There is a game theory concept called Schelling points that I find very applicable to personal goal setting.
A Schelling Point is a point that is mutually recognizable between two or more people without talking. Picture an X’s and O’s board. All the squares are clear except for one with an X. If you gave this picture to two people sitting separate rooms, and asked them to pick a spot that the person in the other room will pick, odds are they both pick the spot with the X.
This spot is distinct, unique. And it provides a clear distinction from all other options. It is a point that is easy to agree upon.
Points like this are important in negotiations. If you pull out a map of the U.S. or Europe and look at the borders between states and countries you can see that many of the borders are rivers. Rivers are perfect Schelling points. It is just easier to say you get that side of the river, and I get this side than to try and get a border 5 feet to the east of the river.
If I agree to let you have 5 feet on my side of the river what is to prevent you from later coming back and saying that you want an extra 15 feet. I’ve sacrificed the natural divide, and now it is easier to justify taking more land.
Schelling points are important in negotiations, and they are a helpful way to think about setting up your own life, or negotiating with your future self.
For me, writing every day is an important part of my personal development. The main thing I want to do is to spend time writing, but that is a bit abstract. It isn’t concrete. Publishing one post a day is absolutely concrete. It is clear. There is no wiggle room.
Had I decided to write for an hour each day it would be very easy to cut short to 50 minutes one day. Then, maybe a few days later I might only do 45. Maybe one day I would only have time for 30. It’s still writing, and it’s easier to justify.
Writing one hour a day isn’t a great Schelling point, but publishing a post once a day is.
It is very clear. It is either yes or no. There is no half measure. There is no way to let the commitment slip. It is a simple and clear divide between meeting my goal or not.
When setting goals, instead of thinking about what you would choose to have happened in a perfect would, set goals with the clearest distinction between success and failure that is possible.
Cold turkey is often more effective than easing off of a habit because it provides a clear Schelling point. There is an obvious distinction between success and failure. There is no slippery slope. It is either yes or no.