When to Let Go of a Goal
I’d like to address the importance of knowing when to walk away. Whether it’s from a bad client or a bad goal, changing direction isn’t failure.
How do we know when to give up and disengage from a goal? We only have a finite amount of resources to direct toward our personal and professional lives, and sometime we can be lofty. What if we’re too lofty? What if the goal isn’t achievable or the role isn’t fillable?
Studies have been done, and the results aren’t surprising. Life satisfaction foes up in individuals who can successfully disengage from unachievable goals and recommit to more achievable ones. It doesn’t feel good to bang your head against a wall, but often, even when we know we should stop, we keep going, stay committed, but decrease our effort towards achieving it. Consistent commitment coupled with decreased effort results in distress and futility.
Why do we have such a hard time letting go? Many of us have addictive personalities, and that’s one factor. The other is the sunk-cost fallacy. After you’ve invested so much time and effort into a goal, it’s hard to pivot because it feels like all the previous investment was a waste. Sometimes, the reason we don’t want to let go is because the goal morphed into part of our identity. Many of us have our business entwined with our identity and it can feel like a great failure to walk away from a terrible, but paying, client.
How do we know when to give up on a goal? We don’t. That’s what makes it so hard. Annie Duke in her book, Quit, suggests developing “kill criteria” to help you figure out if it’s time to walk away. One option would be to develop a State & Date contract with yourself. If I can’t make this placement by X date, I will gracefully and respectfully step out of the deal.
We must weigh the long-term cost with the long-term benefits and make sure it’s a net positive. If it’s not, we need to disengage. The time you spend thinking about disengaging, worrying about disengaging, preparing to disengage – all of it is harder than actually disengaging. I promise.
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