In this post, I’m going to share a lesson I learned from working with one of my clients that taught me a simple hack to break a habit by leveraging accountability.
Michael, my client, was looking to improve his poker game and reached out to me about working together. Since we lived on opposite sides of the world, he opted for my month-long virtual program, consisting of video conference calls, emails and text support.
I felt a bit apprehensive; it was the first time I offered unlimited text support to a client, but Michael adamantly insisted.
Michael confessed: ‘I have this bad habit of tilting (poker slang for playing poorly) whenever I get stuck or take a bad beat. I know myself, and the accountability of having you there will help me play better in real time.’
Michael stuck to his word. Sure enough, after each session, I’d receive a voice message from him with a full report of how he performed. What shocked me was that half the time he didn’t even have a question for me.
He just wanted to share his experience because he knew that the accountability would improve his decision making, his patience and his discipline.
At the end of the month I asked him, ‘What aspect of our program did you find most valuable?’ He replied, ‘It was the ongoing support and knowing I had someone there who was holding me accountable.’
Consequently, working with Michael helped me realize something very powerful about human behavior and psychology: We behave differently when working around others compared to working alone.
Indeed, we are far more capable of cutting a vice, sticking to a habit or improving a behavior if we know someone else is watching.
Looking back on my habits in the past, I noticed I unconsciously used this same tactic to improve at poker. I would regularly share interesting hands with my peers, for instance, following every session I played; indeed, this additional factor of knowing that later on my peer group would honestly critique my play helped me play better in real time.
We can use this same strategy to our advantage to help us in all areas of life.
Looking to eat healthier? Text your trainer your current menu options.
Want to spend less time on your phone? Create a pool of like-minded people with whom you share your daily screen time.
The key to success is who you surround yourself with. Radical honesty must be the aim of all members. No sugar coating, coaxing or downplaying to save someone’s ego.
I’ve found that surrounding myself with people who seek the truth ultimately produces the best results; otherwise, the mini-pool quickly becomes a pity party of excuses.
Second, in order for this to work most effectively you must value other members’ opinions. If you don’t respect the people who offer the feedback, then you won’t feel compelled to change the behavior.
If you want to spice things up, you can add incentives for people who perform the best or punishments for those who ‘cheat’.
For example, if your group sets a goal to limit screen time to 2 hours per day, you could implement a $5 penalty for anyone who exceeds that limit—donating the money to the pool and, at the end of the month, giving it to the person with the lowest screen time.
If you can’t leverage the psychological benefits of a group, you can try pledging your word to a friend to donate $5 to a political party you abhor. As Freud acutely observes, we run toward pleasure and run from pain. The obvious pain of donating money to a cause you dislike will surely help influence your actions.
Now, I always provide text support for clients. Of course, there’s a practical element that’s valuable for them. I’m essentially their portable Siri!
But I also know it’s a hack to break a bad habit, and the accountability of having someone there who they know will critique them honestly helps move the needle.
Surround yourself with like-minded people whose primary focus is to make improvements, share your daily experience with them to ensure accountability and watch as your habits slowly change for the better.