I recently read tennis star Andre Agassi’s memoir, Open, even though I’m not interested in tennis, because so many people recommended it to me. And I must say, the book is fascinating.
The other day, I posted a happiness quotation from the book.
Today is the last Agassi reference, I promise. This passage caught my attention, because it’s about the power of the finish line.
One thing that took me a long time to realize, in the study of habits: the danger of finish lines. They came up in my study of the complicated Strategy of Reward.
Setting a finish line does indeed help people reach a goal, but although it’s widely assumed to help habit-formation, the reward of hitting a specific goal actually can undermine habits.
The more I thought about finish lines, the more I noticed…there’s something strange about finish lines. They have a weird, unpredictable power. They need to be considered very carefully. They affect our habits in ways we might not expect.
Agassi captures this beautifully.
The finish line at the end of a career is no different from the finish line at the end of a match. The objective is to get within reach of that finish line, because then it gives off a magnetic force. When you’re close, you can feel that force pulling you, and you can use that force to get across. But just before you come within range, or just after, you feel another force, equally strong, pushing you away. It’s inexplicable, mystical, these twin forces, these contradictory energies, but they both exist. I know, because I’ve spent so much of my life seeking the one, fighting the other, and sometimes I’ve been stuck, suspended, bounced like a tennis ball between the two.
Here’s an example. My friend Adam Gilbert founded the terrific program My Body Tutor, to help people get fit and healthy through accountability. He told me that sometimes, people will do very well with their new healthy habits, and then when they get within a few pounds of their goal weight, they drop out.
This really surprised me. Wouldn’t the promise of hitting the finish line keep people going? Yes, sometimes. But sometimes people become uneasy as they near the finish line — just as Agassi explains. Or people cross a finish line, say by reaching a goal weight, and they immediately push off in the other direction, with contradictory energy, and seem to hurry to undo all the work they’ve done.
Finish lines. There’s an odd atmosphere around them. Agassi captured it better than I’ve ever seen elsewhere.
What about you? Have you seen unexpected behavior emerge around a finish line — in yourself or other people?