The Habit of Completion

In the movie,The King’s Speech(dir. Tom Hooper), the speech therapist (Geoffrey Rush) provides the stuttering King George VI (Colin Firth) with a set of exercises to keep his body and mind moving forward while speaking.  By keeping his body and mind in a state of flow, King George VI was able to keep his speeches moving forward whenever he had the urge to stutter.  The speech therapist was teaching King George VI the habit of completion.

I first learned the habit of completion during my stint as a nationally competitive speaker in high school and college.  Team members were encouraged keep going all the way until the end of their speeches if we messed up rather than stopping and starting over.  People who did not practice this habit of completing their speeches often started out well during competition, but would start to stumble toward the end of their speeches, or they would rush the ending in general because they didn’t practice pacing their entire speeches.  Those that did practice their speeches all the way through learned how to recover if the forgot their lines, and had a much better idea of how to pace their speeches.

Dance performers and stage actors also practice this habit of completion.  When dancers learn a new piece of choreography, dancers are encouraged to complete their movements even if they forget the next step or trip.  It’s the best way for dancers to get an entire piece of choreography into their muscle memory.  Before actors ever set foot on stage, the entire cast will first do a reading of the entire play together to get an idea of what the entire play feels like in terms of performing the lines, and the scope of the story.  Even during rehearsals, a script reader is always on hand to feed lines to the actors in case they forget.  The actors don’t start over.  They ask for their line, and then keep going.  This practice trains the dancers and actors to keep moving forward should something go wrong during the performance.

The habit of completion can be applied to many other disciplines.  A chef’s dish is complete when it’s been prepped, cooked, plated, and eaten.  A photographer (or painter) doesn’t consider their work to be complete until it’s on display.  For an entrepreneur, a product (or service) cycle is not complete until it is marketed, sold, and then used.  A book is complete after it’s been edited, published, and then read by people.  A speech isn’t complete until is heard.  Maybe people won’t like your speech, artwork, book, or product.  But at least now you know what went into making something complete, and what can be done to make it better.

Completion, in this regard, is not about perfection.  Completion means something is realized, or experienced in full.  One reaches perfection by being in the habit of completing things.  The more you practice finishing a speech, the better you will get at delivering a speech.  Like King George VI, our own lives are filled with stuttering moments.  The trick is to keep moving forward all the way to the end.

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