Accountable? Get An Enemy

Recently, I was involved in a brief conversation on Twitter with Jamie Varon, Andy Drish, and Nisha Chittal about using Twitter for accountability amongst each other. While it’s not a bad idea on face value, there are some fallacies that lie with most attempts at fostering some accountability.

  1. You don’t want to do the task / job at all
  2. You don’t have someone to call you on your failings
  3. There are no consequences

Who in your life keeps you accountable? Is it a spouse / significant other, a parent, a close friend, an employer? There isn’t anything wrong with having these people in your life keep you accountable, assuming you’re actually doing what you’re supposed to do, any maybe only need some nudging along the way. The problem comes, however, when you fail. Or worse yet, when you never tried at all.

We all have responsibilities for things we’d rather not do. It’s called being a functioning member of society. Whether it’s childhood chores around the house, studying for an exam on a Saturday night in college, or balancing your checkbook as an adult, life is filled with boring, mundane tasks that no one wants to do. But it’s life. So we do them.

But what about the other stuff? You know, the thing that matter. You can’t be accountable to someone if they’re not willing to be the enemy, or you’re not willing to allow it. Most people don’t want to be the bad guy, at least not to someone they like. And for most family and friends, they can’t be impartial towards the situation. While I’d love for my wife and I to hold each other accountable when it comes to our household finances, at the end of the day we have to live with each other, and we’d rather not cause a fight.

If you really need to be accountable for something, you need an enemy. An asshole. Someone who really gets under your skin. Think about it. If the options are (a) do the task or (b) deal with an insufferable jerk, you’ll probably get whatever it is done, just to avoid the consequence of interacting with that person. It may sound counter-intuitive, but give it a try. You might be surprised at how much more eager you become. Either that, or just come to terms that you’re in the wrong situation and that task shouldn’t be on your plate to begin with.

{ 3 comments }

Unbalanced Libra April 7, 2009 at 10:24 am

Great points – I wonder just how many people online are not accomplishing even a fraction of what they claim to?

ioana April 15, 2009 at 4:13 pm

I’m not sure that’s necessary.

I watch my 2.5 year old. He is not motivated by being zapped by a cattle prod. He WANTS to help me clean the kitchen, for the sake of being helpful.

I think these impulses exist in all of us.

norcross April 17, 2009 at 3:02 pm

I agree that, to a point, those impulses are in most people. But they tend to wear thin, and exhaust pretty quickly.