What’s that thing you have been putting off? Let me know in the comments.
Motivation and seeing something through is difficult. So difficult in fact it’s one of the most arduous things a majority of us struggle with. What is the secret to fulfilling our goals or learning something new? It starts and ends with external accountability. Here’s what that means and why I have come up with a new goal setting system- PITA.
I am the first to raise my hand and admit that I am the worst at sticking to something that I do for myself. I forget, I decide I am too tired, I (sort of) accidentally binge watch TV or YouTube. That said, I’ll happily stay up late marking papers or doing some kind of admin for my school. I won’t reply to that message a friend just sent me but I am motivated to pay that bill or order a present for some one (thank you Amazon Prime next day shipping). The only common denominator that I can see is that there is an external factor that doesn’t involve me. Be it a work deadline, meeting with someone or the fear of the internet being cut off if I don’t pay the bill- I get things done by not relying on me to keep myself on track. You might be thinking that you are super motivated and get things done and need no external motivation and if that is you I say great! Please teach me your secrets!
External accountability is having a factor other than yourself that expects delivery of a task or a goal that goes way beyond the carrot and stick analogy. So what does that mean? It means making sure you are not the only person or thing expecting to see a result. For example, say you want to cycle 20km every Saturday, instead of just saying you’ll do it (let’s face it, I’m not just going to CYCLE 20km) plan to meet a friend or visit somewhere in a place near the 10km mark. Even better, get them to cycle with you. If you need to work up to 20km, set a date in the future and train until you get there!
So why rely on something external?
Simply put, human beings are great at letting ourselves down. Especially in the internet age where everything is so easy and filled with an exponential large number of distractions that we get sidetracked, we find better things to do. We’ll get round to it someday. By having something or someone outside of yourself (be it an employer, deadline, consequences) you are forcing yourself to be held accountable.
What counts as an external factor?
Any one or anything that is not you can be used as an external factor but the most important thing is to tell people. Shout it from the rooftops because you can guarantee someone, sometime will ask how your goal is going; how awesome will it feel to give them a positive update? If you have told people you are learning how to bake pastries for example, invite friends over for a tasting session and get them to give you their feedback. They will be pretty disappointed if they show up and you have no delicious goodies.
Time is also another great external factor. It’s the reason why so many people write 50,000 words in a month during NaNoWriMo, why reports and homework get completed on time (sometimes the night before) because there is a deadline. An external time factor can kick yourself into starting and actually continuing because the ‘oh no, i don’t think I can actually complete this on time’ sends a massive adrenaline boost which spurs you on to completion (according to Nira Liberman and her colleagues at Tel Aviv University1) if you want to finally get round to fixing up your garden, plan a garden party- the fast approaching date will motivate you to get those green fingers stuck into the earth.
What is P.I.T.A?
Other than a delicious sandwich, its a way of rethinking your goals and staying motivated in order to achieve them (hunger is a great way to prioritise making and finishing that delicious middle eastern bread)
This is where you think about what you want to achieve and why. Stick to one or two at a time because stretching yourself is never a good idea (take it from someone who wanted to work full time, learn Italian, have a clean house, write a book, write blogs, exercise, get enough sleep and more all at the same time). Start with the most important and go down the list.
Ask yourself are there any similar tasks and think about how you know you will have finished- if its a project in stages, make sure you know what needs to be done by each stage.
Make sure you have a feasible deadline. To choose a realistic one, think about how many hours you will need to complete the task (perhaps add a third) and block of calendar time in order to do it. This way you will be able to see how long it will actually take you. From there you can see if you can dedicate more or less time to your goals. I say hours here because with todays distractions, you are not going to be able to dedicate whole days or weeks to a project, especially outside your work hours.
TELL PEOPLE about your goals and deadlines and give them something to look forward to in the future.. Chose an accountability partner you want to have feedback or a discussion with and ask them to check in with you from time to time. Set a half way date to talk about your progress and put it in your calendar too.
You can plan all your SMART goals and write down all the reasons why you want to do something but at the end of the day, even if it’s something you love, unless you make it a priority and have something or someone outside of you and your brain who expects you to do thing thing you want to do, you are not going to get round to do it. Ask yourself, what motivated you to do the last spring clean of your home? What motivated you to go on that trip? What motivated you to buy that present? Almost most of your answers were probably a a fixed date or another person.
Did you find this first look into a new way of goal setting? Let me know your PITA action plan below and if you would like more of a detailed explanation in an upcoming blog.
Stay motiviated and get those goals!
1 Förster, J., Liberman, N., & Higgins, E. T. (2005). Accessibility from active and fulfilled goals. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 41(3), 220-239. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jesp.2004.06.009