Accountability motivation myths

March 24, 2022

Right about at this point in the month, our initial  enthusiasm for our resolutions begins to wane, and we have to rely on determination, planning, and secondary sources of motivation, like the support of our friends, to keep the momentum going. When we want to reach our most important and most challenging goals, we are so much more likely to succeed if we commit to being held accountable in some way. We know it works  particularly well for building positive habits around reducing our day-to-day waste and environmental impact. Of course, asking your best friend, or even a group of strangers, to help you stay on course can be a little intimidating at first and can even prevent you from getting started, if we start to focus on succeeding for our accountability more so than succeeding with the goal itself. If this worries you, remember that accountability is a tool we want to use to succeed and not a sustainable goal in and of itself. Here are some reflections on how we keep accountable and stay renewed.



Fear Factor

Using the fear of a potential loss of something we already possess or the certain promise of suffering can keep us more focused and motivated. That is why it is so often recommended as a stronger motivator to keep you accountable with starting new habits and pursuing short term goals. However, that isn’t the whole story, and this sort of motivation doesn’t necessarily hold up so well on it’s own when working towards more complex goals, like becoming a minimal-waste household or closing the loop in an industry. These goals involve multiple steps and interconnected subgoals, and if we try to find motivation in the stick for each of them, we will quickly become worn out from focusing on constantly putting out fires. It also helps to remember that the next level up of larger, more complex but less concrete goals, like tackling climate change, add their own brand of looming fear-based motivation to the mix. In these cases we need to rely on more of a network of motivations to keep going. Rewarding ourselves with something delightful can work, but finding intrinsic positive motivation can work the best. Explore what is meaningful to you about the goals you set, find someone that shares and understands this meaning, and let them keep you on your course to success.

Gamification Over

Turning goals and milestones into a game can be a great way to give a big, ugly problem a silver lining. We get that great little hit of dopamine when we check off a box or click a button to say we are complete, and now there are tons of options to automatically make the process cute, simple, and exciting. These benefits can be magnified by having a little competition with our friends or coworkers. However, the process once again breaks down a bit when we look at more complicated goals. If effort isn’t put into the system, by you or someone else, the rewards start to feel dull and repetitive, and at best, you start to work ‘for the points’ and you lose site of the point of your original goal. There is also the risk that tying your success to the ‘game’ so closely will make you lose interest in the goal, like forgetting a fad after the season is over. If you want gamification to work for you, you have to put some work into it, up front and over time. Choose realistic milestones, check in periodically on whether the game is still in line with your goals and your values, and be sure to include gratitude in the rewards. Also, if your goal has anything to do with reducing waste or lightening your foot print, make sure your game isn’t using more resources to organize and operate than you are looking to save. Finally, remember that gamification should add fun and joy to working towards your goals. If the fun goes away over time, adjust the game!


Set it and … then get it


Having someone to keep you accountable is great, but sometimes that commitment isn’t enough. It takes some though, planning, and compassion to make the accountability link work. Be sure to take the time to check in on your goals and direction. Carve out specific time slots to devote to whatever you are working on, but also to check in on your progress. Meet with your accountability partner or group regularly to check if you are on track, review what is working and what is a challenge, and adjust your strategy accordingly. If you are having trouble deciding what is working or what step to take next, let someone else choose how to proceed for you. Discuss what your needs, potential challenges, and ideas are with your accountability partners, and have them come up with a schedule for your milestones and decision deadlines. Alternatively, let a robot do it for you with AI scheduling programs like Futurenda. This can help to break complex goals down into doable steps and can remove some of the friction from getting your momentum going.


Working on building up some re(new)ed actions into your life? Share them with us and we can count on each other to keep this amazing year going.


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