Looking back at my long years in school and college, I’ve come to terms with the fact that I need to be held accountable to truly stick to my to-do lists and move forward. Whether that accountability is self-made, from a close friend or relative, or professional help. They all help to a great extent. I was extremely undisciplined at first, I would spend hours playing video games with this extreme feeling of guilt in the air all the time. I knew I was supposed to be studying, but that just didn’t sound as fun as what I was doing then. Once I learned about accountability, I gained a lot of self-discipline and changed my approach to life in its entirety.
Accountability is “answerability, blameworthiness, liability, and the expectation of account-giving.” It is a topic that many seem to fear, attributing fear and stress, among other distressing feelings, to it. However, accountability does not have to be so gruesome. Accountability improves performance and inspires confidence, it’s the stepping-stone of success. Through some retrospection and self-reflection, I decided these 6 top tips are the foundations of holding yourself accountable:
- Get in the right state of mind
- Identify your goals
- Reward your accomplishments
- Review and assess
- Seek feedback
- Get a coach or person to hold you accountable
1. Get in the right state of mind
Sit yourself down and have a one-on-one with your mindset. Just like in an interrogation room, don’t stop until you have gotten to the bottom of your mindset. Try to understand the why’s behind the reason you want to hold yourself accountable. Do you have a specific exam coming up that you need to study for? Okay then, why do you want to pass this exam? Take me, for example the USMLE exams have been on the horizon for me for a minute now. I’ve come to the understanding that I, Noon, want to pass those exams to give myself the opportunity to start a residency at a distinctive, brilliant program, etc. If you don’t understand the why behind your goals, your goals won’t have enough spark in them to motivate you to work towards them.
To take it a step further, remind yourself of your whys every day. For example, “I want to keep up with my Anki reviews today because they help me actively memorize tidbits of information that will help me ace my step 1 exam, which will open up a lot of doors to several specialties”.
2. Identify your goals
What is your target score or grade? What do you want to gain out of studying or practicing this particular subject? Establish your goals and write them down. Don’t use vague statements when you write them down though, make sure to be specific. Don’t say “I want to pass step 1,” say “I want to get a 245+ on my step 1.” Don’t say “I want to do neurology today,” say “I want to watch the Physeo videos on neurology, annotate the first 30 pages of FA neurology, and do my Anki reviews today.” Be specific.
Most importantly, set tangible goals. Don’t go into dedicated aiming for a 275 (I mean, if you know you are capable of that, then by all means), but set a more tangible goal based on your baseline and specialty of choice. Do, however, set an enthusiastic goal. It seems like I’m contradicting myself there, so let me elaborate. You want to set a goal that is tangible, yet grand, so you don’t slack off. You’ve got to work as hard as you possibly can so you can reap the fruits of your efforts in the future.
Pinpoint your efforts and then blast off on to success!
3. Reward your accomplishments
Sometimes it may feel like all our efforts are being wasted, and we are not moving forward in the slightest. However, the truth about progress is that it happens, but it happens at an excruciatingly slow pace. Most of the time we don’t see the impact our actions are making on the grand picture, however big or small those actions might be. But to put it simply; “Rome wasn’t built in a day”. Change doesn’t happen overnight, it happens over long periods of hard work and persistent effort.
These steps we take towards our final destination can take us the distance if we hold ourselves accountable. When we put in the effort and make sure to hold ourselves accountable, that’s when we see the bigger picture. And that’s when we see progress and the skyline doesn’t look that far away anymore. It’s just within reach.
I personally reward myself by giving myself time off to dedicate to other hobbies. Take for example a typical studying day for me;
- 04:00 Wake up, shower, and Meditate/Pray – Prepare for the upcoming day
- 05:00 – 09:00 Study session 1 (mostly content review)
- 09:00-10:00 Break 1, breakfast and a breather
- 10:00-12:00 Anki Reviews
- 12:00-1:00 Break 2
- 1:00-6:00 Two blocks of 40 Questions and Review
- 6:00-8:00 🎉🎉🎉 Catch up on hobbies/ life in general (AKA BIG TIME REWARD FOR A WHOLE DAY OF GRINDING) 🎉🎉🎉
However, rewards can include anything like a nice meal at a restaurant or watching a movie on Netflix for the rest of the night. You set the reward that is most suitable to you, and to the magnitude of your accomplishment. We are after all humans, we run on rewards and positive reinforcement. Holding ourselves accountable is just a natural part of reaching goals.
Interestingly, using external rewards over time can start to condition us into attributing our goals with intrinsic rewards. In other words, using external rewards continuously can start to desensitize us from the physical reward and increase our internal motivation to work towards a goal. For more information on this topic, here’s a link to an article by the Harvard Business Review battling this topic.
4. Review and assess
As I always say, without taking a step back and reviewing your efforts, you are doomed for failure. A continuous effort made in the wrong direction or without fruit is useless. Make sure to take a step back and assess if your methodology is taking you where you want to be. Am I employing the most effective strategies or am I taking the long way around? Am I gaining knowledge and information out of this approach or am I simply passively learning this material?
If you review your progress over the last month and find that you are severely lacking, then your accountability strategies might not be working very well. In that case, you need to reassess and change your strategies: try to alter your motivational approaches. Try to incorporate some motivational podcasts or videos into your daily routine, or maybe it’s time to invest in a coach? All in all, being accountable to yourself entails regularly assessing your work and ensuring you are getting closer to your end goals.
4. Seek feedback
Sometimes getting fresh eyes on our problems can reveal cracks we never knew existed. Therefore, finding a more senior person or a classmate and allowing them to look over your approach or schedule and giving you their opinion is gold. This constructive outlook can then help you alter your approach and fine-tweak that awesome approach of yours. Running the distance with an unrefined plan can be futile. Opening yourself up to feedback also gives others the opportunity to check up on you and hold you accountable. Holding yourself accountable can be a slippery slope, being lax with yourself is too easy when you are the only person aware of those goals. That brings us to the next tip:
5. Get a coach or person to hold you accountable
At the end of the day, you need to admit to yourself that you need someone or something to hold you down to your responsibilities. Yes, it can be hard, but it is necessary. Find an accountability partner who can keep you grounded throughout your journey. Send this partner your weekly goals and to-do lists at the beginning of the week and allow them to check in on you during that week to gauge your progress. If you need much more attention than that, you can always agree to a video call or meeting at the end of each day discussing what you have done and what you need to work on. You can keep them accountable too. Not only can this help you stay on track, but you can also help each other in areas you are struggling in. For example, maybe you just couldn’t understand the hypothalamic-pituitary axis as well as you wanted to and can ask your partner for any advice in that area (FYI, the Physeo endocrine physiology videos are absolutely phenomenal).
Using a friend or family member can be a double-edged sword though. Make sure the person you chose is actually holding you accountable and not trying to protect you from the harsh reality you might be facing. Being cushioned is the exact opposite of what we are aiming for.
Therefore, if a partner isn’t giving you the hard-core discipline you are looking for, you can always hire a coach or tutor. The great thing about this is that they are experienced and know exactly how to help you reach your goals as fast and as effectively as possible.
All in all, adopting accountability into your life is a game-changer. When you decide to push through no matter how tempting that Youtube video or video game is, you are setting yourself up for success. Just like anything else in life: that killer body you’ve been trying to get, or that new language you are trying to learn, accountability is the only thing that will allow you to be persistent and see results.
Accountability is a muscle that needs to be trained, so start training yours from today and you will conquer anything.
“The first and best victory is to conquer oneself.” – Plato