How To Get Yourself to Accomplish Any Goal

I love self-help books. Looking at my Goodreads bookshelf, I’ve listed 115 of books I’ve read under the genre self-help. Here are a few I’ve read recently just to give you an idea:

  • Write that Memoir Right Now
  • Healthy Habits Suck: How to Get off the Couch and Live a Healthy Life… Even If You Don’t Want To
  • 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works
  • Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life
  • Mind Hacking: How to Change Your Mind for Good in 21 Days
  • Unfu*k Yourself: Get Out of Your Head and into Your Life
  • Best Self: Be You, Only Better

Even when I read (or listen to) books about changing habits, finding motivation and “Finding Your ‘Why,’” I always think, “Yeah, totally!” and then never do anything. Why do I even bother reading all these books? I don’t know. I already know what works for me.

For Example

In March, I signed up for a wellness jump-start program. Normally the price was $99 a WEEK (no joke), but the woman running the program let me participate on a scholarship because of my low income and recent emotional traumas.

I received a plethora of files in a drive including videos and How-To’s on what to eat, what not to eat, some exercise videos, some meditations, and I don’t know what else… some worksheets maybe? I don’t know because I completed about 12% of the modules, and then never opened up the drive again.

Why not? Because I had no reason to other than my own well-being and that just wasn’t a good enough reason. They were boring and if no one is keeping track of my progress, then I don’t care about following through.

At the end of the six-week trial period, the woman running the program asked me if I wanted to continue the program at full cost.

Uh. Not a chance.

Accountability

I explained to her how I needed accountability to participate and I wasn’t getting it. Sure, I received guides on what to eat, what not to eat, but I didn’t create a meal plan because I had no reason to. I didn’t have to turn it in to her to prove that I did it, so I wasn’t going to do it, simply because it was too much of a hassle and I couldn’t be bothered — even though the point of the program was to be bothered with such things. Signing up wasn’t enough to get me to participate.

She believed that because I wasn’t paying the full price for the course, that I didn’t have enough skin in the game and THAT was the reason why I didn’t follow through.

I think that is an excuse that would be true for some people, but not everyone, and not me.

I explained to her that I didn’t think money was the issue because I get my gym membership for free (in exchange for doing the gym owner’s filing) and I attend class more often because the cost wasn’t hindering me from going to classes. I went to fewer classes when I had to pay because I couldn’t afford them. I went more often (sometimes even twice a day!) because I don’t have to pay for each class. This contradicts her money theory.

The Four Tendencies

Author, Gretchen Rubin, came up with the Four Tendencies framework to explain people’s responses to outer and inner expectations and wrote about it in her book by the same name.

Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies Framework

Upholders

These are the people who can write to-do lists and complete each task with ease, and they are equally as likely to complete each task on a to-do list someone else gives them. They do not struggle with accountability. If they want to run a marathon, they’ll train for one. If their library books are due a certain day, they will bring them back on time. The mere existence of something needing to be done is enough accountability for Upholders.

Obligers

These are the people who can do anything someone else needs them to, but struggle to do things for themselves. They might have a package they’ve been meaning to mail for weeks, but haven’t done it. Yet as soon as a friend says “Oh hey, would you mind running this to the post office for me? I won’t have time, and it’s on your way home,” the Obliger would have no problem taking on that favor for their friend. These are the people who won’t go to the gym unless they go with a friend who relies on them to go too. These are the people who would never sign up for a dance class for themselves, but would sign up with their partner as an anniversary present. The fact that someone else needs them to do something is enough accountability for them to complete outer expectations. However, to complete inner expectations, they need to create a system of outer accountability.

Questioners

Questioners are people who don’t struggle to complete their inner expectations because anything they want to do makes sense to them. However, they struggle to complete outer expectations if the task doesn’t make sense to them. For example, a Questioner’s partner says “Hey don’t forget to take out the trash before going to work.” When the Questioner looks at the trash, it’s only half full. It doesn’t make sense to them to take out the trash, so they won’t. If their partner said “Hey, don’t forget to take out the trash before going to work, I threw away all those rotten onions this morning,” then that would make sense to the Questioner and they wouldn’t hesitate to complete the task. They need more information and facts to justify outer expectations.

Rebels

Rebels struggle to do anything that feels forced whether it’s by another person or themselves. They can do anything that feels willful to them; they need to feel like it’s their choice they are voluntarily making — Very much like petulant children. (I say that lovingly, because I am a Rebel, and it sucks.) If they feel like they have to do something, even if they agree that it’s a positive thing, they resist following through. More information or someone relying on them to follow through isn’t enough to get them to accomplish their goals and might even make them double down on their resistance. Their accountability has to be a detriment to them and/or somehow fulfill their sense of identity. A student who is a rebel who cares about getting good grades will have no problem completing the homework assignments or studying for exams required to get an A. A student who is a rebel who doesn’t care about getting good grades, but cares about passing the course, will do just enough to pass. A student who is a rebel who doesn’t care about passing, won’t do anything, and they will fail, and not care.

A personal example: My partner wants the bed to be made everyday. I think making the bed is stupid. I literally never made my bed before we moved in together. But now, I make the bed each time I’m the last one out of bed. Not because he asked (and in fact, if he asked, it probably would make not want to do it) but because I want to feel like a good partner. I make the bed for him to fulfill my self-perceived identity as a good partner.

Another example: I quit caffeine two years ago because I found out it was a leading factor to the pain I experienced from my chronic illness. The detriment of the pain I experienced far outweighed the discomfort of having to give it up.

Another example: I’m writing this article because I feel like it. If I didn’t feel like it, this article wouldn’t exist.

How I Get My Rebellious Ass to Do Anything I Don’t Want to Do

I am a Rebel. I only exercise when I feel like it. If I don’t feel like it, I don’t exercise. I ran a marathon in 2009, and then didn’t run again for three years. I graduated college but went through the “Special Major” program, where I came up with my own curriculum, wrote a proposal, and gave a presentation to a panel of professors defending my curriculum. I was one of five students (out of a student body of about 5,000) who went through this hullabaloo all because I resisted having to go through a program that other people designed. I have to be on my own terms — always.

So when I have a goal like writing a book — something that I want to do, but that I really don’t want to do — the only way I can get myself to do it is by creating my own system of accountability.

If you’re an Upholder or Questioner reading this, you’re probably thinking, “If you wanted it bad enough, you would just follow through without having to strategize.” And you would be incorrect. Some individuals, particularly Obligers and Rebels, cannot get out of their own way even if they really, really want something. I’m writing this article, for example, and I don’t need to strategize getting it done, but it’s definitely not something I want more than finishing my novel and editing it to perfection. I’ve just built up my novel so much that I dread having to face it — so I don’t.

As a Rebel, it is not enough for me to just recruit a friend to ask me for some pages from my novel every week. I love all my friends, but I do not care enough if I disappoint them by not turning in pages. Or I should say: The discomfort of disappointing my friends does not outweigh the discomfort of facing my dreaded novel. Even using the strategy of identity doesn’t work for me in this case. No matter how much I tell myself that I’m a serious writer and I write everyday and I edit everyday and I produce best-selling novels, I can’t get myself to do the work to get me there because it is too daunting, it is too uncomfortable for me to face. I have to go further in order to accomplish my writing goals.

I create written contracts with my friends that I sign and are legally binding. If I don’t complete X, Y, Z goal by such and such a date, then I must pay so and so $100 cash.

It may not seem like a lot, but for my broke ass, $100 is a detriment I cannot afford. The discomfort of not following through is worse than the discomfort of having to write/edit my novel and feel like I suck.

You might be asking, “Then wasn’t the woman who ran the fitness program right about money?” I’d say, No. Because if participants have to pay her every week whether or not they complete the specified modules or come up with a meal plan or exercise during the week, then that is not the same as losing money because you didn’t complete the tasks. For me, I would just be angry that I was losing $99 a week for a program that did nothing for me. I still wouldn’t complete the tasks, regardless of cost, if no one was waiting for me to hand in a meal plan or finish the modules (and I wanted to feel like a good participant). If there is no tally system to keep track of progress (or compare the progress of the participants creating a feeling of competition), or no “Certificate of Completion” for finishing all of the modules, I’m just not going to follow through.

Paying money upfront to participate in a program — whether fitness or piano lessons or a writing course or otherwise — might work for Upholders or Questioners (individuals who say “Okay, I paid the money, so I’m going to do this and follow the guidelines” and people who say “It makes sense to do the best I can because I paid so much money to participate”), but it’s unlikely to work for Obligers or Rebels (people who say “Well, the only person I have to let down is myself, so why should I care?” and people who say “I’ve lost the money whether or not I complete the tasks, so why complete the tasks when it’s easier in the short-term not to?”) If the fitness program charged $99/week only if you DIDN’T follow through on the tasks, then I would have followed through, because there would have been detriment I couldn’t afford. If I lose the $99 each week regardless, then I’d just brood and be angry that I was being charged money for a program that didn’t work for me.

If you’re a Rebel tendency too, a $100 detriment might not be enough for you to follow through on your goals. You might have to up the stakes.

You have to create a system that makes it so that the detriment of not following through on your goals is WORSE than the discomfort of having to follow through on your goals.

If you have a nice friend who will show you leniency if you miss your goal for the week, you need to find a different friend. You have to recruit your broke friend who will really want your money if you fuck up. You have to recruit your friend who is enough of an asshole to call you out if you don’t follow through with your contract.

And maybe giving the money to your friend wouldn’t be enough of a detriment for you. Maybe you’d have to give the money to an organization you despise or to your opposite political party candidate. You have to customize your detriment to suit who you are as a person.

Final Takeaways

  • Not everyone can follow through on goals even if it’s what they really want deep down.
  • Not everyone can follow through on goals with accountability alone.
  • If you struggle to complete goals, try figuring out a detriment you’d face if you don’t follow through on your goals. It has to be something that would feel worse to you than the short-term discomfort of having to follow through on your goals.

Good luck!

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If you liked this article and want to read more articles from me, you can check out:

ACTUALLY, a WOMAN wrote the “I Am a Liberal” Essay — NOT Ron Howard

White People Need to Start Standing Up Against White Supremacist Microaggressions

Sex Ed. 101: How to Ask for Consent

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Author. Playwright. Poet. Activist.

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