Begin with the end in mind: a different interpretation

Stephen Covey’s 2nd habit in “7 Habits of Highly Successful People” is “begin with the end in mind.” In other words, you have to visualize the outcome you want before you embark on something. The vision forces you to be proactive instead of reactive in your life.

I have an additional interpretation of this advice: before I buy or join or start anything, I ask myself how I will manage the end. How will I leave this job/dispose of this thing/quit this organization? I may not ever stick with that plan, but at least I consider it. Not everything has a natural end, so it forces me to pause and think of the entire lifespan of the new thing. Sometimes, I end up choosing not to add the new thing at all. Most things do or should eventually end somehow, so it’s probably better to address the end head-on instead of letting it drift along.

Whenever you decide to buy a thing, join a group, start a relationship, or begin an activity, it’s easy to get swept up in the excitement of saying yes to something. But thanks to the sunk cost fallacy (where we’re reluctant let go of something that no longer works for us because we’ve already invested so much into it), we can easily accumulate lots of dead weight in our lives. We don’t think about how much trouble it would be to get rid of an item after we’re done with it. We stay in the wrong career or wrong relationship too long because we’ve invested so much time already, and we hang on to things we no longer like because we paid good money for them in the past. This crowds out other opportunities that might make us happier.

The other advantage of beginning with the end in mind is that imagining the end makes you appreciate the present more. As we’ve all experienced, endings create deadlines that force you not to waste time. And the ultimate end, death, is something we should consider more if we want to make the most out of our lives and our relationships. Nothing lasts forever and we’re not even guaranteed tomorrow, so let’s use that knowledge to filter out the b.s., cherish what we have now, and make better use of the limited time we’re given.