Be successful by being accountable — these 3 simple hacks can help

By Zestology

March 18, 2016   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

Be successful by being accountable. These 3 simple hacks can help

I’m a big fan of personal accountability. My podcast, Zestology, focuses on living life with energy, motivation and vitality — all great in practice, but unfortunatel, not just a switch you can flip at will. Getting to this stage — to live life with this level of zest, vigor and enthusiasm — is typically a multi-stage process. You’re learning to turn off, tune in and relax—to ignore the chatter and embrace the positive, and to be confident, healthy and happy. All good, but again all often require a few steps to get from today’s point A to tomorrow’s point B.


In my line of work I see countless people commit to making these positive changes, but too often, they slip and fall out of line and can’t right the ship. While missteps are entirely normal and even par for the course, it’s always what people do next that predicts success or failure in the short- and long-term. Think about yourself — when you stumble on your path to achieving a goal, do you pop up and hop back on right where you left off? Do you fall farther from your end goal? Do you just assume you can’t get to where you want to be, even though based on those first few steps, you clearly can? It ultimately comes down to personal accountability — have you got it, and more importantly, are you leaning on it to help you achieve your goals?

Usually the next recommendation is to increase your accountability by integrating others into your personal journey. Tap into a friend or a buddy to keep you honest. Find a mentor. Join a group. Announce your intentions to your colleagues or family members. All well and good — and hands down effective. But what if you aren’t there yet? What if you aren’t ready to tell the world you’re trying to lose weight. or to stress less. or to be a more confident person? What if what’s standing between you and your best life isn’t something you’re ready to shout from the rooftops? That’s fair — and it’s normal. That doesn’t mean that you have to give up personal accountability, though. Start here. Often these tactics are as effective as traditional partner or group methods, but at the same time, keep your cards a bit closer to the vest.

1. Write it down

Ever notice writing a list keeps you more streamlined and successful? You write a grocery list and methodically move down item by item, filling your cart and getting in and out fast. You don’t write a list and you’re grabbing things you don’t need, spending more time in the aisles and likely leave without knowing what you’re making for dinner this week, or with the ingredients to get it done. Working through a to-do list at work has the same effect — you navigate the must dos, avoiding the time sucks and unnecessary requests, wrapping up the most important tasks in a timely, systematic manner. A win!

Goal setting shouldn’t be any different. You’ve got something you want to achieve, so it’s jotted down in a notebook, in your phone, in a blog — the choice is yours. But it has the same impact as your grocery list or work to-dos. You see what you have to do and can even map out the steps to achieve it. Saying, “I’ll exercise” to yourself is very different than writing down, “I will walk three times per week for the next month.” Forcing yourself to frame your goal — a specific exercise, a specific number of times each week — helps you see the path to achievement. In addition, it is equally importantly that you’ll know when you’ve achieved it. Did you walk three times per week for the last 30 days? Good! Did you “exercise?” Well… does taking the stairs (when the escalator was broken…) count?

2. Try the Postcard Plan

I touch on this in my book Relax in a Minute. It’s called the Postcard Plan and it takes the notion of writing it down to the next level. Step one is simple: get a postcard. Find one that motivates you or something you simply want to look at. It could be a serene tropical scene, a landmark from your hometown or something entirely different. Your postcard; your rules.

Next step: once you’ve identified your goal and put those specific terms around it — walking three times, for example — write it down on the back of that postcard, then mail it to yourself. Consider writing a few at a time, and mailing one or two each week for the next 30 days or so. Your postcard messages should clearly state your goal, how you’re feeling in that moment and how you hope to feel when you read that postcard in a few days or weeks. To get the most out of this exercise, consider mailing your cards via second class or standard mail, so they take an extra day or two to arrive.

When your postcard arrives you’ll be able to honestly assess your progress — or even your lack thereof. Are you where you wanted to be by this date? Have you even started on your journey? What can you do to ensure you stay on track until the next postcard arrives, or to resurrect your goals and your accountability so you’ll be where you wanted to be for the second delivery? Pin your postcards to a bulletin bullet or post them on the fridge as you receive them, image side up. Someone passing by will assume it’s just a postcard from a friend or recent getaway, but you’ll have a constant reminder of what you’re working towards.

3. Leave yourself a message

Just like the Postcard Plan, this hinges on personal messages tied to your goals, needs, hopes, and dreams. Set aside a five to 10 minutes and leave yourself a series of voicemails. It could be on an office phone — maybe your goal, for example, is to leave work a little earlier each day. It could also be on a mobile phone if that’s more accessible. Aim to leave five to seven messages.

As you’re deciding what to say, consider what usually trips you up. Are the morning pastries in the office kitchen keeping you from losing weight? Are last minute assignments holding you long after hours and spiking your stress levels? Are you skipping the lunchtime walks in favor of snacking at your desk? Leave at least two messages that address those goal busters and encourage yourself to dodge the trap and keep moving forward. The others? One should reiterate why this goal is important to you, while the other two can be words of encouragement — one for when you do excel and another for when you fall a bit behind.

It may feel odd at first — both leaving yourself messages and listening to them, but it can be extremely effective. Within a second or two you’ll be transported back to the day and time you left that message and it will probably make those same emotions real all over again. When we set goals. we’re always feeling a certain way — sad, motivated, enthusiastic, or frustrated. Bringing those emotions back to the forefront of your mind is a great way to inspire motivation, accountability and action without having to rely on anyone but yourself.

Personal accountability is critical to achieving any goal, large or small. But often we aren’t ready or simply don’t want to lean on others for our most personal journeys. Increasing your own accountability by writing down goals and reinforcing them through notes and messages can be a great way to keep you on track and even to help you hop off, dust off and jump back on the path when things get rough. Soon enough your goal will become second nature and you won’t need to keep reinforcing and reiterating those next steps. Until then, though, start by upping your accountability to ensure those first few days and weeks are the best they can be. Good luck!


Live life with energy, vitality and motivation. Hosted by @tonywrighton. Top guests weekly. Named in @Shortlist's Top 10 Motivational Podcasts.

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