Reach Your Goals
With Accountability

Struggling to save money for your ambitious travel plans? Can’t find enough self-discipline to learn a new language? To meditate or exercise daily? Accountability and goal setting could be the right tools to finally succeed. Get it done by hacking your mind.

Goal Setting Theory:
Putting The Bar High

Goal setting theory is something coming straight out of management reference books. And perhaps exactly the kind of human resource mumbo jumbo pushing you to quit your job! But a number of studies in psychological sciences show that goal setting does works. Across cultures and domains, from sports to rehabilitation.

First, researchers around E. Locke and colleagues found that clear, timely and actionable goals lead to significantly better performance. In other words, making vague commitments opens the door to making excuses. For example, many wish to “put some savings aside”. Going for a “50% net savings rate for the next year” removes any ambiguity.

Second, research shows that challenging goals lead to greater effort and persistence. Setting the bar high, within reason, helps increasing motivation. Also it makes you more aware of your skills. Finally, it pushes you to seek new knowledge.

Goal Setting Theory:
Keeping Track

The same researchers also showed that goals need to be measurable. In other words, you have to be able to quantify them. And write down progress on a regular base. Hard data makes it more difficult to succumb to our numerous cognitive biases.

Keeping track of expenses is the foundation of a frugal lifestyle. The same applies to other goals. For example, document your meditation sessions if you want to sit regularly. Count the number of words you are learning each week in a new language. Or log methodically the hours spent exercising. It ultimately pays off.

Goal setting with (self-)care

To adopt the right goal setting strategy requires a good level of self-awareness. Not only can it help you be more efficient with your pursuit, it can help you stay motivated and even save you from unnecessary emotional distress.

Indeed, for those who tend to be hard on themselves, setting high goals can have a paralyzing effect. Achieving perfection at first try is simply not possible with complex projects, so pushing the bar too high too fast can encourage procrastination. Don’t set yourself up: make sure your goals are achievable and allow yourself to adjust them along the way.

Keep track of your progress and your well-being

Another way to stay motivated is to underline your progress in a positive way. Keeping track is also about celebrating! Regular rewards can keep your motivation high, so don’t hesitate to share your little victories with others and to leave room for positive reinforcement when you reach new milestones. A positive way to keep track of your training, for instance, could be to calculate the increase of hours dedicated to physical activity in a week instead of monitoring weight loss.

Whatever your dream is, working at it should bring you pride and happiness. If it becomes a stressful and unrewarding endeavor, it might have to do with the pressure and expectations you put on yourself. Make sure to check in with yourself regularly.

Putting Skin In The Game

There is another way to dramatically increase our rate of success. American-Lebanese author, philosopher and former trader Nassim Taleb calls this skin in the game. Or exposure to reality if you prefer.

Being exposed to consequences is an undeniable source of motivation

Taleb likes quoting the Hammurabi code. The ancient Babylonian law codex dates from the 2nd millenium BC. It states that if any building collapses killing the owner, the builder shall be put to death. 

No need to go to such extremes. But it underlines an important fact. We are much more likely to perform if we have something to lose. And conversely, if we want more incentives to accomplish our goals, we need to expose ourselves to some risk. As Taleb says, true virtue is risk taking.

Accountability Hack #1:
Go Public

Tell your friends. And your family. Post it on social media. Start a blog on your journey. Ever noticed how supportive a few encouragements can be when you pass a milestone? And how a few doubters can drive you to prove them wrong?

accountability peer pressure
Feel the pressure!

Exposing ourselves to some good ol’ peer pressure can work miracles. We do a lot to avoid losing face in public. And that’s not just the case in Asia. Being accountable to an audience can be a great source of motivation. There is no better opportunity to nurture an articulate discourse than having to defend it!

You might learn about your deeper motivation in the process and these are the ones that will keep you going in the long run. Embrace confrontation! And as a byproduct you may get a lot of useful advice and help

Accountability Hack # 2:
Put Money On The Table

accountability skin in the game
The fear of financial loss is yet another strong source of motivation

Economists call it loss aversion bias. We prefer avoiding to lose money over gaining the equivalent sum. So take a bet with a friend. Pledge to donate a sum if you fail. Or invest some of your hard-earned cash in your venture. According to data from accountability website Stickk, you are up to 3x more likely to achieve your goals if you have financial stakes.  

Accountability Hack # 3:

A growing number of websites and applications greatly simplify tracking progress. Also, they make public accountability easy. And last but not least, they have come up with original ways to back your words with money.

Beeminder allows you to create commitment contracts on anything quantifiable. Set a goal. Report regularly your progress. Or set-up a third-party app to automatically forward the data. Pay a predetermined sum every time you veer off course. You get away with a warning the first time.

StickK works similarly. After setting up your contract you can share your progress with friends and family. Moreover, the platform allows for a referee to judge your progress. If you go astray you can select to send your money to individuals and even “anti-charities”. Those are charities opposing your views, politically or otherwise. A strong incentive for most!

Accountability Hack # 4:
Get An Accountability Partner

accountability mentorship
Finding a mentor

A buddy with similar goals can stimulate your competitive side if you have one. And a mentor with relevant experience can provide invaluable advice on top of keeping you on track.

Similarly, peer networks are great at keeping you accountable. At the same time they can support and advise you. Nowadays you can find a forum of like-minded individuals on almost any topic. For example, the early retirement extreme forums are full of people keeping a public journal. The more marginal your goals are, the more encouraging being part of a community becomes.

Don’t be shy and share your wildest dreams with the world. You don’t know yet, but you might help others embrace their own journey. 

accountability success
Persevere and will eventually succeed