Accountability, Dopamine, and Personas for Goal Achievement

Do you sometimes struggle to take the first steps on your big goals? This is a topic I’ve thought about extensively, especially since I’ve decided to prioritize my writing once again this year. Those of you who know me, know that I’ve always got a number of projects going on behind-the-scenes. This year, however, I have been more public and visible about my fiction writing. If you’re not already familiar, I write culinary cozy mysteries under my pen name — Lizzie Benton. And my biggest challenge, until recently, was getting over the fear of putting myself out there again with a new book (despite positive reviews of my past books), especially since I had not written or released one since 2019.

To be clear, I’ve started and stopped a number of books — in a number of different genres — since 2019, but have not managed to gain any traction on them. Of course, I lost 18 months of focusing on my work primarily because I was virtual-schooling my son at home, so that did not help my writing! I’ve also spent a lot of time strategizing where I should spend my energy. I eventually decided that focusing on my mysteries is the best course in the short-term for many reasons. 

Now that my 5th mystery book is finally out, I’m doing a “post-mortem” (as my high school AP European History/Psychology teacher would say) on how I wrote and published it. One thing is for sure: if I had not asked one of my closest friends to be my accountability partner, this book would never have been written or published, nor would I already be knee-deep in the 6th one.

This brings me to one of the topics of my post — how to improve accountability so that you achieve your goals. Ordinarily, I’m an extremely self-disciplined person. It was not easy to do my master’s and PhD degrees part-time for so many years while working, traveling, and teaching part-time (and having a baby towards the end, to boot!). But, I am very self-disciplined, and I was able to do it. Despite my past successes, however, I couldn’t muster the discipline to get my latest book done, especially since I felt rusty in terms of my writing after having that long break. After considering my own advice from my first book, Optimize for Victory, I decided to add in a layer of accountability and ask my friend to be my accountability partner. 

Some of my other friends were surprised when they heard about my accountability partner, and they asked me, in a polite way — what’s the deal? 

The bottom line was that I selected a friend who has given me “tough love” in the past. I knew I needed someone who would really hold me to the line. Given my respect and high regard for her, and her achievements, I knew I would not want to disappoint my friend every week by showing up empty-handed to our weekly-video calls. So while I felt safe enough to ask her to help me this way, I also felt inspired enough to put in the work so that I could not arrive at the meeting saying, “I did nothing.” The great thing about our setup, is that I also agreed to be the accountability partner for a few projects she’s working on as well. Therefore, there is a mutual benefit to our weekly video calls, and it’s a win-win. It’s also kind of fun to share our progress on our goals, and it makes me feel less alone in my pursuits.

Now that I’ve had a taste of how great it is to have an accountability partner, I don’t think I can ever go back. The irony is that I often serve as a consultant/coach/accountability partner for others as a follow-up to my motivational writing (and if this is something you need or want to try, feel free to contact me directly — the best way to message me is probably via LinkedIn), but in this specific case, I had to raise my hand and say, “I need help.” I think it’s important to ask for help in life, and I’ve gotten better about doing that as I’ve grown older and gained more life experience.

Now that I’m making solid progress on my writing-specific goals, I’m researching and giving more thought to the idea of goal achievement. I watched/listened to a very interesting podcast by Dr. Andrew Huberman: Controlling Your Dopamine For Motivation, Focus & Satisfaction | Huberman Lab Podcast #3. I think it’s important to listen to the entire episode, but one of the major takeaways for me was the revelation that I should proactively attach dopamine to the process of getting my goals done. We’ve often experienced how it can be anticlimactic once we’ve achieved a big goal (and then it’s hard to get onto the next one!). When I listened to him discuss the idea of attaching dopamine to the process — meaning, consciously tell yourself that you will feel better as you grind the work out in the process (and not focus so much on the completion of the goal itself, but redirecting your energy to the process alone) I had a lightbulb moment: this is what I was doing for most of my life! I think the pandemic created a disconnect in my mind for me, and I had trouble getting back to that state until recently.

Speaking of states, I’m also listening to a very interesting audiobook by Todd Herman, The Alter Ego Effect: The Power of Secret Identities to Transform Your Life. I have not finished listening to it yet, but it is also insightful about how to break that barrier in your mind, and adopt the persona, so-to-speak, that you need to accomplish a goal or perform.

Therefore, I continue to learn, and I continue to grow. I will also continue to share what I’ve learned (and how I’ve applied my learning) to my life and goals here on the blog, and in future books. 

Thank you for reading!