How to Stay Accountable to Yourself When There’s Nobody Around to Hold Your Feet to the Fire

You can’t beat self-employment.

Working from home.
Working in your pajamas.
Working your own schedule.
Working the way you want to.

No commute.
No office politics.
No pointless meetings.
No bosses breathing down your neck.

Sounds like a dream job, right?

Well, it is. Most of the time.

EXCEPT FOR ONE PROBLEM: You’re the only person who can hold yourself accountable.

And if you don’t hold your own feet to the fire – eventually they’re going to freeze.

And frozen feet don’t make money.

This is about discipline.
This is about self-motivation.
This is about commitment to consistent action.

Whether you work at home, work by yourself or work in an independent role, consider these ideas to make sure you motivate yourself to execute what matters:1. Shake hands with yourself. Somewhere down the line, you’ve had manager, boss or supervisor – that you wanted to strangle with an orange extension cord. And my guess is: You weren’t especially motivated by their words, right?

Lesson learned: People rarely remain accountable to people they hate.

If you plan to be the person holding your own feet to the fire, the first key is simple: You better like yourself. Otherwise it’s going to be extremely hard to listen. And if you think that sounds corny, you’re right – it is. But corny doesn’t mean ineffective.

The second key is to establish expectational clarity with yourself. After all, the enemy of accountability is ambiguity. And a flawed assumption about yourself can set the whole process in misdirected motion.

The final key is to isolate your why. To assess your own motives. Because when you know why something is important to you, you never fail to impose the accountability required to execute it. What kind of relationship do you want to have with yourself?

2. Ask yourself focus questions. If what you’re doing – right now – is not consistent with your number one goal, you lose. Keep asking yourself if it is. And if what you’re doing right now isn’t supporting your own strategic intent, you lose. Keep asking yourself if it is.

This process of self-questioning is the single most effective strategy for self-accountability. It’s confrontational, it’s creative and it’s guaranteed to give you a much-needed kick in the ass.

As long as you don’t forget: Motivation without execution is nothing but consuming empty calories. Like eating seven pounds of iceberg lettuce and a Diet Coke. Blech.

Instead, commit to clothing your resolutions in concrete actions. Are you honest with yourself about what really motivates you?

3. Paint yourself into an accountable corner. When I first started my publishing company, I was still living in my parents’ basement. Not exactly an environment conducive to productivity and professionalism.

Ever try to make a sales call to a Fortune 500 company when your mother is screaming from upstairs to find out if you want broccoli or asparagus with your salmon?

Yikes. That’s why I made the commitment to leave the house every morning at 6AM, dressed and ready to go to work. But I didn’t go to an office; I went to a coffee shop. Just to have somewhere to go. Just to get into the right mindset.

And I’d spend the next two hours reading, relaxing, journaling and prepping my day. The cool part was, I’d see the same people each morning. And if I got lazy and slept in, they’d always ask, “Scott, what happened yesterday? We missed you!”

Over a period of two years, this daily commitment sharpened my discipline and laid a foundation of self-accountability that became essential in my career.

I don’t go to the coffee shop anymore, but I still start work at five. Sometimes four. It’s hardwired into me. What ritual will you build into your daily schedule to convince yourself that you actually have a real job?

4. Design your ideal day. If you don’t impose (some) structure into your otherwise chaotic schedule, the entrepreneurial undertow will carry you out to the sharks.

And when I say sharks, I’m referring to the chorus of meaningless distraction, seductive attention magnets and other ruthless villains of your time. Your challenge is to introduce enough structure to fight that undertow.

After all: Routine is healthy. Routine prevents insanity. Routine curtails procrastination. What’s more, ritualizing your days prevents you from saying, “Why the hell am I doing this?”

Without such structure, you wind up (artfully) creating constant distraction that prevents you from seeing the pointlessness of your activity.

On the other hand, I’m not a proponent of over scheduling.

I’ve been guilty of this in the past. Ruthlessly regimenting every minute of your day might keep you accountable to yourself, but it also might cause an ulcer. Your challenge is learning balance structure with spontaneity. What’s a typical day like for you?

5. Establish metrics that matter. While facilitating a recent leadership retreat, one of my participants said – and I quote – “The other day I cut the grass just to feel like I did something.”

Good lord. But, I guess good for him for executing that task. Too bad that task didn’t matter. That’s the rub with self-accountability: If you’re going to kick your own ass, you better wear a relevant shoe. Otherwise you wind up executing – exquisitely – something inconsequential.

Consider this: First, establish weekly criticals. These are the five key tasks that absolutely need to be executed by the end of the week for that week to be considered a success. Otherwise you’ve just wasted seven days of your life.

Second, develop daily essentials. These are the three highly valuable activities that absolutely need to be accomplished for that day to be considered a success. Ultimately, the effectiveness of this practice comes from the small-scale, non-threatening nature of the metrics.

What’s more, if you focus on small wins, the larger victories will happen by themselves. I’ve been logging these two metrics daily for eight years. It works. Are you winning a game that (actually) matters?

6. Create a nonstick surface. When you used to bake cookies with your mother, what was the first step in the process? Right: Dust the counter with flour. Why? So the dough didn’t stick.

Same thing goes with self-accountability. If you want to avoid getting stuck in trap of self-employed sluggishness, you need to take measures to create a nonstick surface.

My suggestion is to take short breaks every ninety minutes. This helps your body and mind refuel. Especially if, during your break, you go perpendicular to the task at hand.

For example, to break from writing, I pick up my guitar. Why? Because after eighteen years of playing music, I don’t have to think anymore. I just start jamming.

And when your occupation is to think for a living, nothing could be healthier for keeping your schedule on task than to give your break a break. Are you punctuating your day to unstick yourself?

7. Don’t beat yourself up when you fall short. Just because you’re self-employed doesn’t mean you’re not human. (Except for a few of my robot friends, but they’re probably not reading anyway. Lazy punks.)

Anyway, in your quest to stay accountable to yourself, recognize that you will miss the mark from time to time. Learn to be okay with that. As my yoga instructor constantly reminds us:

“Try not to pass judgment on yourself. When you interrupt stillness or fall out of posture, just notice it.”

Try this: Next time resistance gets the best of you – let’s say you unexpectedly oversleep till ten on a Tuesday – use that moment as a bell of awareness to send vibrations of self-accountability through your bones.

Instead of smashing your head into the maple bedpost telling yourself how much of a worthless, lazy excuse for an entrepreneur you are, brainstorm how you might be able to recoup that missed time later in the day or week.

Could you have a working lunch? Could you read while you exercise? Could you catch up after dinner instead of watching the three-hour finale of “So You Think You Can Dance?”

Look. Don’t be so hard on yourself. It happens. Will you be kind to yourself when you fall short?

8. You are the result of yourself. That’s the thorny, self-confrontational reality of self-employment: If you don’t do what you told yourself you were going to do, the only person around to notice, is you.

Which means there’s nobody to blame. Which means the onus is, was, and always will be, on you. Because even if you work alone, even if you spend every day sitting in your living room wearing your pajamas, you’re always in a relationship with yourself.

You still have to sleep with who you are, every night. Don’t create a reputation for unreliability. As Sir Josiah Stamp once wrote, “It is easy to dodge our responsibilities, but we cannot dodge the consequences of dodging our responsibilities.”

Ultimately, assuming success is somebody else’s fault is the hallmark of an immature mind. And immaturity pollutes practically all behavior. Never forget that you are sole source of your own job security. Have you allowed yourself to fully and confidently face your own responsibility for your career?

REMEMBER: The long-term survivability of your business is dependent on your ability to kick your own ass.

Yes, laziness becomes extremely attractive when you know the masses will never know the difference.

But as an entrepreneur, holding your own feet to the fire is part of the job description.

So, stay committed to being committed.

Because sometimes, you have to administer the medicine to yourself, no matter how bad it tastes.

Are you willing to open wide and swallow the syrup of self-accountability?

For the list called, “61 Things to Stop Doing Before It’s Too Late,” send an email to me, and I’ll send you the list for free!

* * * *
Scott Ginsberg
That Guy with the Nametag
Author, Speaker, Entrepreneur, Mentor

Never the same speech twice.
Always about approachability.

Watch The Nametag Guy in action here!

How to be a Heretic Without Hurting People

And now for a few words from some dead white guys:

“Modest doubt is the beacon of the wise.”

William Shakespeare, English playwright.

“A heretic is a man who sees with his own eyes.”

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, German philosopher.

“Heretics are the only bitter remedy against the entropy of human thought.”

Yevgeny Zamyatin, Russian author.

LESSON LEARNED: If you want to make a name for yourself, you have to think for yourself first.

Otherwise accepting unfound conclusions without evidence, explanation or personal consideration becomes a betrayal of the self.

Today we’re going to talk about being a heretic without hurting people.1. Be constructively challenging. I’m not suggesting you throw a monkey wrench just to watch the gears grind. Instead, maintain a meaningful purpose.

Like my mentor Bill Jenkins. He constantly reminds me that his purpose as a writer, educator and minister is to challenge people to see if all the thoughts in their head get along with each other. Always loved that about his approach.

And of course, he still nails me regularly, for which I’m forever grateful. What’s more, through Bill’s willingness to expose inconsistency through the bright light of courageous questioning, I’ve learned how to practice the same.

I prefer to use challenging questions like, “Why?” “Why not?” “According to who?” “Since when?” “What evidence do you have to support that belief?” Give those a shot. How challenging is your language?

2. Own your thinking. The definition of the word heretic is, “Anyone who does not conform to an established attitude, doctrine or principle.” Not bad, although I prefer the Latin origin approach. The word “heretic” comes from the Latin hereticus, which means, “able to choose.”

Here’s what that means: Consciously (and consistently) decide for yourself what to think, when to think it, why it matters to think it and who you’re going to share that thinking with. That’s what a heretic does on a daily basis.

Otherwise, if your thoughts aren’t your own, that makes you an automaton. Not very inspiring. Where are you (not) at full choice in your life right now?

3. Create your own religion. It’s easy: Choose a God. Pick a prophet. Perform a miracle. Settle on a name. Adopt a symbol. Agree on a sacrifice. Formulate the rituals. Determine your enemies. Outline the dogma. Write a bible. Start a website. Construct a building. Select a funny hat. Recruit a following. Spread the gospel. Hold a conference in Orlando. Convert anyone with a pulse. And see ya in the afterlife!

Done and done. It’s cakewalk, right?

Wrong. The word “religion” comes from the Latin religio, which means, “to link back to.” Therefore: Your religion is the one thing in your life that every other thing in your life links back to.

Figure out what that one thing is, and you’re all set, Reverend. Man, that was easy. You didn’t even have to kill anybody. What church are you the founding member of?

4. Don’t keep your doubts to yourself. During his 2010 Spoken Word Tour, Henry Rollins came through St. Louis. And during his three-hour talk – through which he didn’t take a single break or a single sip of water – Rollins said, “People frequently say I’m opinionated – to which I reply, ‘Well, that’s just your opinion.”

What about you? How opinionated are you willing to be? And how do you respond to people who dislike to your heretical thoughts? Don’t be shy about making your positions known. After all, conclusions weren’t meant to be kept quiet.

You don’t need to scream and yell at the establishment to be a heretic – but you do need to publicly and respectfully dissent. Tattoos optional. Are you offering propositions in addition to making protests?

5. Amplify your work with a platform. It’s hard to be heretic if you don’t have a way to reach the people who matter. Even if your following only consists a handful of hopefuls. You can’t assemble a movement to overturn stale thinking if you’re winking in the dark. People have to see and hear and touch you, your message and the voice that delivers it.

Fortunately, the number of available platforms is endless, both online and offline. The secret is five fold: Deliver content consistently, solicit dialogue constantly, respond to communications quickly, engage with people honestly and reinforce your philosophy daily.

Doing that is akin to plugging your message into a Marshall Half-Stack and letting that E chord rip until your neighbors bang down your door with shotguns. Whatever. If it’s too loud, you’re too old. What’s your mechanism for reaching your people?

6. Be aggressively skeptical. But not annoyingly cynical. Huge difference. Cynical people are sneering and peevish, while skeptical people are inquiring and reflective. Cynical people are maimed by negativity, while skeptical people are marked by doubt. And cynical people do it all for show, whereas skeptical people do it all for truth.

Got it? Remember: Heretics are the people with clear minds, strong hearts, curious eyes, furloughed brows, intrepid tongues and persistent fingers. Question first; believe second. That’s the heretic’s code. Do you refuse to swallow anything before examining it?

7. Reject rigid discipleship. Yes, your goal is to build a platform and enlist a following around your vision. But asking the people who jive with your message to immediately become traveling mini-versions of you is antithetical to the entire heretical philosophy.

If your plan is to wage a ruthless and continuous battle against the status quo, you have to extend that same latitude to the people you serve. Think of it this way: The word “disciple” means “pupil who grasps intellectually and analyzes thoroughly.”

Let your people do that. Let them be as free as you are, and they’ll help carry your vision to the ends of the Earth. Or at least all way to Effingham. Whom are you trying to make just like you?

ULTIMATELY: Being a heretic isn’t about (not) believing.

It’s about believing because you went and found out for yourself fist.

It’s about believing because you explored the naked truth before mindlessly ingesting it.

It’s about believing because you dedicated yourself to a conscious, consistent posture of inquiry.

It’s about believing because you chose to believe – not because you were told to believe and blindly followed.

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems smarter – and safer – to keep a heavy finger on the pause button before announcing to the world, “This, I believe!”

Are you willing to be a heretic without hurting people?

For the list called, “61 Things to Stop Doing Before It’s Too Late,” send an email to me, and I’ll send you the list for free!

* * * *
Scott Ginsberg
That Guy with the Nametag
Author, Speaker, Entrepreneur, Mentor

Never the same speech twice.
Always about approachability.

Watch The Nametag Guy in action here!

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