Are you struggling to achieve your goals? I know I am—and it’s obviously all been exacerbated by our current situation. (That which shall not be named.)

Last time, I talked about the importance of finding your finish line. And while defining my “finish line” has certainly helped me over the last few months, it’s been identifying the reason we all get up in the morning that’s really allowed me to start making some progress. 

There’s a methodology that I think we can all implement in our lives to help us find success during challenging times: It’s called the Trigger (or Antecedent) Behaviour Consequence Model.

Simply put, humans don’t get out of bed in the morning unless the consequence is personal, certain and immediate. It’s often why we find it so hard to develop (and maintain) a new healthy habit, since while the consequences of giving up are definitely personal, the benefits are uncertain and often delayed. (Trust me, you’re not going to see results from flossing your teeth daily till your next dentist appointment.)

For me, I’ve been finding it difficult to maintain my exercise routine through the winter. I know it’s important for my mental health, but the consequences of not working out are neither certain nor immediate. In theory, I know that skipping a sweat session will make me feel worse—eventually. But the gratification that comes from sitting on the couch with a glass of wine and my latest Netflix obsession is immediate.

I also know that exercising will one day make me feel better in the clothes I wear, but again, that result is uncertain and definitely delayed.

Making progress on any goal is a constant battle between the immediate and the uncertain and delayed. We can also call this willpower…which I feel like I have less and less of these days. You feel me?

So how do we increase our willpower and maintain accountability when the consequences of maintaining healthy habits are delayed and uncertain?

Here are a couple tactics that I’ve found to be helpful in creating some accountability:

Pick an Accountability Partner

While it should be that the only person we care to impress is ourselves, this is unfortunately, not the case. We often need an external party to make the consequences of our actions more immediate. With exercising, I know that if I’m the only one in charge of my success, I’m more likely to falter. Which is why I’ve enlisted a friend of mine who happens to be a personal trainer to charge me for a session (and a tough one, at that) if I don’t complete four workouts on my own each week. 

This also creates a personal, certain and immediate negative consequence if I don’t keep my promise to myself.

Focus on the Immediate 

It’s easy to identify when the results of an activity aren’t certain or immediate. And from there, you can design your own consequences to create something that’s more certain or immediate. 

In both professional and personal settings, the results of action (or in some cases, inaction) are often delayed. We ask our employees to complete something by a deadline, and if they miss it, while it’ll certainly result in a “strike,” it likely won’t result in termination or any other immediate consequences.

However, we can adjust the consequences to be more immediate. (And no, I’m not suggesting you start firing employees for one misstep.) I once worked with a leader who was constantly asking his sales reps to input data into a CRM system. Week after week, he’d remind them, and week after week, they’d forget. Of course, they forgot because the consequences of not inputting the data were neither certain nor immediate. 

Finally, after months of agony and distress, we came up with a plan to create some immediate consequences. In order to change this behaviour, the leader would hold a meeting every Friday at 5pm, and would invite those that hadn’t input the necessary data.

Now, the consequences of missing the deadline were certain and immediate. Not only would those that hadn’t input their data have to stay for a 5pm meeting on a Friday, but they would have to explain to their direct manager in person why they hadn’t met the deadline. It would be far faster to do as he’d requested, and much less humiliating.

It took months, but each week, there were fewer employees that forgot.

If we know how we operate and what motivates us, it’s easier to identify ways to create accountability in both our personal and professional lives. Focus on the personal, the certain and the immediate, and I have no doubt you’ll see better results—even during challenging times.

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