KILL CRITERIA: Why Learning to Quit Is Important

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THE BIG THOUGHT IN THIS LITTLE POST: The best way to get over the fear of trying new things is by defining the parameters for quitting if things don't work out.


I used to be very reluctant to try new things because of my inability to allow myself to quit the things I started.

Anything from quitting on boring books and movies, to hobbies and new projects, I would make myself struggle through to the bitter end.

This meant that, for example, I sometimes wouldn't read for weeks - sometimes months! - at a time because I'd started a book which was proving to be very dull, but because I couldn't allow myself to quit and move onto a more interesting book, I simply stopped reading.

I don't like failing, and quitting feels like failing; maybe you can relate?


When we start something new, we don't have all the facts; we’re guessing by extrapolating from our past experiences.

The older we are, the more experience we have to draw from, and although we might make better guesses, we still don't know for sure until we try. But our best predictions are rarely an accurate depiction of how things actually go down.

That's why you have to give yourself permission to quit.

"Decision-making in the real world requires action without complete information. Quitting is the tool that allows us to react to new information that is revealed after we make a decision."¹


A goal is a finish line that we move towards with the intention of achieving something specific.

Goals can be great in that they give our lives direction and purpose; something to work towards and focus on.

But the problem with a goal is that it's all or nothing; we either cross that finish line or we don't. We either win or we lose

Since no one wants to be a loser, we often persist in the pursuit of said goal. We forge ahead in spite of the fact that on some level, this thing isn't working out.

“...once we establish a goal, we rarely revisit it. Goals tend to be set-it-and-forget-it. The finish line doesn’t move.”¹

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So why do we persist? Why do we continue down a path that isn't the right one?

Because of the sunk cost fallacy; we've invested our resources (time, money, effort) and we don't want to lose what we've put in.

This is a backward-focused view - we don't want to feel as though we've failed and wasted our resources. So...we keep investing ourselves in a losing endeavour.

But if we shift our perspective to a forward-focused view then we can ask ourselves if maybe the real failure would be to continue wasting our resources on this endeavour.

Instead of thinking about what we will lose if we quit, we can think about what we will gain by not continuing - specifically time, money, and effort.

"We...need to redefine what waste is... realizing that spending another minute or another dollar or another bit of effort on something that is no longer worthwhile is the real waste."¹


Kill criteria are the pre-defined circumstances under which we will quit.

We need to define these criteria ahead of time because the worst moment to make a decision about quitting something is when we're knee-deep in it.

At that point, we've already invested our resources and are less likely to make a good decision about letting go because of our friend, the sunk cost fallacy.


If + When = Then
  • If = a state; a benchmark event
  • When = a date; a benchmark of time
  • Then = an action; the thing you will do
  • If this book doesn't entertain me (state) 30-pages in (when), then I will quit and move onto the next book on my reading list (action).
  • If I can't get promoted on this team (state) within a year (when), then I will begin looking for a new job (action).
  • If this person hasn't asked me a single question about myself (state) within 30-minutes of meeting (when), then I will end the date (action).
"Essentially, kill criteria create a pre-commitment contract to quit."¹

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Setting kill criteria - the circumstances under which we will quit - ahead of time makes it so much easier to make a decision.

Is the situation meeting the kill criteria?


Great! All systems go.


Great! We already decided what we would do, so let's pack it up, pack it in.

"...having the option to quit is what will keep you from being paralyzed by uncertainty or being stuck forever in every decision you make."¹


If we know we're allowed to quit, we're more likely to try new things.

Having the freedom to quit frees up space in our lives to have more fun and say yes more often to new opportunities. "Sure, I'll give it a shot! Why not?"

"Having the option to quit helps you to explore more, learn more, and ultimately find the right things to stick with."¹

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I'm now a champion quitter because I have kill criteria for a lot of things; a book gets about 20-30 pages, a movie or TV series gets 15-20 minutes, a song gets 20-30 seconds. If I'm not interested at that point, then thank u, next.

I've even developed kill criteria with food. I used to force myself to eat everything I bit into. #cleanyourplateclub

But now (specifically with desserts and less healthy foods) I ask myself after the first bite if what I'm eating is fabulous.

If not, I quit it by throwing it out. If I'm gonna eat dessert, it better be damn delicious!

By redefining failure and being forward-thinking, we can allow ourselves to quit when needed.

"If you quit something that’s no longer worth pursuing, that’s not a failure. That’s a success."¹

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¹Duke, AnnieQuit: The Power of Knowing When to Walk Away. Portfolio, 2022.


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