Interest, Excitement and Your Natural Stopping Point

As I was relecting the diagram showing the lifespan of my idea interest, it struck me that my “bail-out” points were located in what looks like strange places: at low points of interest. Wouldn’t it make more sense to bail-out when interest is high, rather than waiting for a crash of interest?

What I realized, though, is that I was falling into a trap: I was confusing interest with excitement.

Relating Interest and Excitement

Interest and excitement are closely related. The more interested we are in something, the more excitement we feel and the more energy we have to work on a project.

At the same time, I personally find that my interest level tends to be a bit more up-and-down than my excitement level. For example, I can remain excited about something in the general sense but not be interested in it “in the moment”. So in my experience, interest and excitement are related, but are not the same thing.

If we were to overlay my excitement levels onto the previous graph, it might look something like this (the red lines are the bail-out points from the previous diagram):

 

Levels of Interest and Excitement

Levels of Interest and Excitement

In the newly revised diagram, you can see that my excitement rises and falls with my interest, but it’s not quite as … tempermental. While my interest flares up and wanes occasionally, my excitement for a certain project follows a pretty standard trajectory. It goes up for a while, stabilizes, and then goes down for a while.

Bailout Blues

So going back to the original question, then, why do I tend to “bail-out” of projects when I do? When we looked only at interest, it seemed as though I would bail out whenever my interest level was low.

If that were the case, though, I’d find myself quitting before I even got started. And some of the bailout points wouldn’t really make sense. Take point #1 for example: at this point, my interest is still higher than it was when I got started. So clearly, I’m still interested in the idea. So why would I quit when my interest dropped just a little bit? Do I get bored that easily?

More clarity comes when we add excitement into the picture. The pattern that emerges is quite elegant when you think about it: bailouts appear most likely when excitement and interest are at widely different levels.

But consider this: when you lose interest in something, but are still excited by it,  you may well choose to return to it at a later point, or you may find your excitement disappears along with your interest. So we can’t ignore that excitement is affected by changes in interest, and vice versa.

Instead of looking at levels of excitement and interest, then, what happens when we look at how they trend in relation to each other. Taking my drawing above, we can look at my personal excitement and interest bailout points as follows:

  1. Excitement Rising, Interest Falling
  2. Excitement Holding, Interest Falling
  3. Excitement Falling, Interest Falling

Now a very clear pattern has emerged. I quit when my interest has fallen, regardless of what my excitement level is. But does this really make sense?

The Best Time to Quit

When we compare the bailout points, it seems silly to bail when there is still more interest and excitement yet to be had (point #1). At the same time, it’s really not very much fun to hang on and force yourself to do something that you’re neither excited about, nor interested in (point #3).

It would appear that the best time to quit something, then, is when your excitement is fairly static (or just starting to decline) but your interest is clearly falling. Otherwise, you risk just making yourself miserable.

But how do you know what that is? When is the best time to quit — how do you know when your has excitement peaked and your interest begun to wane? In other words, what is your natural stopping point?

One of the best ways to do this is to simply keep track of all the ideas you have (or projects you start). For each, note the following:

  • Project/Idea Description (1-2 sentences is fine).
  • Points at which you felt like bailing (whether you did or not), and for each point:
    • Interest level (rank, 1-10)
    • Excitement level at bailout (rank, 1-10)
    • What you were doing at the time?
  • When you finally do bail, do you feel as though you hung on too long?

Do this for a week or two as honestly as possible (ie. don’t continue doing something just because you think the numbers are telling you should, and likewise don’t quit just because you think the numbers are telling you to do so).

At the end of your logging period, go back and review your log. A good way to do this is to break your log into two pieces: one containing all the times you felt you hung on too long, and one for all the times that you didn’t.

  • For all the times when you felt as though you hung on too long, can you find an earlier bailout point where your excitement was high but your interest was dropping off (we’ll call this your “optimal bailout”)? If yes, what were you doing at that time?
  • For all the times when you felt as though you didn’t hang on too long, what were you doing at the time? (This is also an “optimal bailout”)

Now — and here’s the magic of the log — can you find a general theme among what you were doing at your optimal bailouts? For example, you might find that your optimal bailouts always occured when you had produced a working draft of an idea. Or perhaps it always occured when you had figured out how things worked. Maybe for you, it happens when you’ve released the final version of something (and really, really hope that you never have to look at it again!) Or maybe something else.

Your Personal Stopping Point

The key is that this general theme is your natural stopping point. It’s the point at which you have reached your maximum enjoyment (and probably your maximum effectiveness, too, since very few of us do our best work when we’re not enjoying it).

What’s really cool is that your natural stopping point (NSP) also shows one of your greatest strengths.

For example, if one of your strengths is finding connections between ideas, your NSP will likely occur shortly after you’ve made the connection. If your strength is seeing patterns, your NSP will happen once the patterns have become clear to you. If your strength is tying together all the loose ends, your NSP will be when something is wrapped up in a neat little package, all ready to go. And so on.

The critical thing to realize is that your stopping point may not be the same as everyone else’s. But that’s okay — don’t let anyone tell you it’s not! Each of us has our own strengths and our own abilities, and just because yours might not be the same as your neighbors doesn’t mean they’re any less valuable.

By the same token, your NSP may not be the same as everyone else’s — you may be “done” long before the product is shipped, for example. But that simply means that you’ve already given your best, and used your strengths. And that’s a good thing; something to be proud of.

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