Accountability, it is such a struggle in our lives. All the time, we have to make decisions as adults because we have free will. Free will isn’t free though there are things that happen because of our choices, and we are made to pay for them each time we make a choice. Sometimes the payment is light and happy, and at other times not so much.
One of my favourite philosophers is Jean-Paul Sartre. I loved my introduction to Sartre when we examined existentialism in my Introduction to Philosophy course, and further in my favourite elective of university, philosophy of sex, religion and ethics with David Stamos. In the course we learned about free will and determinism. My absolute favourite quote from Sartre is this “Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.” I love this quote so much that I have it tattooed on my ribs to remind me exactly what happens every time I make a choice.
See Sartre’s world changed drastically in France 1940. As a member of the French military he was captured and made a prisoner of war and sent to a labour camp. During this time he was forced to work in unhealthy conditions for hours a day with minimal sustenance. His German captors were not known for the way they took care of prisoners and it was was no different for Sartre. He was often subjected to demeaning acts and beatings. Every single day his will was tested and he had to make the choice whether or not he was going to give up and let himself die, or continue on and live another day. He spoke with the others in his team, explaining the idea of free will and that it was the only thing that the Germans couldn’t take from them. They could take food, they could take sleep, they could they their ability to walk but as long as they weren’t dead, they always had a choice, that they were responsible for everything they did.
This is incredibly troubling for so many people, myself included, because we often look for reasons why things happen and are more than happy to say that it was out of our control, that we didn’t have a choice, or someone else made the decision for us. I am guilty of this even today after knowing about the teachings of Sartre. We always want to say it isn’t our fault, it is just easier to do that than to accept the responsibility and be accountable for our actions. It is much worse in our generation because we are part of the technology world where if someone sends us a message we can choose to ignore the interaction and all too often we avoid the pain and seek the pleasure.
Pain v Pleasure and accountability:
This brings me to another point. We are allowed to make whatever choice we want in life, because we have free will, however to survive in a society we sometimes have to make choices which we don’t like. Give up time to work, for money. Go to the gym so we don’t get fat. Skipping a vacation to pay for the last three we haven’t paid for yet. The issue comes when we actually have to make the choice. We are so often told to do the things which make us feel good, because we have accepted a life of hedonism as acceptable (I am hyperbolizing). We have all experienced it. We decide to go out on Thursday night, we drink more than we said we would, we have to leave our car at the bar, and in the morning we are buried in a headache, without a way to get to work and we make a decision. We skip off, call our boss, and say we are sick. We successfully avoid some immediate pain by not having to get up, get dressed, go to work, and deal with meetings while we are hungover. We also get pleasure from successfully telling the story to our boss that we are just too sick to work today. It is a win/win in the short term. Not so much in the long term though. Our next paycheque may be diminished from not working or making sales on this day. Pain. Our co-workers have to do extra. No pain for us on the day, but pain in the future when they don’t help us with our work because we made them work extra hard when we aren’t there. Definite pain. Remember those three vacations you haven’t paid for yet, they are on your credit cards, which you are paying interest on, at 29.9% because you have terrible credit… huge pain. See the world doesn’t care that you made the choice to skip off, it will hold you accountable whether you like it or not.
How do we use accountability to our benefit?
By planning ahead. This is where it gets hard for us. As humans we hate planning ahead, ever heard of global warming? Saving for retirement? We avoid these things because it requires that we enter into a contract with ourselves or others for deferred gratification. Honestly, if you haven’t heard the term deferred gratification before you won’t like what it means. It means giving up something that will feel really good right now, for the possibility that if you wait and everything goes right, one day down the road, hoping that you don’t die, you will get to enjoy that a much more later. Ugh. We are in the world where if the webpage doesn’t load in 2 seconds we click the mouse again and you want me to plan ahead, and make decisions which I may never get to benefit from?
3 Step guide to improved accountability
Step 1: PLAN AHEAD
I want you to plan ahead, because here is what I have learned. Taxes come regardless of if you have saved to pay for them. If you drive drunk, you might get caught, or worse yet kill a mother who is leaving her second job orphaning her three kids, because she is a single mom. On a less scary scale, I want you to write your goals for the day down. My friend Brad Hart of www.makemoremarbles.com suggests this. Write down on a card before you go to bed the three biggest things you want to accomplish for the next day. When you wake up pick up the card and focus on only accomplishing those three goals that will get your closer to your goal whatever it may be. This will create a small and manageable list of things that you can make sure you accomplish by a set time of the day. Giving yourself a deadline is very important, you need deadlines. You will get the joy of checking each of those things off the list as you finish them one by one. I know, it sounds stupid and you will think that you are not a child and you don’t need task lists. Trust me, I need them, Elon Musk needs them, and Steph Curry needs them, you aren’t better than Steph Curry, that man is an animal.
Honesty time. I hate doing this. I fight it hard. With every inch of my will and fibre of my being I look for ways to get out of this, but I will tell you honestly. I need it. I need to check off that I wrote the blog for me and for you. I need to be accountable to myself to go to the gym because my business depends on my health and wellness and I have tried to worked on ways to make this happen without a list. I fail. Everytime. I end up making excuses like I will write two blogs tomorrow, I will workout harder the next day, and you know what, it happens sometimes, but not nearly as much if I write it down.
Step 2: SIGN YOUR NAME TO IT
Make a choice, decide what is manageable for you, actually manageable, not taking the easy road. Then write it down and sign your name to it. The physical act of writing down a savings goal makes you nearly 40% more likely that you will have the money when the deadline hits. Signing your name to it makes you even more accountable to the goals. Our brain has been working in correlation with our hand by writing down activities for thousands of years and hundreds of generations, and it works. So do it. Seriously. I am waiting.
Step 3: SHARE YOUR GOAL OR COMMITMENT WITH SOMEONE
Next step, if you struggle to be accountable to yourself, you have to share that goal with someone. Yes…you have to share it with someone. If another person knows what your goal is, it will make another reason why you will need to finish this task you set for yourself. This comes from saving face. We always want to make a promise to someone and keep it, by telling someone else you give yourself another reason to finish it (I am writing this article as a promise I made to myself, my friend Aaron and my friend Brad whom I have entered into social agreements with that I will be accountable to my word). We will often avoid making agreements or social contracts with people because then we must hold up our end (look at dating in the Millennial cohort. I dare you to try to get a date, time and location from a girl and see how fast she removes you from Tinder). The thing is, you must make agreements, and commitments to be successful. Ghosting on work isn’t acceptable.
There are going to be times when despite all the stuff in this article you are going to fail. You will write your goals down, you will sign your name to them, you will share them with your friends, and you will have the best of intentions. You will fail. It’s okay, don’t blame the system and throw the baby out with the bathwater. Try again. I bet you if you write it down, you will be celebrating more wins than failures.
P.S. I have included some resources and tools for you to refer to regarding this specific topic and topics surrounding this issue below, dig into them and have fun.