Do you hit the snooze button time after time? Or start your assignments the night before they’re due? We all have habits we’d be happy to kick. One of the keys to breaking old habits and forming new ones is accountability—being held responsible for our actions and decisions. In a recent Student Health 101 survey, nearly 9 out of 10 students who responded said they find accountability helpful. Here are six ways to make it work for you.
Accountability partners motivate you and celebrate milestones with you. In a recent Student Health 101 survey, two in five respondents said working with a buddy or group is their most effective accountability strategy. “Friends are an incredible help to keep my focus and stay on track while studying, and at the gym they are good motivation,” says Adam K.*, a fourth-year undergraduate at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Test next week? Arrange a study session with a friend, and hold each other to it.
People who wrote down their goals, shared this information with someone else, and sent them weekly updates were 33 percent more successful than were those who figured out their goals but didn’t share, according to researchers at Dominican University in California. Share with a mentor, referee or coach, or your social media network. “A mentor [is] a source of guidance and wisdom,” says Andy T. at San Diego State University in California, whose mentor supports his career goal.
In our survey, three in five respondents said they use an app, wearable tracker, or diary to keep themselves accountable. If your goal is getting more physically active, a wearable tracking device gives added purpose to mundane errands and walking between classes. In a 2007 study, using a pedometer increased participants’ physical activity by 27 percent, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association.
In our survey, the most popular apps were all about fitness goals. Many students recommended MyFitnessPal, Nike+ Running App, and RunKeeper. Apps like these are as accurate as wearable tracking devices, research shows. Apps can help you with other goals, like organizing, prioritizing, and eating well.
“Steps Pedometer & Step Counter Activity Tracker has helped me track my progress and motivated me to meet my goals. Using it only takes about 5–10 minutes of my day.”
—Leo C., third-year undergraduate, University of North Texas
Organizes and tracks everyday activities with the goal of motivating and inspiring you.
Available on: iOS
Reminds and motivates you to stay on track.
Available on: iOS, Android
Organize your goals by date, habit, averages, and milestones.
Available on: iOS
Rewards are motivating because they delay gratification. If you accomplish your goal of studying for two hours a night as exams approach, finish up with the a half-hour of TV and a do-it-yourself foot massage. Caution: Reward systems are usually a short-term fix, research suggests.
At StickK.com, you can put something on the line for unmet goals—like donating money to a cause you loathe. People who do this are three times more likely to succeed than people who don’t. StickK also highlights the value of a coach to hold you accountable. At the November Project, a mass workout program, hitting that snooze button means you risk being called out on their blog.
Bembenutty, H. (2011). Academic delay of gratification and academic achievement. In H. Bembenutty (Ed.),
Self-regulated learning: New directions for teaching and learning, 126(55–65). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Bravata, D., Smith-Spangler, C., Sundaram, V., Gienger, A., et al. (2007). Using pedometers to increase physical activity and improve health. Journal of the American Medical Association, 298(19); 2296–2304.
Case, M. A., Burwick, H. A., Volpp, K. G., & Patel, M. S. (2015). Accuracy of smartphone applications and wearable devices for tracking physical activity data. Journal of the American Medical Association, 313(6), 625–626. Retrieved from https://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=2108876
Deci, E. L., Koestner, R., & Ryan, R. M. (1999). A meta-analytic review of experiments examining the effects of extrinsic rewards on intrinsic motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 125, 627–668. Retrieved from https://www.rug.nl/gmw/psychology/research/onderzoek_summerschool/firststep/content/papers/4.4.pdf
Dominican University of California. (n.d.). Study backs up strategies for achieving goals. [Press release]. Retrieved from https://www.goalband.co.uk/uploads/1/0/6/5/10653372/strategies_for_achieving_goals_gail_matthews_dominican_university_of_california.pdf
Giné, X., Karlan, D., & Zinman, J. (October 2010). Put your money where your butt is: A commitment contract for smoking cessation. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 2, 213–235.
Gneezy, U., Meier, S., & Rey-Biel, P. (2011). When and why incentives (don’t) work to modify behavior. Journal
of Economic Perspectives, 25(4), 191–210.
John, C. (2013, April 5). 5 reasons why an accountability partner will help you conquer a goal. Retrieved from https://www.chivonjohn.com/5-reasons-why-an-accountability-partner-will-help-you-conquer-a-goal/
Niven, D. (2009). The 100 simple secrets of successful people. New York: HarperCollins.
Student Health 101 survey, February 2015.