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7 Smart Ways to Hold Yourself Accountable (& Be Disciplined)

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Self-accountability is a skill you can learn!

Let’s dive into self-accountability with Alex Sheen, five-time TEDxTalk speaker and founder of the non-profit and social movement “because I said I would.”

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What is Self-Accountability?

Self-accountability is the ability to discipline yourself and achieve your goals. People with high self-accountability are typically able to become more successful and achieve a happier life. Typical goals of self-accountable people may include working on physical or mental health, volunteering, achieving financial gain, and developing good habits.

Self-accountable people often have the following traits:

  • Great planning abilities
  • Ability to stick to a schedule
  • Ability to focus without distractions
  • Long-term thinking skills
  • Ability to break bad habits

Luckily, you can work on these traits. Here’s how to do it.

Have an Accountability Buddy

Try involving other people to do the heavy lifting instead. Science confirms the power of having others keep you accountable. Take a look at the chart below and the probability a person has of completing a goal when taking the following actions:

GoalProbability of completing a goal
Having an idea or goal10%
Consciously deciding that you will do it25%
Deciding when you will do it40%
Planning how to do it50%
Committing to someone that you will do it65%
Having a specific accountability appointment with someone you’ve committed to95%

An accountability buddy increases your chances of succeeding to 95%. And the best part? You don’t even have to have someone you know to help you (although that would be better!). Here’s how to do it.

Action Step: Find someone you trust, like your best friend, partner, mentor, or family member, and state your goal. Give them a deadline to check back in on whether you completed your plan or not.

Don’t have a real-life person? No worries! You can also use nifty software like stickK to put your hard-earned dollars on the line to ensure you’re on track.

Pro Tip: Sometimes, it’s not all about tough love.

Some people thrive on having a drill-sergeant-like mentor hovering over their shoulders, while others find better results with a more playful or relaxed accountability buddy. Whatever you like, make sure you find someone that matches your preferences.

If-Then Planning

Taking the above table into account, planning your goals is extremely important.

But not just any planning. Try If-Then planning. If-then planning is a powerful method that keeps people on an exercise habit 91% of the time, compared to nonplanners at only 39%.

Here’s how to do it.

Action Step: Try the steps below for If-Then planning:

  1. Identify the goal you’d like to accomplish. For example, you may want to respond to emails twice a week.
  2. When and where do you need to accomplish this? You might want to achieve this in your office at 3:30 pm.
  3. Combine the two: If (or When) _________________________, then ___________________. In our example, “If it is Monday and Thursday, then I will respond to my emails at 3:30 pm.”
  4. Think of an obstacle that might ruin your progress. In this case, perhaps you get hungry around this time and may want to leave the office for food instead of answering emails.
  5. Think of how you will handle that obstacle if it comes. You may bring a light snack to help alleviate the hunger in this case.
  6. Combine the two again. “If I get hungry when reading my emails, I will eat the snack I brought.”

Set Up A Pre-Commitment

A pre-commitment is when you do something in the present that makes it difficult to break a promise in the future. For example, a person might pre-commit to these things:

  • Laying out their gym clothes right next to their bed so they can work out first thing in the morning
  • Keeping a healthy fruit smoothie in the front of the fridge, so you gravitate towards that instead of the fried chicken
  • Putting the phone in the basement at night to avoid checking it in the morning
  • Setting up an automatic percentage of your paycheck to go towards savings

The more convenient you make your pre-commitments, the easier it’ll be to stick to good habits and break the bad ones.

Action Step: Set up your pre-commitments! Think of 3 easy-to-do pre-commitments that will significantly impact your routine. Write them down and follow through.

Focus on Being, Not Doing

Think of all the people you admire in your life. Maybe they’re movie stars, entrepreneurs, or intelligent/funny/hard-working people.

Now, imagine what they hold themselves accountable to. If your hero is Dwayne Johnson, you might imagine him waking up early for a 2-hour workout, followed by a healthy meal. Or, if you love Oprah, you might imagine her spending quality time with the people she loves.

These people hold themselves accountable because they are the people who will do these things no matter what—just like brushing their teeth every day. So instead of focusing on something, you HAVE to do… Focus on who you want to become.

If you want accountability, BECOME a person who is self-accountable.

Action Step: Who do you look up to? Focus on integrating their habits and self-discipline into your routines. Try focusing on becoming the best version of yourself to maximize self-discipline.

Switch “Have to…” Into “Get to…”

People depict self-control as a sort of montage in movies and films.

And because of this cultural precedence, we think self-control is all about conquering reps, disciplining the body, and all things physical.

But we often forget that self-control can be achieved through cognitive reframing:

  • Instead of saying, “I have to go to bed earlier,” tell yourself, “I get to go to bed earlier.”
  • Instead of, “I have to eat vegetables,” say, “I get to eat vegetables.”
  • Instead of, “I have to do this project,” say, “I get to do this project.”

Action Step: Think of 3 things you dread/hate/have to do. Reframe your “have to” into “get to” to help you build self-control. When you say, “I have to…,” switch it to “I get to….”

Start a Win Box (or Drive)

A Win Box is a box containing little notes of your successes—from the huge ones to the small ones. Whenever you feel like you’re lacking inspiration or drive to accomplish something, pull out your notes from your Win Box.

Your Win Box is here to remind you that you CAN accomplish things in life, no matter how big or small. These wins will be here to remind you of your discipline during the times when you want to eat ice cream on the sofa all day.

Action Step: Think of at least one win you had every day. It could be as simple as going for a ten-minute walk or as big as running a marathon. Write it down on paper and put it in your Win Box. You can also create a text file on your computer if you prefer to go digital.

Set The Right Goals

Self-accountability is about having the right goals.

After all, if your goals aren’t driving you to get out of bed in the morning, they probably aren’t strong enough to last for a couple of months. This is where choosing the right goals comes into play—people often choose the WRONG goals, and this is where they give up.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Choosing goals is a skill that you can learn! Check out the free webinar on goal-setting to become a goal-setting master:

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How to Deal with Difficult People at Work

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