Holding Yourself Accountable for Habit Change
Episode #6 of the course How to change any habit by John Fawkes
Welcome to Lesson 6. At this point, you’re working on both the habits you’ll be changing during this course. You’re three days into breaking the bad habit you selected and one day into building a positive keystone habit.
Right now, your motivation is probably very high. That feels great, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, you won’t always feel that way. Motivation tends to be very high when we start something new, then drops off after a while. That’s why I had you examine your motivation in the first lesson—so you would have a clear sense of why you’re doing this, beyond the simple excitement of trying something new.
Permanent habit change requires consistency. The next few lessons will teach you strategies that will help you keep on track. The first of those strategies is accountability.
Where Accountability Comes From
There are a few methods you can use for accountability, but they all have a couple of things in common. First, they require somebody else to be aware of how well you’re sticking to your commitments. That somebody could be a stranger or someone you know, an individual or a group.
Second, they require some kind of reward or punishment to be attached to your compliance. The reward or punishment could be monetary or a physical item, or something social, like recognition for your achievement. Even the simple fact that other people are aware of your success or failure could qualify as a reward or punishment.
Third, the person holding you accountable has to be actively involved in doing so. It’s not enough that they merely listen whenever you feel like updating them on how well you’re doing; they need to hold you to a reporting schedule, ask you questions, and provide feedback—perhaps even tough love—if needed.
There are a few ways to get people to hold you accountable. The first is to join a group of people dedicated to a given goal, such as Weight Watchers or Alcoholics Anonymous. These groups provide accountability via regular meetings, as well as usually partnering people up with each other.
The second approach is to ask a friend to hold you accountable. This friend needs to know exactly what your goal is and what you’ve committed to doing to achieve it. The two of you need to agree to a schedule by which you’ll report to them, as well as a reward and/or punishment to attach to your performance.
How Accountability Impacts Motivation
You might remember from Lesson 1 that extrinsic motivation tends to decrease intrinsic motivation. In other words, external accountability can backfire by making self-improvement feel like something you’re forced to do, rather than something you want to do.
As mentioned, the solution is to choose a reward or punishment that will reinforce your intrinsic motivation.
If you’re breaking the habit of eating junk food and building the habit of cooking for yourself, you could try the following: give your friend a hundred dollars. If you manage to stick with your habit for a month, the friend uses that money to buy you a new set of kitchenware. Otherwise, they keep it.
If you’ve committed to watching less TV and reading more instead, you could agree to forfeit your Kindle if you don’t stick to it. Note that you wouldn’t want to forfeit your TV—that would reinforce your love of TV, not reading.
Exercise: Set Up an Accountability System
Choose a source of accountability for the two habits you’re working on—either join a group or get a friend to hold you accountable privately. Agree on a reporting schedule with your friend, along with a reward and/or punishment that will reinforce your intrinsic motivation to change your habits.
Make Your Bed by William H. McRaven
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