Several years ago, we noticed a strange pattern in our lives together. With marathon to-do lists, overflowing inboxes, and the constant demands of raising a small human being, we spent much of life trying to achieve "completion."
Completion might be getting to inbox zero. Or it might be finally planning out all of our daughter's summer camps. Or it might be that ecstatic feeling of having a house that's perfectly clean and in order.
What’s the problem with completion? The problem, we realized, is that it's like a mirage in the desert. The moment you think it's within reach, it fades away into the distance: an avalanche of new emails land in your inbox, a full glass of juice topples onto the floor, or a global pandemic happens.
That's the problem. This goal we spent our days working for ended up being almost impossible to achieve. And, in those rare moments when we summited the mountain of completion, it always turned out to be a false summit. There was always more to be done.
We started calling this “completion addiction." It’s an addiction based on the following belief: “I can finally relax when [INSERT COMPLETED TASK HERE]."
“I can finally relax when I've followed up with everyone at work.“ “I can finally relax when the house looks like a page out of Martha Stewart Magazine." “I can finally relax when I’ve completed every single task on my to-do list."
The trap of completion addiction is obvious. We're postponing feeling present, relaxed, and happy, for what? For that 10 second hit of dopamine we get when we finally finish everything.
That quick hit of pleasure is what we gain. What we lose is the ability to give our full time and attention to the people who matter most: our family.
We think completion addiction is a losing strategy. But what’s the alternative?
The first step is to limit the scope of your “completion addiction.” It’s easier and, quite frankly more sane, to strive for completion in just a few areas rather than to try to complete every random task that lands on your plate. It's saying to yourself, “I’ll feel complete if I do three things today: work out, spend time with my family, and solve that high priority problem at work.” Limiting the scope is the opposite of saying what we often say, “I’ll only feel complete if I've worked out, meditated/prayed, planned out the meals for the week, responded to every text and email, and cleaned the house to catalogue-worthy perfection."
This one gets a bit edgy. Incompletion, after all, conjures up all sorts of negative associations. It might remind you of when you were in college and you received an “incomplete," a blemish on your transcript that signified the opposite of excellence. We think it’s worth turning this idea on its head and aspiring to become friends with incompletion. See if you can be content with a messy house for a day. See if you can end your work day with unanswered texts and emails. See if you can just delete that article your friend forwarded you instead of feeling obligated to read it.
It’s a strange and counter-habitual aspiration. But the more we begin to unwind our completion addiction, the more we open up time and headspace for greater connection, intimacy and love in marriage.