The Who-Not-How Strategy for Holding Yourself Accountable

Holding yourself accountable isn't an action. It's an identity. Assume it. Don't let yourself down. And prove it.


Step 1: Assume the Role

Holding yourself accountable is about more than taking action. It’s about taking an identity. It’s about “Who?”, not “How?”

The best explanation of this I’ve found comes from, of all places, Reddit:

Stop viewing decisions as choosing what to do, and start viewing them as choosing who to be.

When the alarm goes for the gym and your hand is hovering over the snooze button, don’t ask yourself if you want to sleep for another ten minutes. Ask yourself if you want to be the kind of person who is lazy and doesn’t follow through on commitments.

I can’t guarantee it will work 100% of the time, but it will be a lot more effective. And once you start living a life that is consistent with your personal values, your self esteem will rocket upwards.

Reddit user Eightstream

And what identity might I suggest you consider assuming?

CEO of Your Life, Unincorporated.

And if you’re ready to fire me for making such a corny proposal, good! You’re taking on your CEO identity well already.

Whether or not My Life’s stock pops like Amazon’s, I own it for the long haul.

Step 2: Own It

Good news:

Unlike slick suit-and-tie corporate CEOs (or hoodie-and-bad-hair Silicon Valley types), you can’t get fired.

Bad news:

You can’t sell my shares to the highest bidder and move on to something more exciting. No golden parachute, either.

You’re CEO till you RIP.

Given this reality, do what any management consultant worth their organic Himalayan salt would advise you to do: Run Your Life, Uninc. like Jeff Bezos built Amazon1The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon is a good read on this.. While others fight to show off impressive quarterly results, take your lumps reporting less-impressive short-term profits. Focus instead on your long-term mission.

As I’ll get into shortly, your shareholders are your future selves. They don’t care how much you impress your boss/mom/date/nemesis this week. They only care if you do what’s best for Your Life, Uninc. in the long run.

Step 3: Set Your Mission

Like any successful corporation, Your Life, Uninc. benefits from having a mission statement. It guides your decision-making and ensures all departments in your org chart—relationships, career, health, etc.—work together in the same direction.

Here’s a quick summary of the best personal mission statement structure I’ve found, courtesy of Donald Miller:

  1. The problem Your Life seeks to solve.
  2. How you will solve it.
  3. The rewarding outcome.

Mission: Impossible to Complete

As you’ll notice, the “outcome” of My Life’s mission isn’t an attainable goal or target. It’s an action or process.

The same goes for yours. All any of us low-grade CEOs can hope to do is get better and better at working toward our missions, adjusting them as needed, and making as much progress as we can given our circumstances. That’s winning at life.

Future self looking over shoulder of current self
My future self is my accountability partner. He doesn’t care for my B.S. excuses.

Step 4: No Excuses

Excuses are like a**holes. Everyone has one and they’re all full of sh*t.

Excuses are also like blog posts: abundant, cheap, poorly conceived and, while you may think they’re helpful at the time, they don’t get you anywhere.

But you already know that excuses are garbage. So you have no excuse for continuing to make them. The question is, How?

How to Stop Making Excuses

Remember your CEO identity.

As I mentioned already, your shareholders are your future selves. They won’t accept BS excuses like “COVID” or “competition from China” for your poor performance. And they also won’t give you a consoling hug while whispering, “There, there. It’s not your fault.”

No, your shareholders expect A) The best possible results given your circumstances and B) Updated plans given what you’ve learned from your experiences.

So act like a CEO who’s got their sh*t together and report to your shareholders. Concisely and accurately recap the past and write down your commitments.

Consider trying the two ways I report to my future selves:

  1. My lifelogging practice, where I account for my time like an accountant tracks expenses.
  2. Annual letters to my future self.

If that’s not enough to hold yourself accountable, find accountability partners who act as a proxy for Your Life’s shareholders.

Kim bored reading this post on how to hold yourself accountable
Two things before you move on to some other site and forget all about this.

Step 5: Prove It To Yourself

“It’s easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than think your way into a new way of acting.”

Jerry Sternin

Remember how I wrote that excuses are like a**holes and blog posts?

Well that applies to this blog post written by this a**hole (me), too.

Because while I hope this CEO identity sticks with you like it has with me, everything here on how to hold yourself accountable is as useless as an excuse unless you actually do something with it.

That’s up to you.

If you’re serious about being more personally accountable, prove it to yourself and your shareholders by taking on this assignment to start:

  1. Set a mission. You can always change it as you go. Every company does. If you’re not convinced or unsure how to start, read how and why I came up with my personal mission statement.
  2. Start tracking and reporting. Try lifelogging or find an accountability buddy to hold yourself accountable.

You’re the CEO of Your Life. Seize the role and focus on your mission. No excuses.

Don’t let yourself down.

About the author

👋 I'm Chris. Everything you read on is my fault. This site is like a gym for your comfort zone, full of challenges to make your status quo sexier. Join my 'Consider This' newsletter for a fun new challenge every 10 days. Try it!

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The Zag shares my adventures off of the boring beaten paths of life and ideas for finding your own unfollowable path.