The problem with “accountability” in a nutshell.

When you attempt to outsource your self-control, this is what happens:

You ask somebody to hold you accountable.
They forget.
You never achieve anything.

OR.

You ask somebody to hold you accountable.
They don’t forget.
You avoid them.

OR.

You ask somebody to hold you accountable.
They don’t forget.
You think to yourself, “They’re not the boss of me!” (but with fancier words.)

Given enough time, this is how pretty much every “accountability” project ends up. In the absence of a true position of power, all external accountability requires internal accountability, and if you have internal accountability, you don’t need external accountability.

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Discussion

  1. Marjan

    Putting money on the line can help achieve your goals. Recently found (url removed). There you can set a goal, set the stakes for achieving it, appoint a referee (optional I think) and add friends to support you. Apparently the most popular “anti-charity” is donating to the George W. Bush library…

    Reply
    • Amy Hoy

      I’ve read lots of research studies on goal setting & achievement, but can’t recall a single one that backs up this approach.

      Reply
      • Marjan

        No indeed, neither have I. IIRC there are psychology studies showing that people will often do more to avoid a loss/pain (losing the money they put on the line) than to achieve a gain. In that sense, combining the two as stickk does may well be beneficial. And then there is the general consensus that writing down your goals and sticking a date on them tends to up the chances that you will achieve them and this site plays into that as well.

        Not sure though that it would work for setting up a business, but I can see it working for “singular” goals like losing weight, running a race, clearing out the attic, … It is a sort of inverse-incentivising strategy. And incentivising generally works as long as no cognitive work is involved.

        But hey, whaddoIknow? I haven’t yet lost all the weight I want to lose and I am not using that site to make it happen either – way too much risk of me losing my money :-)

  2. Vlad

    According to book “Influence”, simple stating your goal publicly increase chances of completion 2x. Pressure to look consistent. So, do not discount external accountability yet – it works in subtle ways.

    Reply
    • Amy Hoy

      Vlad, this is not the same thing at all as the idea of “accountability.” The very word “accountability” implies that someone will “hold you to account” meaning that they will be monitoring you.

      This, otoh, is the summary of the research Cialdini showed (that you are talking about:

      Commitment and Consistency – If people commit, orally or in writing, to an idea or goal, they are more likely to honor that commitment because of establishing that idea or goal as being congruent with their self-image.

      That is textbook internal motivation.

      Reply
  3. Chris Morris

    Isn’t what you do with your publications a form of accountability? I.e. If I had what I needed internally, I wouldn’t need your writings?

    Reply
    • Amy

      Nope. Have you looked up the word “accountability”? The idea is that some one is HOLDING you accountable. A blog post can hold you to nothing.

      Reply

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