Human life does not occur in a vacuum. Many — not all — of us like to think we're self-sufficient beings who can carve their own path (thanks to the self-absorbed development literature we're used to reading these days). But it should come as a shock to no one when I say that you and I got where we are because of other people. And I'm not just talking about people we like.
Friends, family, adversaries and aqcuaintances all play a role in where you're at right now. So why is it that, when we set goals for ourselves, we rarely think about bringing other people into the fold?
Now, I'm not saying this happens all the time. After all, when people want to lose weight or quit smoking, they'll often ask someone they trust to keep them on the straight and narrow. But the kind of goals I'm talking about aren't exclusively habit-based.
Goals, whether small and incrememental or daunting and arduous, could all benefit from having someone on the sidelines to cheer you on and make you cringe at the thought of procrastinating. That's the power of accountability.
The Incentive of Exposure
When you make things public, whether to one friend you trust or your whole Facebook wall, you're opening yourself up to scrutiny. This alone can increase your chances of success. Just think about the implication of private goals and public goals:
You write your goal down on a paper, then decide to throw it on your Google calendar with a due date and everything — how official! You're going to try your best to stick to it. The goal is for YOURSELF, so there's no particular stake. You'll still keep your job, your life won't change if you don't do it — it can only get better by completing the goal, not worse by avoiding it.
Chances are you can just as easily skirt by that goal and chalk it up to being busy. You might feel bad, sure, but you're just left where you've been the whole time, which doesn't feel all that horrible.
Now let's bring someone else into this. Let's say you've met someone on a blog writing forum and you've both agreed to improve your business by starting a blog and writing one post every two weeks. You'll send eachother your posts for editing.
The stakes are the same — you didn't have a blog before and not having one won't change the way things are.
But now you've thrown a wrench in your procrastination engine. There is a relationship involved, and that relationship is dependent on you providing what you've promised the other person. You've complicated an otherwise easily ignorable scenario for your benefit — your natural social instinct to cooperate will override your desire to "overlook" your new project.
Patience, Attitude, and Longevity
Accountability is not a perfect system. This is where a lot of people get it wrong. Someone tells them that accountability is the solution to their follow-through issues without warning them that people are people.
Here's your warning: people are people -- you included.
Even in a system of accountability, things will come up for both you and your accountability partner or group. You might run out of juice due to a stressful week.
Your accountability partner may have gone on vacation and the project totally slipped their mind — there's an infinite amount of excuses (just as in the situation where you're tackling your goals by yourself). I don't mean to be pessimistic, I'm just warning against assuming everything will always go right.
We're people, and people make mistakes and forget things and get into all sorts of shenanigans. So learn the virtue of patience. Shift your attitude from one of concrete immovability to one of longevity. Give everyone a break, including yourself. You'll find that compassion will take you a long way.
We get excited when we start a new project, especially if there's someone in tow. We get into all sorts of mental gymnastics of how things will go. But when our operation comes to a road-block, we can't be disheartened.
Remember that the path to our goals won't always be smooth sailing. But if we refocus ourselves on the eventuality of reaching the goal instead of just focusing on everything that can go wrong, we can overlook the small obstacles and reinvent ourselves as we go along.