Is there anything that you want to change in your life?
It might be a habit, it might be some aspect of your personality,
it might be a behavioural aspect of your leadership: patience, talking too
much, needing to win, being over helpful or bragging too much etc. You
realise that to change will be helpful to your parenting or your leadership or your health.
We all know three truths about changing our behaviours.
1. Change is difficult to sustainably do – the reality is that personal change is tough because, in the first place we find it difficult to admit that we need to change.
We also underestimate the power of inertia on us, given the choice we prefer to do nothing than put in the effort to change.
The final kicker is we don’t actually know how to execute change, so we fumble around with different, often ineffective strategies.
2. No one can make us change if we don’t want too. We know this is true because we have all tried to convince someone else they need to change only to be summarily rebuffed.
We know that feeling of powerlessness as we beg, threaten, and argue with that person.
We also know this is true when we look back at the times when we have said we want to change such and such,
we talked a good game but our heart wasn’t in it. Which brings us to the third truth.
3. Saying you want to change does not mean that you will. When I was a youth worker I heard many loud and bold promises that someone was going to change.
My naïve nature suckered me in every time. Over the years I started to get a bit wiser. There are tell-tale signs of those who intend to change but don’t.
For starters they are going to start tomorrow. Then there are the excuses about why last time didn’t work.
There are also the reasons why someone didn’t do what they promised (which gives them a get out of jail free card).
The kicker is that they make plans, they might even start, but as soon as they hit a speed bump all their resolve and bravado evaporates (until next year.
Like you, I know I am not perfect. I have desired to eliminate my bad habits and traits, developing more positive traits and habits.
I have tried many different strategies to make this a reality.
I have needed a way to get around the excuses that I use (maybe you use some of these as well). I tell myself:
● I have the willpower and won’t give into temptation (this time)
● People who need structure and help are weak, I don’t want to be weak.
● Today is a special day – because…. it is my birthday, a Sunday, a special day somewhere in the world I can…..
● At least I’m better than…..
● I shouldn’t need help and structure
● I have all the time in the world to change
To overcome these “get out of jail card” excuses there is one strategy that I have consistently used over the last 25 years that I have found the most effective. It is using accountability.
Being accountable to one or more people for certain habits and goals invokes a power unlike many others.
Accountability starts by having a picture/s or goals that you want to pursue. These can take the form of BEING = I want to become more patient, more selfless etc; DOING = I want to finish my university degree, go to the gym and get fit, meet all of my work goals etc.; EXPERIENCING = I want to climb Mount Feathertop, I want to swim with Dolphins etc.
The point being: there needs to be some aspiration for improvement and therefore change.
WHY DOES ACCOUNTABILITY WORK SO WELL?
We overestimate how much self-control we have and underestimate how much our external environment affects our ability to make changes. Our environment impacts our will power.
For instance, we have committed to eat healthily; we have been working long hours and are tired.
When we walk past the donut shop our tiredness has reduced our ability to resist, we find ourselves eating donuts.
Or we have committed to work cooperatively with a colleague we find difficult.
Our trip to work is horrible, we are tense and then the colleague says a smart-aleck remark, we snap back a terse response.
One of the reasons that external accountability works is because what gets measured gets done.
When you know that someone is going to ask you about something it adds starch to your willpower.
The other reason is when you get asked something often then it becomes a more conscious pursuit.
It becomes a front of mind goal; therefore we allocate more effort to living out our goals.
HOW TO SET UP ACCOUNTABILITY
● Set up an accountability routine – This can be face to face. Normally between 3-4 people who get together weekly (or ring) to talk about our week and ask
each other a series of questions that we have previously agreed on. The other way is to email someone each daily or weekly with answers to the
questions you want to focus on.
● Set some questions: Make the questions active and not passive. Active questions ask you about effort and activity not outcomes.
For instance, “Did I eat healthily?” This is a passive question. The answer is yes or no. Therefore you will feel like you have failed or passed.
A passive question also lends itself to blaming or making excuses for why you did or didn’t do that thing. Active questions might look like:
“Did I try my best to eat healthily?” This question moves us to persist and build up habits.
The type of questions could be:
● Did I do my best to set goals today?
● Did I do my best to make progress toward my goals today?
● Did I do my best to eat healthily?
● Did I do my best to build positive relationships?
● Did I do my best to be a great husband/wife?
● Did I do my best to avoid gossip and negativity?
Some other thoughts:
● Same sex accountability seems to work better.
● Sometimes it has been difficult to fit into my schedule.
However every time I prioritize this meeting I find it beneficial and powerful to keep me on track or make changes I want to make.
What do you think?
If you want to increase your chances to make changes invoke the power of accountability today.