Ben Issen

My Accountability Partner Made me Write this

Cheat code to publish every week

The greatest self-sabotage

Publishing creative work is hard. For every article, video or painting we ask ourselves: who's gonna see this? What will they say? We feel vulnerable and viscerally adverse to putting our creative ideas out there. Our brains hate publishing. So we don't do it. We self-sabotage, we find excuses. We don't publish, we procrastinate. We hide behind feeds, we scroll.

Publishing consistently is 21st century arbitrage

This is no secret: publishing frequently is the single best predictor of audience growth. As Dickie says, it's the 21st century arbitrage. Standing out when everyone seeks attention requires consistency. Consistency is self-discipline's cherished son. Not a fun family if you ask me.

Time and cadence to get to 100,000 followers on social media
Data averaging multiple accounts who reached 100k followers. We should mind survivorship bias implied here as well as the requirement to create quality content.

Freelancers, creators and entrepreneurs have no bosses and little external pressure. We have to be entrepreneurs of ourselves. This is our paradox: we're not so free after all. And we're precisely the people who would benefit most from sharing our work more.

The cheat code

Being accountable to someone else is a super hack. We might feel bad for not publishing work but we feel worse when we committed to someone else and we don't. Our brains trick us, so I advocate for tricking our minds back. No, the goal is not to feel terrible. It's to clinically and purposefully inject a healthy dose of external pressure to be more prolific.

Accountability deal formula simple

Meet your accountability partner

An accountability deal is 1. a mutual commitment 2. between two people who share common interests 3. to do a certain action repeatedly. I've had two accountability partners in the past six months and I've published more ideas than in my entire life.

Accountability partner table

I've tried joining accountability groups (heck, I even created one), but they're not as effective as having a one-to-one relationship with someone who's ready to kick my butt. Having someone I'm held accountable to is powerful, I just execute more.

Leveraging our loss aversion bias

But sometimes, peer pressure is just not strong enough. Our brains hate losses more than they love acquiring equivalent gains. Learning from multiple iterations of trial-and-error (mostly just not publishing several times), I've introduced a financial stake to reinforce the pressure in my accountability deals. Not enough to go bankrupt but just enough to hurt.

Value Function in Prospect Theory
Value function in Prospect theory, by Marc Rieger

I got this idea when reading about Robin Hanson's obsession with bets: "They ensure that we have a financial stake in being accurate when we make forecasts, rather than just trying to look good to our peers".

So far I've lost more than I won, with $150 paid to my accountability partners. This just means that my accountability partners, Rob and Paul, have been a tiny bit more diligent than me. Given how many articles and products I've published, it's totally worth it.

If you miss a deadline, instead of giving the financial stake to the other person, consider giving to a charity instead. Your loss aversion bias will still kick in, but it'll help humanity marginally more than your accountability partner, who probably doesn't need your money. To find the charities that save the most lives per dollar, check out Givewell's rankings. And if that's your jam, go explore other effective altruism ideas.

Going multiplayer

Publishing is a lonely journey and accountability partners help to enjoy the ride. Or rather, we can enjoy struggling together. A great accountability partner is challenging, openly gives feedback and is a tiny bit competitive. I can't overstate how beneficial it is to go from singleplayer to multiplayer mode. To a point where the mean becomes the end: a relationship I've engineered to publish more becomes more valuable than the publishing itself. Special shoutout to you, Rob.

Humans after all

Though we can positively influence our actions by reverse-engineer human psychology, we should avoid being prisoners of our own systems. Shit happens. We should give ourselves joker cards every once in a while. The goal here is healthy pressure, not dumb rigidity.

Accountability deals work if you admire your partner. Trying a deal for a bit with a trial is probably safe, and adjust or end with a polite message if it doesn't go as planned. It's also not gonna work if you don't vocalize your objectives. I've found that scheduling a monthly call to recap our progress is a worthy ritual. Talking to each other is key.

Finally, accountability deals are velocity multipliers. Extrinsic motivation is an effective catalyst, it doesn't replace intrinsic motivation. No matter how hard you push, coaches you take and deals you sign up to, if you're not intrinsically motivated, you won't do it.

Make the deal

99% feedscrollers, 1% creators

This article was published because of my accountability deal with Paul. Also because I didn't want to send him $50 again.

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Time to create
Time to share
Last edit: 
Jul 15, 2021
Special thanks for feedback: 
Alberto Arenaza, Oliver Rutherford, Tao Boyle
Image credits: 
Seth Green
Ben Issen

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