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Goal Refactoring Insights

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In IOI#1 I mentioned “goal factoring”. In a nut, the idea is to apply a consistent, rational process to the goals you’re thinking of setting for yourself to ensure they’re appropriately sized, likely to succeed, and the best path to the underlying thing that you want to accomplish.

I’m currently working on my own goal definition / factoring process, but I wanted to offer a tip of the hat towards these two templates which I’ve repeatedly pored over:

The two key ideas I borrowed from those:

  1. After defining a goal, ask yourself, “How surprised would I be if I failed to achieve this?” If you’d be shocked, you’re done. If not, refine your plan by asking yourself how you’re most likely to fail, and then reworking your goal to prune that particular vector of failure. You should repeat this process until you’re confident that you’ll achieve your goal.

    This doesn’t mean that you have to write less ambitious goals, only that when you have ambitious goals you have to lay out the process by which you’ll get there.

  2. “[F]or each goal, brainstorm some other ways of achieving it. Try to find a better plan than the one you currently have.”

    I really like this idea and I think I’d prefer to amend it to say “write down three different ways of achieving the same goal” to force our hand to actually run through this exercise and not dismiss it assuming we’ve already chosen the best path. Playing this antagonistic role to yourself (i.e. trying to beat your own idea) is a great way of breaking out of optimistic biases, and helps us to avoid false dichotomies (well, n-chotomies).

If this topic interests you, stay tuned. I’m working on coalescing everything I know about goal setting into one handy dandy template. I think it’ll be good. ;)


  1. I don’t know exactly where template came from (or even how I found it), but I know it—like the other template—connects back to CFAR, so there are probably some shared influences.

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