How to create more flexible goals: set your kill criteria

An “unless” is a powerful thing. When you set a goal, creating a list of kill criteria gives you the unlesses that you need to to be more rational about when it’s the right time to walk away.

Annie Duke

In her new book on quitting, Annie Duke shares why it’s important to set more flexible goals.

As a professional poker player and cognitive-behavioral decision science writer, Annie Duke knows when to fold. In her book Quit: The Power of Knowing When to Walk Away, she explains that average poker players will not fold as often as winners. Winners quit often.

The hard part is knowing when to quit. In a nutshell, she describes that when you get new information about a goal that is worthwhile to you, you need to cut your losses sooner than you would usually like to. But, there are things about human nature, like holding on to one’s identity or worrying about waste, that can prevent you from quitting.

In her book, she explains:

Goals are powerful tools. They can make it possible to accomplish worthwhile things. But the mere fact of having a goal can cause escalation of commitment, where you end up sticking to a goal that’s no longer the best way to achieve the things you want to achieve.

When we have goals with kill criteria, we can cut our losses or adjust when we get new information or circumstances change.

She also suggests …

You should reevaluate, on a regular cadence, whether the values that you’re trying to privilege are still being privileged and whether the values you’re deprivleging, the costs that you’re bearing are still worth it.

Similarly, it is also important to be flexible in how you define success and to set goals that are not “pass-fail.”

There are some goals that you set where there is little of value that you can glean if you come up short. While there are other goals where there are lots of things of value that you can accomplish or learn along the way, no matter whether you actually cross the finish line. Those are the tyeps of goals we should prioritize.

I’m curious to learn how you might set more flexible goals. Let me know!

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