 of my favorite shows; this season, I haven't watched all of Medium and I haven't watched any of Ghost Whisperer.

When it comes to video games, well, there are 10-hour games and then there are 100+ hour games.
posted by IndigoRain at 8:24 PM on May 15, 2008

I also add my vote for reading Refuse to Choose, you sound very much like me - a Scanner - and you're of the variety that loves to start new things. Nothing wrong with that at all but I can understand how it could be all kinds of frustrating.

You could also try doing things really fast? I do this with clothes shopping for example as it's something I get sick of within about 2 hours. I know my internal going-to-get-bored-of-this-really-soon clock is ticking so I seriously prioritise and shop only for the things I really need / want before my clock runs out and boredom strikes. You could try reading your books in one or two sittings, or working on little projects that don't take too long to finish like sculpey or cooking?

Also don't be hard on yourself if you like to pick things up and then never touch them again, that's fine as it's your life and your money. There certainly should be more than enough topics of interest out there to keep you engaged indefinately. And definately check out Refuse to Choose, I think you will find it very useful.

Hope that helps!
posted by katala at 4:13 AM on May 16, 2008

This might sound fatuous-- but have you had your eyes checked? I experienced a similar thing a couple of years ago. Couldn't finish books or sit through movies, etc. Finally realized that I couldn't see. As soon as I got glasses the problem went away.

So chin up-- don't assume you're flighty, depressed, or whatever. Maybe you just can't see.
posted by nax at 4:20 AM on May 16, 2008

Refuse to Choose is an awesome book - but make sure you also read this one.
posted by jbickers at 5:33 AM on May 16, 2008

gjc: These were hobbies I used to enjoy, so, I keep trying for that reason alone. As for 2, I've never really been interested in relationships, so it's not that. I'm content on my own.

Squee: The problem is I never see things through long enough for them to be an asset, so it's not really a "jack of all trades, master of none, though ofttimes better than master of one" situation with me, unfortunately.

Nattie: It's not that I don't enjoy some of the things I play or read entirely, but rather, I'll like it, and then just get sick of it. For example, I started reading a book (Catcher in the Rye) I liked, but wound up getting sick of it half-way through, despite the fact that I did like it.

ISeemToBeAVerb: It's not that I'm trying too many things at once -- usually I try to focus on one thing at a time.

Kioki-Silver: I haven't been to a therapist (or psychologist, or psychiatrist) in years, so I don't know necessarily if I'm depressed, or if I have attention deficit disorder. I haven't really read into either of them, and I know better than to try and self-diagnose myself with a problem.

tomble: Generally, an interest for me doesn't even make it to a month. Usually only about two weeks at the most. I do, though, will out of the blue lose interest in something.

not that girl, logic vs lore, jbickers: No, I've never heard of those books before. I'll look into them.

Wolfster: I would see a psychiatrist if I had health insurance. Unfortunately, I've been having a difficult time trying to find a job in my town that I'm qualified for. As for having someone to do an activity with, I don't really know anyone. I've moved a lot, and eventually gave up on trying to meet new people. I don't think a new format would work -- I'll get sick of whatever it is as a whole.

Rafaelloello: I don't really have any long-term goals or activities that I could apply that to. I'm kind of dormant at the moment.

IndigoRain: I generally play RPGs, but when I do play other genres that aren't really known for their longevity, I still get sick of it fairly quick. It doesn't help that I'm terrible at genres other than RPGs.

Katala: Unfortunately, video games and reading aren't really things I'd be able to race through. And with books, I'd wind up missing key points.

Nax: I wear glasses whenever I'm not out in public due to astigmatism, so it's not that I can't see anything.
posted by Rhadamanthus at 1:20 PM on May 16, 2008

Well, that about covers it. You don't know what's wrong, have taken no steps to find out, and are clear that every solution presented is the wrong one. Remind me again how you wanted us to help?
posted by nax at 1:34 AM on May 17, 2008

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