Personal accountability | Tim Ferriss

personal accountability

Do you struggle with personal accountability?

When we’re facing things on our own that require personal accountability, it means that we’re solely responsible for our choices and actions. We’re not only the first and last line of defense for our integrity but the deciding factor on whether or not we’re moving forward towards success. Read on to learn about our favorite extreme tips to improve accountability with Tim Ferriss.

Having confidence in systems and loss aversion only helps to create the illusion of discipline and willpower.” —Tim Ferriss

Whether this involves health goals such as fitness and healthy eating, or professional goals like business or career projects, taking massive and deliberate action is the primary method for improving our life and pursuing fulfillment.

Improve personal accountability using compelling incentives

In a recent interview, Tim Ferriss discussed several extreme ideas to assist us in holding ourselves accountable.

Personal accountability means we’re committed to consistently staying away from viewing ourselves as victims of circumstance and having a sense of ownership for the consequences of our actions.

Accountability helps us achieve significant, lasting improvements in life. Typically, people will see the most success when involving something (or someone) that can help hold us accountable. Without the involvement of a partner or system outside of ourselves, it’s usually quite challenging to stay motivated and on track.

‍Struggling to take action‍

Tim explains: “Even the best writers will do just about anything to get out of writing, and that’s human nature. It’s not because writers are ‘bad people,’ but maybe they’ve been a seminar junkie instead of going back to the notebook they’ve filled up and haven’t actually put any next steps on their calendar.” He goes on to say that, surprisingly, he doesn’t have a high degree of confidence in his willpower or discipline but has instead developed confidence in systems and loss aversion that create the illusion of these things.

External Motivation Example: Losing weight to prevent social pain

Tim focused much of his explanation around the “incentive” of avoiding pain. “Most people don’t need more willpower or discipline; they need better incentives, which could be either a reward or some type of punishment.”

Many have struggled to lose weight throughout their lives, and Tim gives an example of a scenario where he steps in as someone’s accountability partner. His strategy involves creating an intense fear of potential embarrassment to ensure their success.

“On day 1, I’m gonna take really unflattering photographs of you first thing in the morning in your tighty whities. And now I own those photos. And also take 5% of your income. If you don’t lose 20 pounds in the next eight weeks and keep it off for six months, not only am I gonna release those photographs onto the internet, post them on Facebook—everywhere your friends, family, or colleagues will see them… I’m also going to donate five percent of your income to an anti-charity that you would rather nuke than give money to you. You’ll be on the public record as having given five thousand dollars to whatever it might be… you know the one to an organization that you would just be endlessly ashamed to be associated with… unless you lose this weight. I guarantee you with that—that why—people figure out the how.”

Potentially Devastating Punishments

Tim’s suggestions of external motivators may feel extreme for some but logical for others. And ours may not need to be so intense to achieve our desired outcome, but Ferriss sees no reason not to make our incentives personally compelling—even if it’s a means to simply avoiding devastation!


  • Consider prepaying for a certain number of physical training sessions (or services/events that you want to invest in for yourself) that are non-refundable. While it may not be a huge burden for some, for others, the idea of losing out on any money may drive them insane.
  • An app for that: StickK is one of the most popular of the personal accountability apps that are currently available. It helps you set a goal and stay on track with a financial incentive. If you fail your goal, you have to pay the price.


  • Having a real accountability partner to keep you accountable during the times you don’t show up to scheduled workout sessions or fail to complete any task may be enough to feel the shame or guilt that inspires commitment.
  • The StickK app also allows you to invite a person who will determine whether you genuinely accomplished your goal or not. It can be a friend, coach, or a family member—anyone who can tell whether you met the commitment or not. On occasion, staying accountable to just one person may not be enough, so consider including others in your process.

by Cherilyn Cole
author + your direct connect @ GrowthLenses

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