Move Your Mindset: How to Keep Yourself Accountable

Posted on May 31, 2021

When was the last time you remember being “in the zone”?

What were you doing when you had this thought? Do you remember what you were listening to, where you were, or who you were with?

The times where I most frequently feel like myself is when I write dialogue. Once I know the voices of each character and little details about them, it can feel as easy as breathing writing line by line. I’m not even aware of where I am sometimes or what I’m listening to because my mind is so immersed, so energized in the scene unfolding in front of me.  

For my friend, it’s when he shoots free throws in basketball. The routine of how many times he spins the ball and adjusts his feet brings him to an almost meditative state. Yet he is more present, more himself in this moment than almost anywhere else.  

This feeling of being “in the zone” is also known as a flow state of mind. It allows us to reduce distractions, increase self-control, and fully immerse in the task ahead of us. Flow allows us to trust the instincts and skills we’ve developed to purely focus on execution.

So how do we tap into this place when trying to implement changes into our life?

Your Starting State of Mind

The process of self-regulation is dependent on how you think of approaching a desirable outcome, rather than how you think of avoiding an undesirable outcome. For example, do you complete a task to deliver the best quality of work; or, do you complete a task not to fail? Do you exercise to be healthy and feel good; or, do you exercise to avoid gaining weight?

Thinking of your goal to avoid something happening, is known as an avoidance strategy. Many studies suggest people who hold this mindset perform worse in achieving their goals than those who think of their goals as moving towards positive outcomes.

I like to think of my journey towards a goal like how I treat Google Maps. Once I know the destination, I have a clear route that will get me there. But sometimes I might need to pick up a coffee or get more gas; or, there’s something out of my control like a car accident or construction, which pulls me off my route.

I trust that one of two things will happen:

  1. I can easily get back on my route after a quick rest break
  2. My route will recalculate to the updated best options within my new context

Life has a way of sprinkling surprises all along the way. That is one of the joys of living after all.

If you change your path, do so with intention, not due to neglect, fear, or apathy. You may not have control over what happens to you, but you can control how you react to what happens.

Preserve Yourself in Order to Persevere

Hustle-culture taught us to be the first one in, the last one out, and to have your phone holstered at the ready for the midnight emails coming in from clients.

Working hard, doesn’t always equal working smart. But there will be times that you have to put in the extra time and effort to get your desired results. So, how do you keep yourself able to push beyond your perceived boundaries to elevate yourself in a sustainable, healthy way?

This is where the preparation comes into practice. Every action you take; every choice you make is backed with the intentions you’ve set in our previous section to keep your purpose clear as you actively pursue it.

Humans aren’t the warmest creators for embracing change. We like the boxes we create in our brains for how we perceive our surroundings. So as you follow your path for change, people may resist your actions as they may not fit into their preformed, brain-box perceptions of you. What’s more, you may be uncomfortable with yourself as these new choices may not feel right away.

“ This is to be expected.

Much like when you first start going to a gym, or when you attend networking events, the first few times can feel awkward, uncomfortable, and unwelcoming. This early stage of goal setting is where the distractions are the most tempting and why having a solid plan is important for accountability and overall success. If you don’t know what you’re at the event, you likely won’t talk to many people and you’ll leave early feeling like you wasted your time.

Focus on the goal, not on yourself. I often say, “I’m so good at doing X for everyone else but I’m terrible at doing X for myself.” This is because when we do something for another person, we focus on the end result. We aren’t burdened by our own negative self-talk telling us why we’re wrong.

Treat yourself like a client, or your best friend, and keep connected to the purpose of this change and the result this goal will produce. You are training yourself to be comfortable with the uncomfortable for greater growth.

Track Your Progress

Imagine if you wanted to run a marathon. You trained, you ran every day – but you didn’t track how far you ran. Or how long you ran each day. Or how long it took you to run that day. How would you know that you’re getting closer to that marathon?

A pillar to success is measuring your progress. Once you’re taking action every day, you need to know if those actions are bringing you closer or further from your goal. Our minds are tricky and can make us think we’re progressing when we’ve actually been distracted by the little life moments that keep blocking our path.

Why can mental distractions impair self-regulation and prevent you from reaching your goal? One of the explanations lies in the interactions of two systems, a theory introduced by Daniel Kahneman involved in mind control.

System 1 is fast, instinctive and emotional. It involves associating new information with existing patterns, or thoughts, rather than creating new patterns for each new experience.

System 2 is to monitor and control thoughts and actions “suggested” by System 1, allowing some to be expressed directly in behaviour and suppressing or modifying others. It is slower, more deliberative, and more logical.

People who are engaged fall into System 2, they can monitor and control their thoughts to know when they should act on an impulse or when to let it pass. They are more alert, more intellectually active, and can effortlessly concentrate to the point that they lose their sense of time, of themselves, and of their problems. In other words, they experience a “flow” state of mind and generate a feedback loop of accountability.

A feedback loop is the taking in of feedback or responses to a given environment or stimuli, and assessing the level of change it should have on the existing information. When a comedian tells a joke and the audience laughs, they will stay in the world of that joke as they get the feedback that the audience liked what they heard.

When in a feedback loop, you become like a self-regulating thermostat that is able to make small changes to keep yourself at the ideal state when things around you get a little hotter than you’d like. You’ll know how to cool yourself down to an ideal state of chill and focus to actually accomplish your goal.

Essentially, you will know how to create the conditions for you to “find your flow” state of mind. You could, in essence, continuously course correct your thoughts to control your reactions and keep yourself full speed ahead to achieving your goals.

SMARTER Goals Mean Increased Self-control

Self-control can feel like an ability some people are simply born with while the rest of us are left to struggle with our impulse control. The ability to honor your commitments and keep yourself accountable is empowering; yet, many of us still struggle with maintaining these changes of habits. With the right frame of mind, and an honest understanding of your reasons for pursuing change, you can revive your goal-setting habits to help you thrive in your everyday life.

Everything you need is already inside you. Don’t wait for someone to light your fire. You have your own matches.

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