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Who’s ensuring you hit your goals?

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Setting yourself a goal and a deadline is all very well. But with the best intentions the best of us often fall short. So once you’ve set your goal, what are good ways of making sure you stick to it?

I’ve spoken about one or two ways before on this site. These basically revolve around keeping track of your progress at regular intervals. But that is not always enough. I want to talk about a website I recently rediscovered on the train.

Who can hold you to account?

Smiley Carrot

"Follow me! I can help you achieve your goals! Yippee!" Ahem, image courtesy of Cyn74

One of the best ways of getting someone to stick to their goals is to have someone else hold them to account. At school our teachers make sure we complete our homework, at work our bosses and supervisors help us to hit targets. Writers often have agents or publishers asking for completion dates. But what if you don’t have this (or don’t want it)?

The obvious answer is friends and family, bit it’s not a very good one. Sure, you can agree your deadlines with a friend or five, or with your spouse or parents, and they can remind you of it from time to time, and that may even be enough for some people.

But how much can they do, really? Often this approach amounts to little more than nagging, and you can’t quite convince yourself that failing is having an effect on them. In other words, you know the only person you’re letting down is yourself. And you obviously have some tolerance for that, or you wouldn’t need a second party to nag you in the first place.

Put it in Structure, Put it in Public

Enter stickk.com. I had heard about this site a while back, but had completely forgotten about it until I saw an article in The Daily Telegraph (I’ve checked, and the artcile is not actually on the website, but nevermind). The piece itself was about dieting (which is not dissimilar to writing, honest), and opened with some details about stickk.com.

stickk.com helping you achieve your writing goals

The site asks you to make “Commitment Contracts”, which work on the following principals:

  1. Setting clear, defined goals helps you achieve them
  2. If there is a risk of losing money, you are less likely to fail
  3. Having someone to hold you to account helps
  4. Having people to cheer you on helps

That basically lays out the steps needed to set up your contract. But let’s take a look at some of these points and why they might work.

grumpy walking stick

"Do it! DO IT, or I'll whoop ya!" Cool walking stick image from Andrei Niemimäki

I’ll start with number three, as this is what we’ve been talking about. Again, this is likely to be someone you know, but there are a couple of things that make this different from the nagging relative described above. For a start, making them part of a contract with you makes the whole thing much more official. Second, their role is framed as a “referee”. It is not therefore their job to get you to do it, merely to judge if you are telling the truth and meeting your goals. The responsibility is still with you.

Perhaps the most important aspect of the contract though, is the money. You can set the stakes, detailing how much money you will lose if you fail. stickk.com takes your credit/debit card details, and each time you fail one of your goals, they bill your card and send the money to the person you nominate. That you can choose the recipient makes it even more powerful. From the Telegraph article:

Ian Ayres, a lawyer and economist at Yale, [...] author of Carrots and Sticks
[...] suggests naming an “anti-charity” – one that you wouldn’t ever think of supporting – as the beneficiary of your broken promise.

Anjana Ahuja, How Can You Stop Her Eating The Cake? The Daily Telegraph, Feb 8th 2011

Ouch. Of course, another suggestion is to give the money to your referee, ensuring that you have a strict arbiter.

There is another, unspoken principle hidden in that list. This is a website after all, and every achievement or failure is public. This, as I can testify, has a big effect. The fact that any number of unnamed referees may be out there, viewing your updates, certainly does get you to write. It was part of the reasoning behind me starting getmewriting.com, and continues to ensure that there are new posts here every week (even if I don’t write them all – thanks Craig).

That’s my Goal

So after my confident assertions that such a site should work, you’re probably wondering whether I’ve put my money where my mouth is. Erm… no. Another good thing about having a stake involved though, is it makes you think extra hard about the targets you set. I have a goal in mind, but when I look at it in this context, well… I wouldn’t put money on it. Which means there’s a problem with my goal.

So I’m going to have to have to give this some more thought. But I love the idea, and I want to do it. Craig, how do fancy earning a few quid?