Experimenting with Accountability

20 January 2012 02:13 PM CST

Everyone has a few bad habits they'd love to break or goals they'd like to achieve.  And, because breaking bad habits and accomplishing goals is challenging there are numerous businesses that aim to help you.  It seems that every New Year brings with it a proliferation of resolutions and numerous businesses geared towards helping you accomplish your goals.

Several months ago I decided it was time to stop drinking soda.  As a regular consumer of carbonated and highly sugared beverages this was a big challenge for me.  In the end I found that the most effective way for me to accomplish my mission was to hold myself accountable for my actions.  Every day I would log every single food or beverage I consumed into a giant food diary.  By simply holding myself accountable for what I ate or drank I managed to change my behavior.  I haven't had a soda in over four months and I basically quit cold turkey.  Not only did my food diary hold me accountable for my actions, but my friends and family did too.  Everyone knew I was trying to stop drinking soda and whenever I was with them I made it my mission to stay the course.

Health and wellness are incredibly important to me and my road to no soda was just a small piece of the overall puzzle.  Over the past year I've worked diligently to both eat better and exercise more.  I've had all kinds of experiences (joined the YMCA, started running, bought a Vitamix, altered my overall diet, stopped drinking soda, tried yoga, started taking nutritional supplements, etc.).  My wife and a strong network of like-minded friends has really helped me stay the course.  Eating better and exercising more is tough stuff - having friends to lean on, to hold you accountable, and to inspire you makes an immeasurable impact.

Just as keeping a food diary helps me stay on target with respect to my diet, wearing a Fitbit helps me stay on target with respect to exercise.  I started wearing a Fitbit in July 2011. I researched various pedometers and found the Fitbit to best meet my needs.  I also did a bunch of research to see what kinds of step targets various people set for themselves.  Several runners I follow kept a daily step target of 10,000 steps.  Being a runner myself, I decided 10,000 steps would be a good goal for me too.  10,000 steps is a lot!  I try to run at least 2 miles 4 times a week.  I also have two highly energetic dogs that demand exercise.  Generally speaking, hitting 10,000 steps requires a day with a reasonable amount of walking, a 2.5 mile run, and a 2 mile walk for my dogs.  I'll be honest, that doesn't happen that often.  Lately, I've been thinking about buying a treadmill and converting it into a "tread-puter."  A tread-puter is basically a treadmill with a built-in work surface and computer.  It's a great way to exercise and do simple computing tasks.  The best tread-puter I've seen so far belongs to Brad Feld of Foundry Group.  Brad is a technologist and VC and an investor in Fitbit.  He has a goal of running a marathon in every state before he turns 50.  That much running demands a lot of training.  To help him maintain his training he built an amazing tread-puter.  Check it out here: Brad Feld's Treadputer.

When I first realized how valuable accountability is with respects towards reaching goals I authorized social sharing on the Fitbit website.  All that means is that once a week my Fitbit account tweets my weekly statistics (my average daily step count and distance walked).  I admit that seeing someone's Fitbit statistics seems like spam.  However, it's a vital element when it comes to exercise and accountability.  People interested in my health and wellness goals know that I'm trying to reach 10,000 daily steps.  And once a week everyone sees just how well I did.  Without this level of accountability I probably wouldn't take the effort to build a treadputer.  However, because I know my friends and family are watching I'm extra motivated to do whatever I can to reach my health and wellness goals.

If you have any friends who wear a Fitbit, ask them what their goals are.  If you are a runner or a walker or a hiker, invite them out with you sometime.  There is no greater feeling than actually hitting your target.  I have fond memories of hitting my daily step count goal.  On one special occasion I was out bowling with friends late at night.  When we bowl there's a lot of dancing and running around the bowling alley (we like to celebrate).  On this one special evening I remember checking my Fitbit at about 11PM.  I had roughly 9,000 steps logged for the day.  I told everyone how close I was to my goal and many of us then ran around the bowling alley until I had 10,000 steps.  We all had a ton of fun and laughed the entire time.

Health and wellness should be social experiences.  Working with your friends and family and experimenting with accountability can help you reach your goals.