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  • Writer's pictureBrigitte Granger

How to Hold Yourself Accountable

coffee and a to do clipboard and paper
Image by Fotownetrza from Pixabay

You've decided to set a new self-improvement goal. You've done your research, maybe read a few books or articles about steps you can start taking to achieve that goal. You've picked your start date, chosen your reward, and you have a strong reason "why." This is when motivation's at its peak. How can you be sure you'll stay motivated? Here's how to hold yourself accountable.

1. Have a plan

According to University of Pennsylvania researchers Hengchen Dai, Katherine L. Milkman, and Jason Riis, people are most likely to start their goals at the beginning of a calendar cycle (new year, new week, birthday, etc.) or whenever there's a chance for a fresh start. Having a start date and goal deadline are great ways to hold yourself accountable. However, you need to plan more than this to be successful. Otherwise, without a plan, there's a great chance that life will get in the way of doing the daily, consistent actions you need to do.

A lot of people set reminders or schedule time on their calendars dedicated to their goals. But time or reminders alone do not ensure action. Set yourself up for success by planning out other things you'll need to accomplish your daily tasks, and make sure those are set in place so that you have no excuse but to be ready for action. For example, you might want to hold yourself accountable for working out, but if your gym clothes aren't clean or you don't have the right equipment, you're adding one more barrier that can get in the way of your success. Make a list of everything you need in order to accomplish your daily goal, and then strategize how you're going to make sure all the items are in place so that you increase the likelihood that you'll actually do it!

2. Make it visible

Growing up, when my mom wanted me to go through old clothes, she would leave the pile of clothes on the stairs or right outside my bedroom door so I couldn't miss it. Of course, I tried to step over it and move it out of the way, but seeing the pile there and having it in my face eventually forced me to get it over with and just start going through it.

One of my favorite research-based examples of the impact of visibility on behavior is a study of a redesigned school lunchroom. When fruits were moved next to the cash register and salads were placed in see-through containers, students were 13% more likely to choose them for lunch. There's a reason why grocery stores charge more for products that are on the shelves at eye-level: it works! (Turns out, the whole store is pretty much designed to motivate you to buy.)

How you could design your home and other spaces to make your daily goal more visible? Think about the places you go frequently, or places you might visit right before you would do your daily task. Then, put either an object, vision board, or sticky note in that place as a visible reminder and/or barrier that holds you accountable to your goal.

3. Count it

smartphone showing a calendar with different colors for each day

There are so many resources out there that will help you track your progress. You can go low-tech and just use a calendar where you check off the days you achieved your goals. You could make a written to-do list or bullet journal to track it (I personally prefer to write things down with pen and paper because crossing it off is so satisfying.

Research shows that simply writing down the goal makes you more likely to accomplish it). Of course, there are apps like that will make tracking virtual, as well as apps that track progress of a certain activity, like running or meditation.

Why is tracking important? Well it's visible (see point 2, above), but it also conveys progress. Research by Minjung Koo and Ayelet Fishbach found that when your goal commitment is wavering, you are more likely to adhere to your goal if you look back at your progress thus far and see how much you've achieved. By tracking your progress, you'll be able to easily see and appreciate how far you've come—which means you can't quit now!

4. Have someone to hold you accountable

young woman catching up with friend over coffee

If all else fails and you can't figure out how to hold yourself accountable, by all means outsource it! Find someone who will be your accountabilibuddy and who will check in to make sure you're doing what you said you would.


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