Have you ever started a personal or corporate project and never got around to finishing it? Do you find it difficult to complete tasks and follow through with your plans? Are you stuck in a pattern of unaccountability, either with yourself or with others? You're not alone.
There's an interesting bit of psychology that runs behind this phenomenon. Quite simply, if you don't keep your commitments, you steadily weaken your ability to keep future ones. If you find it difficult to see a project through to completion, keep a meeting with a friend or call someone when you say you're going to call, it's very likely you've repeated this behavior many times before and it is gradually crystallizing into habit.
- You weaken your ability to keep future promises
- You don't value your own words
- You harm your self-image
- You create rifts in relationships; you don't value other people or their time
As you can see, the result over the long haul can be disastrous. Failing to follow through can lead to loss of income, broken relationships or worse. Not all consequences are so dire, of course, but for the sake of your mental health, it's much better to keep accountable to yourself and to others.
The good news is that habits can be altered and reshaped.
Forming New Habits
Maxwell Maltz is famous for popularizing the idea that habit formation takes 21 days. He observed that it took amputees 21 days to acclimatize to the loss of a limb.
There is a great deal of validity in what Maltz observed, but creating habits doesn't necessarily need to take that long. Sometimes it takes longer. Sometimes it's instantaneous.
The greater the pain associated with remaining the same, the quicker one may be inclined to change. You might be deathly afraid of dogs, but if you're sick and tired of looking silly in front of your peers, then a change might come quicker than you think (this is a real-life example by the way).
The opposite of not being a person of your word is obviously being a person of your word. However, it is easier said than done. Here are some practical tips to help you get some wins:
- Don't say "yes" to everything: carefully evaluate every opportunity, meeting or offer that comes along. Decide whether or not you want to get involved based on your current duties, values, financial situation, and free time you have available. Saying "yes" to everything is people-pleasing behavior, and that's rarely a good thing. There's always a graceful way of backing out or turning something down: "Thank you for thinking of me, but…"
- Schedule reminders in your calendar: use a service like Google Calendar or an app like iCal to keep track of your daily responsibilities. Set up alarms or SMS reminders for particularly important events - or if necessary - all events.
- Plan and organize your day, week, and month: plan out what you're going to do in advance and keep it realistic. Stick to your schedule, even if you don't feel like it.
- 30 day trial: try doing something (or not doing something) every single day for 30 days. This is a very easy way to get a win and to start establishing and reinforcing positive behavior. A lot of people get a little too far ahead of themselves, and that's why they tend to give up early. Living in 30 day capsules is far less intimidating. Don’t forget to reward yourself at the end of 30 days; it will fortify good habits.
Don't underestimate the value of small victories. As you tick small items off your to-do list, return calls and emails, stay consistent even when you don't feel like it, you will gain ground. You'll become more able to tackle bigger goals, gain confidence and develop habits that are congruent with your self-image.
Being a person of your word isn't always easy. Sometimes it requires great sacrifice. However, the effort is well worth the reward. As you learn to become more accountable, you will achieve more, attain greater fulfillment and enjoy life more.