Are you the kind of person with total self-control who can easily do exactly the things they have set out for themselves? If you aren’t, let’s explore how we can give ourselves a boost in motivation, and deliver on the things we want to accomplish by making ourselves accountable to the right people.
If you have ever given a commitment to someone you wanted to impress, or to someone of whom you thought highly of, or someone important who did not know you too closely, you probably felt a strong, compelling drive to deliver on your commitment, and to do it well.
On the other hand, we have all made promises to ourselves that we didn’t keep. This is completely normal. A promise made to yourself can be postponed or broken without losing face. And that’s where the magic of external accountability comes in.
While anonymity isn’t the direct opposite of accountability, taking a look at the dynamics of an anonymous environment can give us hints about the benefits we can expect in an environment which does promote accountability.
What Anonymity Tells Us About Accountability
In his article about the message board 8chan, Nicky Woolf concluded that it is the structure of anonymous sites itself that radicalizes people. 8chan’s founder, Fredrick Brennan, who called for the site’s shutdown following a connected mass shooting, says about the inherent dynamic: “Anonymity makes people reveal themselves, but because there are other anonymous users — not just one person in a black box — it also changes what they reveal.”1
This is an insightful observation that we can turn around to our advantage. Public declarations drive and reinforce behavior. That behavior will lean to a dark side of our impulses if we communicate with an anonymous, negative group. But what happens when people turn this around?
What are the good parts of you that you would like to be revealed to people more fully and consistently? And what kind of communication with others can you engage in that would support it?
Find a Motivator…
Sharing with someone else your goal or a change that you are trying to achieve creates accountability. This accountability is a powerful motivation for you to deliver on the things you have declared out loud.
The best person to share your goal with might not necessarily be someone you are very close to. We don’t use filters with our closest friends and family. Someone you think highly of, or someone whom you’d like to think highly of you, would be a great option. It has to be someone you can talk to regularly so you could discuss how you are doing against your plan.
…and an Advocate
You can also look for a more formal advocate: someone whom you take into confidence and ask to observe you and give you feedback; both good and bad. As opposed to the ‘motivator,’ the advocate needs to be able to observe you. An advantage is that the advocate can give you real-time feedback. And again, it should be someone whose opinion you value.2
An additional benefit of sharing your goals with someone else is that you are also gaining an instant supporter. Other people will root for you, support you and help you when they know what you’re trying to accomplish.
The principles and ideas described above are effective and simple to do. Yet, a lot of the time, we do not take advantage of them. In my experience, there are two common reasons for that:
- We might fear that we would look weak if we were to admit we are trying to improve or change something, or if we were to ask someone for help.
- We might know deep inside that getting ourselves into a position of increased accountability would work but there is a part of us that does not really want the outcome to come about.
The first (and easier to overcome) challenge is simply untrue. Leveraging people around you is both smart and a power move. It might be worthwhile to pause and consider your motives because just like with the second reason, there might be something deeper at play. That something is also prominent in the second example, in which case you should first work on an alignment of your goals and drives.
When we know what we want, involving other people gives us powerful allies for accomplishing our goals.