In the past, whenever I was working towards a goal or trying to form a new habit, I would run into one problem over and over again. For the first few days, I would be highly motivated to do the work. It would almost feel effortless. However, as soon as the initial rush of motivation started to wear off, I immediately started slacking. I would become very inconsistent with my performance. One day, I would do everything I was supposed to do; the next, I would procrastinate and fall into lazy behavior. After years of being ‘on-and-off’ with my performance, I stumbled upon the most reliable system to overcome this issue: utilize the power of accountability.
Why Going at It Alone Doesn’t Work
The Cambridge Dictionary describes accountability as ‘the fact of being responsible for what you do and able to give a satisfactory reason for it, or the degree to which this happens.’ In other words, we need to start taking responsibility for our actions or inactions – and be able to give a legitimate reason for why we did or didn’t do something. But here’s the trick: we’re not going to be accountable to ourselves. Often, we’re the worst judge of our own behavior. We accept weak excuses from ourselves simply because it’s quite convenient. Too quickly do we persuasively talk ourselves out of doing certain things because we accept our own limiting beliefs, fears, and excuses.
Precisely for that reason, we need to start outsourcing our accountability to other people – people we trust, respect, and value; people who set a high standard and who won’t let us off the hook easily. It could be a spouse, friend, colleague, mentor, or coach. For example, if you want to build the habit of meditating for ten minutes per day, you could start a 30-day challenge around it and assign someone as your accountability partner. For 30 days in a row, you’ll have to report your progress to this person. If you didn’t meditate that day, you’d have to admit this to your accountability partner and explain why you didn’t do it. In 99% of the cases, you’ll see how ridiculous your excuses actually are.
Quick tip: It’s even better if you could show physical proof of your progress, so there’s no way of cheating.
In reality, however, you’ll notice that your desired behavior becomes a lot more consistent whenever an accountability partner is involved. Whenever you have to explain why you procrastinated to someone else, you’re much more likely to make sure it doesn’t happen.
Why Accountability Leads to Consistency
Where most of us don’t have that much trouble accepting a lie or [an] excuse we tell ourselves, we do experience much more psychological ‘pain’ whenever we have to confess our lack of action to someone else – especially if we value that person’s opinion. This is because, as humans, we are social creatures. Especially in the past, our survival depended highly on our social environment. Getting kicked out of the tribe usually meant great struggle or even death. And even though society has evolved since then, our brain still runs on practically the same software. This is exactly why we’re wired to do anything that protects and enhances our social status. Nowadays, it ensures psychological survival. We care more about showing others that we’re productive, consistent and reliable than we care about showing this to ourselves.
Subconsciously, we realize that our social status will enhance whenever others think highly of us. This way, we strengthen our social position within a group or relationship. At the same time, this means we’d do anything to avoid that others might perceive us as lazy, inconsistent, or unreliable – as this brings our ‘survival’ in danger. For example, I have an ‘on-and-off’ battle with snoozing right after waking up. On most days, I win the fight. But on some days, I don’t. Interestingly, I notice a clear pattern of when I win and lose the battle with snoozing. On those days where I wake up with my girlfriend next to me, I’m much more likely to immediately get out of bed without hitting the snooze button. However, on those days where I wake up alone, I snooze more than I’d like. Even though I don’t have an ‘official’ accountability agreement with my girlfriend on snoozing, I still notice the effects of having someone (whose opinion I value) in my environment who is aware of my behavior. Subconsciously, I don’t want to appear as someone who is lazy or who is slacking. Therefore, I simply get out of bed whenever the alarm clock rings. When I’m alone, however, I have to fight this battle alone as well. When I lose, there’s no one to witness my lack of discipline. Thus, the psychological ‘pain’ remains at a minimum.
Consistently Achieve Your Goals and Form Strong New Habits
Take new year’s resolutions as an example. People set good intentions – quit smoking, exercise more often or eat less junk food – but usually give up about three weeks into the new year. This is because they only rely on themselves. After the initial rush of motivation has worn off, people fall back into old behavior quickly without experiencing any real negative consequences.
A much more reliable strategy to turn your new year’s resolution into a success would be to assign a few accountability partners. For example, you could start a small mastermind of about 3-4 people who all have new year’s resolutions they want to achieve. Schedule a weekly or monthly accountability session (whether online or offline) in which you share your progress, results, and intermediate goals. Merely knowing that you have to explain why you procrastinated or didn’t make progress can be enough leverage to prevent that from happening. On the other hand, knowing that you can share your wins with other people is incredibly motivating, which pushes you towards actually doing the job. This way, you create a system in your environment that helps you to stay consistent, which is a much more reliable way of achieving goals and building habits compared to just going at it alone. This is also why coaching is so powerful. Aside from the new insights you’ll gain, you’ll be held accountable for your actions, which is the most beneficial effect of all.
My one-year goal this year is to earn a specific amount of profit with my business. I assigned two of my mastermind members to keep me accountable for this goal – and every week, I have to report my progress to them. If I’m not on track with my goal, I have to explain why that is the case. If I’ve been slacking for a while, I have to explain why that is the case. If I have produced a below-average month in terms of revenue, I have to explain why that is the case. Merely knowing that I have to share why I didn’t perform up to standard, which is usually just because of excuses that are embarrassing to admit, I make sure I get the job done. It’s like a safety net that keeps me incredibly consistent in times where I’d normally slack.
Note: Not only do my accountability partners help me be incredibly consistent, but they also support me when obstacles and challenges arise. They’re able to come with different views and insights that I wasn’t able to think of myself, thus helping me in more ways than just being consistent. That’s the power of a mastermind.
Now Do It
I highly encourage you to start using the power of accountability to your advantage. If you have a particular goal you want to achieve, or a specific habit you want to implement (or drop), reach out to your environment. Whether it’s a friend, colleague, spouse, mentor, or coach, make sure to assign someone as your accountability partner to guarantee consistency in your pursuit. In return, you could be an accountability partner for them. This way, you create a highly motivating and inspiring partnership that will accelerate your path to success.