Little-Known Power of Ningas Kugon to Create Breakthroughs

You can use the hidden power of ningas kugon to achieve your greatest dreams. You can use it to get things started – and I can provide tips on finishing what you start.

But first, let me tell you what the trait is and what it is not.

I was on TV to share ideas on getting rid of or avoiding ningas kugon. Ningas Kugon is one of those “negative traits” of Filipinos. I will share with you what I did not say in that TV interview.

What is ningas kugon?

Ningas Kugon is a pattern of behaviors demonstrated by people who work on a project or challenge with zest and enthusiasm but never get to finish what they started. After an enthusiastic beginning, they disappear upon reaching the first obstacle.

Ningas Kugon is a Filipino metaphor often used to describe the negative trait of an over-enthusiastic quitter. But ningas kugon is not only practiced by Filipinos. Most people have started something with full enthusiasm but never get to finish it. Japan, for example, has mikka bouzo.

There are books like Finish What You Start and Getting Things Done. Ningas Kugon is everywhere.

I do not encourage the behavior of not finishing what you start. But not everything you start you have to finish. Most times, one needs to pivot or start something new. This decision is something successful entrepreneurs understand.

What others see as ningas kugon, I see as an entrepreneurial trait. One only needs to have eyes to see the subtle difference. And there lies the hidden power of this often maligned Filipino trait.

Ningas Kugon: Kahulugan

Ang ningas kugon ay isang pagkilos o gawi na inihahalintulad sa dagliang pagliyab ng damong kugon na kaagad din namamatay.

Maraming tao ang may ganitong gawi. Kung ang isang gawain o proyekto ay kanais-nais, makikita na sila ay buhos-na-buhos ang oras, bibong-bibo, at buong siglang gumagawa. Subalit, pagkalipas ng ilang panahon ay naglalaho din.

Katulad sila ng isang masigasig na manliligaw na itinodo ang isang linggo para ipadama sayo ang pagmamahal, subalit pagdating ng susunod na lunes ay di na mula magpapakita.

Katulad sila ng isang taong nakahanap ng kaligtasan kay Kristo, masayang nagbibigay ng patotoo, nagyaya ng maraming tao, at bigla na lang nawawala.

Katulad sila ng empleyadong nagboluntaryo na simulang ang isang proyekto na sa kaunting pagsubok ay kaagad na sumusuko.

Ang mga nabanggit ay mga halimbawa ng ningas kugon.

What is Not Ningas Kugon

It is not procrastination. Procrastination is about delaying doing things one finds challenging. There is an intention to get things done at a later time. On the other hand, ningas kugon is not about delaying but the loss of enthusiasm. A procrastinator sometimes finishes something by cramming.

It is not laziness. If you can say anything negative about Filipinos who demonstrate ningas kugon, it is not katamaran or laziness. Most of us are hard-working people. However, some of us do not know how to keep the momentum going.

It is not entrepreneurial too. I said that many entrepreneurs also fail to finish what they start. I daresay that many entrepreneurs demonstrate the trait of ningas cogon, but the attribute is not entrepreneurial. The subtle difference is enthusiasm or the lack of it.

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Insights About Ningas Kugon

I am trying to understand people who cannot finish what they start. It is also my way of saying that I am trying to understand myself. Because although I have done many things I never expected I could do, there are times that I get overwhelmed by the many things I want to do that I stop doing most of them.

Our fixed mindset prevents us from finishing what we start.

We have beautiful dreams, and we desire to accomplish them at once. So when we see the opportunity to make our dreams happen, we want to work at it at once. But our fixed mindset about performance – and failure – makes us stop upon hitting a wall.

Our mindset that we are limited and incapable makes us not pursue the “impossible dream.”

We do not know how to keep our momentum.

I love to teach people about the 4 Disciplines of Execution. So I used it as a framework for teaching them personal development plans. I believe that disciplines 3 and 4 help enthusiastic people finish what they start.

Ningas Kugon is good.

I love that people have ningas. I only need to fan the fire in their bellies. They have passion, energy, and enthusiasm.

I work with people who have demonstrated ningas kugon because most of them are likely to be entrepreneurs and changemakers.

I can teach them how to embrace growth and entrepreneurial mindsets, acquire new skills, and develop the discipline to keep their momentum and create breakthroughs.

Everyone is capable of self-improvement and of personal evolution. We can improve ourselves by identifying how we can use the positive (and hidden power) of ningas cogon.

The Hidden Power of Ningas Kugon

It takes a vigorous effort to make fresh leaves burn. Not so with the cogon grass. In fact, burning helps the cogon grass grow again. The problem with cogon is that there is not enough cogon grass to burn.

Enthusiasm needs to be shared. We must infect others with our enthusiasm so we don’t need to expend everything at once. We must also develop discipline so we can channel our enthusiasm correctly.

We can say the same for most people. It takes a while for an employee to become an intrapreneur. An employee only needs to ensure that she does not violate company rules. Being friendly and being in the middle is safe. But we need people who are full of vigor and enthusiasm.

You can use them to infect others with enthusiasm. Let them start something and make them motivate others.

Appreciate their assets. Turn them into teachers, educators, storytellers, and motivators.

And while doing this, you allow them to learn the discipline that will make them finish what they start.

I have discussed this in creating a clear personal development plan. But allow me to review the first two parts. I will then teach you how to help them through engagement (scoring), system creation, and accountability.

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How to Finish What You Start

The 4 Disciplines of Execution are Focus, Leverage, Engagement, and Accountability. There is an excellent likelihood that you’ll finish what you start when what you have goes beyond sheer enthusiasm.

Focus on Big Goals

Be clear about your ultimate goal, the endpoint. The equation from X to Y by When is clear enough. For example, if a project should be done in 90 days, then let it be done in 90 days.

However, if you feel that 90 days is a very long time for someone who practices ningas kugon, have two or three sub-goals with a shorter endpoint.

You can also create milestones so your people get to celebrate one small success with another. You are turning obstacles into stepping stones.

Leverage Vital Actions

You don’t want to overwhelm people with so many things. But the overly enthusiastic employee eventually gets overwhelmed with so many things to do.

Be clear about the important actions that must be taken to get things done. Leverage actions are predictable and influentiable. It is something that must be done regularly.

Engage Yourself by Keeping Score

The third discipline is about creating a visible dashboard. You keep score of the accomplishments of your team.

I realized that people who are ningas kugon are clueless about their distance from the finish line. There is no milestone.

But a milestone can help them continue the journey when they get tired. They’ll rest for a while but walking again won’t be difficult. Knowing your present location is as important as knowing where you are going.

A supervisor who provides timely feedback, for example, helps you keep your pace and direction.

Increase a sense of accountability.

People continue when they know that they are accountable. Having accountability partners is like setting up a support group. You get to be reminded about what must be done by those who care for your achievements.

A supervisor who regularly does the check-in, for example, keeps people know that someone is expecting results.

We are accountable to each other.

All these four disciplines can help us create breakthroughs. But allow me to add some more.

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Creating Breakthroughs

You create breakthroughs by making the impossible possible. A breakthrough happens when you suddenly achieve something most people don’t expect.

A person who is ningas kugon sometimes creates breakthroughs. That’s because they dare to start something. If you are one of those non-finishers, there are simple ideas I encourage you to explore.

Embrace a growth mindset.

Failing does not make you a failure. When you make mistakes, you hit a wall; remember that everyone is bound to fail sometimes. Let me rephrase that statement: most people are bound to fail.

People with a growth mindset look for solutions upon making mistakes or hitting a snag. They won’t stop until things get done.

Create a system.

Motivation and enthusiasm wane. This is why we create a system, a machine that continues to work even when we are not in the mood to do something.

For example, one can have overflowing enthusiasm thinking of ways to get more email subscribers. He can write articles and contact people every day. But the time will come when he’ll get tired or sick.

A system will ensure that his subscribers will continue receiving his messages. A CRM, for example, can help send scheduled emails to clients every day. You can do all these during your “enthusiastic” moments.

I know it sounds easy. And it is easy.

Followthroughs make a breakthrough.

There are very few which are overnight successes. So few I cannot give you examples.

But we know that many follow-throughs make breakthroughs. For example, a stone cutter keeps hitting the area of a boulder stone. Nothing happens at first, but the stonecutter keeps swinging his hammer until the boulder cracks.

We are in awe of the stonecutter’s persistence and perseverance. It is not the last strike that caused the crack. It was the followthroughs.

I imagined the stonecutter telling himself, “one more, one more, one more.”

The solution to ningas kugon is a simple commitment to do one more.


We cannot tolerate ningas kugon in the business. Unfinished projects demotivate employees, destroy credibility, create mistrust, and waste many opportunities.

Leaders who do not follow through send the wrong signals. It tells people that a project is not worth doing. So the problem with ningas cogon is an execution problem.

Customers stop patronizing businesses that do not continue excellent initiatives. We don’t trust a firm that makes us feel like a single-transaction event. Instead, they give their all when wooing us, leaving us after taking our money.

Filipinos often say that politicians are the best examples of people who are ningas cogon. During the first days of their terms, they try to show that they’ll do everything for us. Then, abandon us until the next campaign.

For example, national government campaigns are often like publicity campaigns. For example, the anti-smoking campaign happens once a year. The law is strictly implemented during the campaign, but everything is business as usual long after.

The antidote to Ningas Kugon in government is good governance. But let me be clear about this. Most of the “ningas cogon” programs in the government are not because of enthusiasm and lack of ability to execute. Instead, politicians want to earn pogi points.

Ningas kugon affects school innovation too. But not because teachers lack enthusiasm. It is all because new administrations stopped newly implemented projects so they could start their pet projects.

Innovation is a journey. Innovation does not mean we need to keep starting. It means adding value to previous initiatives so we can continue improving.

The closest I can think of is an overenthusiastic quitter, a cousin of an over-motivated underachiever. But, unfortunately, blazing cogongrass isn’t an English metaphor. That could have been a good one too.

Yes. The trait has nothing to do with being a Filipino. We used the cogongrass as a metaphor. As I have mentioned, even entrepreneurs start something with great enthusiasm, then suddenly abandon a project. Consider also the Japanese metaphor mikka bouzo ( a three-day monk), a metaphor for a person who quickly gives up after starting something new.

I deliver talks about disciplined execution, which also solves our problems with ningas kugon, procrastination, indifference, and failure.

An attitude is a settled way of thinking. It is the default way of acting in a situation. Ningas Kugon is not an attitude, but more of the lack of skills and discipline to finish what was started. Therefore, you can equip yourself.

If unchecked, ningas kugon can turn into a habit. That means you get used to it and eventually accept it as your identity. But since no one is born with ningas kugon DNA, you know that you can turn your ningas (fire) into positive.

Ningas kugon happens when you lose momentum. The solution, therefore, is to keep your momentum. And that is easier.

Remember that I was able to write a book in 14 days, though I wasn’t able to start one in 30 years.

The truth is that I had many enthusiastic beginnings. I could have been one of the prolific authors if I had continued them. The problem was not the lack of enthusiasm but perfectionism.

A few years ago, I started a podcast. I think it was good. But I was not able to continue it too. The problem, again, is perfectionism.

So, I can tell you that often the problem is not us being Filipino. There is no such thing as ningas kugon attitude but perfectionism. The solution becomes obvious when you know what causes your inability to finish what you start. [mfn] I do finish a lot of things. That’s why I am certain that ningas kugon is not an attitude. [/mfn]

You can find lessons from these examples. So, let’s try and do it.

Think about those time when you started a project with full enthusiasm but was not able to finish it. What were you thinking? What were the obstacles you encountered? And what were your actions?

Find two or three examples of ningas kugon in your life.

If you are used to traveling, you must have seen those widened roads with electric poles in the middle. Have you noticed those roads were destroyed many months ago but were left undone?

This practice has everything to do with our system, not ningas kugon. For example, I learned that contractors who won road projects start at once so that it won’t be given to someone else and so they can get the down payment. But they won’t continue until the rest of the money is released. So, the problem often has something to do with red tape, inefficiency, and corruption.

This practice also happens in some countries where corruption is rampant.


Explore the following resources. These may help you make good use of Ningas Kugon too.

Articles to Read Next After Ningas Kugon

  • Manana Habit, Its Bad Effects, and 5 Ways to Fix It. Mamaya Na is a popular expression among Filipinos. On the surface, there is nothing wrong with the phrase. It is not bad to say that you’ll do something later when doing the most important thing. But manana, as a habit, will derail your success.
  • End Procrastination. Procrastination has many names. Even apparently important jobs look like procrastination when you avoid doing complex but more critical projects.
  • Why Filipinos Procrastinate. Another excellent article on why we avoid doing what must be done.
  • Motivation to Work or How to Motivate Yourself and Others. Ningas Kugon is often the result of reduced enthusiasm. You can use the methods I share in this article to help yourself get motivated to work.
  • Filipino Time: The Habit of Being On Time. We Filipinos are known for getting up early.


Ang Solusyon sa Mga Taong Ningas Kugon

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