I hear the same story all the time and the issue confuses me as much as it does others. I feel like I’m the person guiltiest of this crime, yet a lot of people I talk to will beg to differ.
“Why can I hit deadlines imposed by others, but not those imposed by myself?”
I’ve tried and failed at so many projects in life be they vertical leap training (we’ve all failed Air Alert 2 right?) and gym programs or building apps and learning a new piece of technology. When the only person holding me to account is myself, suddenly all these other things appear causing me to skip a day, or two, or decide to start again next week, or next year.
Currently I have two half-written novels, a half-baked app, a folder full of draft blog posts and a handful of side project ideas I’ll likely never get started on but which I wish I could. It’s not a lack of time: it’s a lack of accountability. It’s a lack of momentum.
It’s not surprising that people who go to a gym with a buddy do so more consistently. In December I joined in with something called Advent Running: a simple enough concept which aims to get you out and running every day for thirty minutes as we approach Christmas. Thousands of people get involved each year. They post their runs on Facebook and Instagram, log their mileage on Strava, and slowly start to build this streak of consistent run days.
Prior to Advent Running I’d never run more than two days in a row yet I found it relatively easy to run twenty-five days. Collectively it just felt so much more achievable. Sure, there were some tougher days but I forced myself to lace them up again and head out: knowing I could lie to myself but I couldn’t lie to Strava. I didn’t want the community (of people I’ve never met) to see the missed day, that empty bar on the chart, standing out like a missing thumb. That alone was enough accountability to keep up the momentum.
I was chatting to a friend about it afterwards and he asked if I was going to keep going, keep running each day every day for thirty minutes. I told him that for me it was really just an experiment and that the experiment was now over. I was mostly just stunned that I’d been able to start and actually finish something.
But I started to wonder what I could have achieved if I’d been doing something other than running? What if I’d written 30 minutes a day, or worked on an app? How much would I have to show for it?
And so maybe the experiment does continue? But maybe it takes new forms instead. I have the program: 30 minutes a day for 25 days and then a week off. I have plenty of projects to work on. What I don’t have is accountability or communal momentum. That’s the one thing missing and, clearly, the most important part as I sit writing this on day three having just missed the first two days where I had vowed to spend thirty minutes learning Polish.
How that community forms and how it can hold me accountable I am yet to figure out. For now I’ll continue through January solo but if anyone wants to work on a project of theirs next month I’d be eager to connect. Collectively we stand more of a chance.