07 Feb

The Surprising Truth About Why You Need Accountability to Reach Your Goals

Perhaps building positive habits is a challenge for you, and you hope to learn how to defeat that multi-headed hydra we call procrastination. I’m guessing it’s not benevolent pity that brings you to this site, but the desire to improve yourself.

In fact, the majority of us deal with these challenges, and have had to teach ourselves the strategies to keep ourselves on task. It’s as if we have to coax and whip ourselves to move towards the success we are after.

The rise in popularity of productivity blogs and websites begs the question, “Why are we so unskilled at getting things done?”

“Accountability breeds response-ability.” – Stephen Covey

What Happened to Us in School?

It could be easy to chalk up our floundering to a lazy human nature, but there is a somewhat hidden cause at play. Presuming you went to public school, do you remember those 10,000+ hours of training you had there? Would you even call it training?

That’s a lot of time to learn a multitude of life skills and the tools for success, but did that actually occur? I certainly don’t remember being taught the productive habits that would help me build an independent livelihood, and it’s not as if this knowledge is new.

Like you, I was never instructed how to schedule my tasks to ensure they get done, or how to deconstruct the steps needed to achieve my goals. I never got to shadow professionals in various fields or take an apprenticeship in something that stimulated my interest. How about you?

Did you learn the Pomodoro technique or strategies to beat procrastination? How about how to read and construct a contract, or the secrets of wealth creation?

I’m pretty sure you didn’t, because that’s just not what public school is designed to teach. You learned to memorize and regurgitate facts, and to read and write just well enough to function as a ‘good employee’. But it goes further than that.

We also learned some very specific behaviour patterns that affect our motivation and drive as adults. This was a very subtle process and we aren’t likely to remember it well, because it started when we were too young to discern what was happening.

We Are Shaped By Powerful Forces

Give me a child and I will give you the man” by Jesuit motto and “Give me a child and I will shape him into anything” by B.F. Skinner are two quotes that share a common theme, but you might be wondering what they have to do with you. Well, quite a lot as it turns out. Remember; if you attended public school, you started as a child of four or five years old.

Good ol’ B.F. Skinner, whose words eerily echo the founder of the Jesuit order, was highly influential in the formation of the public education system, and how the curriculum is delivered. Both of these men knew that the adult mind could be shaped by the events of childhood, and they knew that a person could be programmed. So then, what were we programmed with in public school?

Approval-Seeking Behaviour

We learned to seek the approval of our authority figures in the form of praise and ‘good’ grades, and to avoid disapproval in the form of punishment and ‘bad’ grades. What we learned, was to be externally motivated and this was reinforced over 10,000+ hours, year after year.

The opposite would be to encourage and support children to pursue what interests them. No grades, no standardized testing. But that, of course, is a different society. Still not convinced? Here’s a simple example: Have you ever held the door for someone and they didn’t say thank-you? Did you find yourself bothered and cursing under your breath? Perhaps you shouted a salty, “You’re welcome!” at them.

But why would it bother you if you were simply doing what was right in that moment?  Did you need the approval and praise to be courteous? Certainly it’s nice to receive praise, but it shouldn’t be needed if your motivation was in the right place. But we were trained to seek it out.

“Accountability separates the wishers in life from the action takers that care enough about their future to account for their daily actions.”

So What To Do About This?

Bear in mind that this article is a simplified synopsis of a rather complex issue, and in fact many books have been written on the subject. So let’s focus on the main point as it applies to productivity. As adults, many of us struggle with a lack of skills and a stunted internal drive to consistently get things done.

Of course, overcoming this first hurdle starts with learning and teaching yourself the skills you need to guide your own productivity. Developing your internal drive takes time, clarity of goals and understanding the consequences if you decide to waste your time instead. And there is also a powerful tool you can use to reach your goals faster and more consistently. That tool is…


This can mean different things to different people, but simply put, when we make our goals and deadlines known to others, we are more likely to stick to our timelines and meet them. A big reason for this goes back to our programming in school and the accountability our teachers held us to. Nobody can make you strive for your goals, but having someone there who cares about your progress helps keep your motivation high.

You can start your own accountability group with friends or colleagues, join a mastermind group, or hire an accountability coach to keep you fired up and on task. Most of us can use all the help we can get to move past the counter-productive behaviours we learned as children, so make sure this strategy is in your productivity tool belt.