Check in.

Checking in with someone who is outside your head improves your ability to accomplish your goals DRASTICALLY. 

Overwhelmingly. Stupendously. Ridiculously. 

I’m not just talking about checking in regarding the accomplishment of your big goals, either. I’m talking about informing someone else of your daily schedule and to-do list; then informing them of the progress you made on that to-do list. 

I’m talking about checking in with someone regarding the little, steppingstone goals and tasks that comprise your day to day grind.

It’s THOSE goals and tasks that run the biggest risk of not getting done if we stay up inside our own heads, without any outside accountability. 

That said: a lot of people resist the need to check in with others. 

They feel like checking in with others is akin to being “babysat” or “supervised.” It feels as if they’re being patronized or infantilized. 

Some people don’t like checking in with others because they feel they “shouldn’t have to.” 

They feel those little, daily tasks and goals are small enough that they “should” be able to accomplish them on their own, without the involvement of anyone outside their own heads. 

It may be the case that we can accomplish many things on our own initiative, only accountable to ourselves. When I emphasize the importance of checking in with someone else, I’m not in any way denying the importance and desirability of independence and self-regulation. 

I’m also not suggesting that what most of us need is “accountability” in the sense of someone else approving of us or punishing us based on what we do or don’t accomplish in a day. That’s not what accountability— checking in— is all about. 

What accountability is really all about is getting out of our own heads. 

See, as long as our to-do list and daily schedule stays in our own heads, it remains very, very easy for us to alter on a whim. 

As long as our to-do list and daily schedule stays in our now heads, it remains somewhat ephemeral, unreal. 

Actually writing down a to-do list, and then sharing that to-do list with someone else makes it more real, more concrete— and overwhelmingly more likely to be acted upon in the real world. 

What are the things that most people struggle to do in the real world, with their actual time? 

That’s right: the little, daily, steppingstone goals that aren’t terribly interesting, not terribly stimulating, that don’t SEEM terribly important. 

The little goals and tasks, in other words, that are easy to put off in the first place— especially if we’ve only committed to do them in our heads. If we’ve only committed to do something in our heads, it’s exponentially easier to just put them off when we decide or realize they’re not going to be very much fun to do…and we human beings are excellent at doing the easier thing rather than the harder thing. 

Checking in doesn’t need to be complex. It doesn’t need to be overwhelming, it doesn’t need to be embarrassing, it needn’t require a huge commitment of time or attention from either party involved. 

Just make a to-do list for the day, then share that to-do list with someone.

Tell them what’s up. Say, “I’m trying out this new technique that this super smart psychologist on the Internet recommended— just bear with me here. This is my agenda for the day.” 

Then, at the end of the day, update that person on what got done and what didn’t. 

Notice: you’re not asking for any feedback, positive or negative. You’re just looking for acknowledgment from another human being that you had a plan, and you acted upon that plan. 

There are multiple cognitive and psychological reasons this technique works. The biggest concept involved is called “cognitive dissonance,” which means that we humans will work awfully hard to be consistent with who we’ve said we are and what we’ve said we’ll do. It’s why salespeople pressure customers to buy up front— they know that for customers to back out later will spike their cognitive dissonance, and that most people will go to fairly great lengths to behave consistently what what they’ve said they will or won’t do previously. 

Ever wonder why the 12-step tradition works when it does? It’s largely the result of the check-in/accountability function that is built in by those meetings. People who are familiar with AA and its associated traditions know that 12-step meetings aren’t places of judgment or scorn— they’re mostly just a place to check in with people, where you can draw your commitment to sobriety out into the real world, outside of your head. 

Getting something out of your head, and engaging a supportive other person, makes you more likely to follow through. It’s as simple as that. 

Don’t take my word for it. Try it. 

Pick someone to be your accountability buddy. 

Check in with them morning and night for a week. Just try it out. 

You’ll be surprised at how much more willing to do the little, stupid stuff in your day when you know you’re going to have to report in to someone. 

The trick is getting out of that head of yours. 


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