Held Accountable

I am among those who, in years past, dismissed the idea of New Year’s resolutions as exercises in futility. Why? Because I had made them and failed to accomplish what I had resolved to do. Furthermore, I didn’t feel at all comfortable with acknowledging my failures; so, what better way to avoid acknowledging a failure to meet a commitment than to keep the commitment private? Have I changed my mind? Yes. And I’ll explain why.

First, let me be clear. I’m not limiting myself to New Year’s resolutions. I’m referring to any personal resolution to do better, be better, or live better (and the thousands of related personal commitments we might make to ourselves) at any time of year.

Recently, I spent a few hours with a group of romance writers who, each year, arrange to collectively orchestrate a writing retreat. They explained to me that, prior to the retreat, each participant commits to specific performance objectives she intends to reach during the retreat. They announce to one another their objectives. The objectives are individually-driven, not driven by the group. But the measurement of those objectives, the accountability for reaching them, involves the group. That is, they hold one another accountable for what each individual states as her objective. The announcement of the objectives to the group gives added impetus to each participant to strive hard to reach those objectives.

I now view New Year’s (and any other) resolutions the same way. Individuals decide what objectives they want to reach: adopt a dog, paint the house, lose weight, stop smoking, stop drinking, write a book…whatever. By making the commitment to achieving that resolution, the individual articulates his aim. But by publicly announcing it (to friends, family, etc.), he puts added emphasis on the need to achieve it. Disappointing oneself is painful, but it’s less painful and less tolerable than disappointing others who matter in one’s life.

A few years ago, I publicly announced that I intended to walk one thousand miles between April 1 and December 31.  That amounted to an average of a bit more than three miles per day. At the time, I was working and traveling for work a bit, so that limited my ability to get out from time to time. In addition, the weather sometimes did not cooperate. But I tracked how far I was away from my goal and how much time I had left to reach it. And I announced my progress, publicly. My friends and family watched as I reported how far I had to go. They encouraged me. They were on my side, supporting me with kind words and congratulatory comments as I made my way toward the goal. I reached my goal, with only a day or so to spare. Getting there meant I had to make up for a lot of time lost to bad weather and the like; I walked 10 miles some days. I am thoroughly convinced I got to the goal because I was being held accountable by the people who were watching me strive to achieve it. Had I been the only one who knew of my goal, I might have quietly dismissed it. But I didn’t want to disappoint the people who wanted me to succeed.

I think it’s important that we not overwhelm ourselves with too many resolutions/goals. I believe it is wise to consider all the things one might want to do, then order them by priority.  In my own case, some of the things I want to do are: lose weight, assemble certain pieces of my writing into a coherent collection and publish it, take frequent road trips, and paint the interior and exterior of my house.  There are more. Many more. But I have to decide which is most important to me. That is where I will focus my attention and my energy. I won’t necessarily ignore other wishes, but my primary commitment will be to the thing that matters most to me. For me, the most important thing is to lose weight. I intend to end 2016 at least 52 pounds lighter than I am today; that’s losing an average of one pound per week. That’s not out of the realm of possibilities, provided I eat well and exercise.

Periodically, I will report here how I’m doing. I will do it to be held accountable.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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3 Responses to Held Accountable

  1. Juan, thank you for your words, my friend. You are my best FB friend, as well. We talk of issues, rather than limit ourselves to the mundane BS that fills most posts on FB. I like that; I like tackling issues that merit broader attention! Conversation, that’s what it is about!

    I don’t know whether I’ve shared with you something I posted on another of my blogs, one on which I posted with a pseudonym (I keep the blog alive, but rarely feed it any longer). It’s a post describing my new professor friend and my assessment of what I knew or thought I knew about him. I wrote about my assessment of your “spirituality” and my thoughts about how you viewed the church and religion in general. You might find it amusing.


  2. jserolf says:

    NPR ran an interesting program about resolutions today, Brother. Resolutions act as some mental marker — a cutting or carving into something that says “I am here, and there I will go.”

    I like the significance of that.

    In October, I made the resolution to do something about my weight (my mental marker). By January, I think I’ve gotten a good handle on it, moving down in weight from 182 to 163, and it all had mostly to do with abstinence from sugar products and bread. I feel much better, too — more active, even more clear in thinking.

    You are my best FB friend, John Swinburn, and I mean that. I knew you since before your blog, and I have seen you grow into the writer you are now. Change is a matter of will — we both know that. I’m not certain about the real German behind Nietzsche’s words, but if memory serves, then it works like this: Du soltzen verden der du bist — OR you aught to become that what you are!

    Keep writing and get to publishing for $$$! You have a unique style that’s comfortably read and understood….

  3. Mary Lou says:

    Well, well. Maybe you should read my blog post for the Village Writers Club blog. I haven’t posted it yet. Sort of the same subject.

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