The accountability debate

"If you want to do X, why don't you just do it?"

For some people, it really is that simple.

Others find that they are more likely to succeed if they are held accountable to someone.

And for some of us, neither of these approaches work.


Part of the problem is that people give advice based on their own experience.

When we find success with a certain approach, we are naturally inclined to recommend it to other people, even if it might not be the best approach for them.

Responding to expectations

One exploration of how different people react to expectations (e.g. the expectation that you will show up for that meeting on time, read a Japanese lesson every day, etc.) is bestselling author Gretchen Rubin's book The Four Tendencies.

First, Rubin divides expectations into two categories: inner and outer.

Inner expectations are things you expect yourself to do — New Year's Resolutions, trying to learn Japanese, etc.

Outer expectations are things other people (appear to) expect from you — making a big dinner for your visiting relatives, completing a work or school assignment, etc.

She then goes on to divide people into four categories:

Upholder: meets both inner and outer expectations
"I do what others expect of me — and what I expect from myself."

Questioner: meets inner expectations
"I do what I think is best according to my judgment. If it doesn't make sense, I won't do it."

Obliger: meets outer expectations
"I do what I have to do. I hate to let others down, but I often let myself down."

Rebels: resist all expectations
"I do what I want in my own way. If you tell me to do something, I'm less likely to do it."

So if you're an Obliger, for instance, you probably won't achieve your Japanese study goals unless you are held accountable to one or more other people. In short, you benefit from accountability systems.

If you're an Upholder, on the other hand, the Days Studied system already built into NativShark might already be enough for you. You put studying on the calendar, and it gets done.

If you're a Questioner, then you'll probably stick to the NativShark system... if, after learning more about it, you think that it makes sense.

Finally, if you're a Rebel, then you may just need to have a deep-seated desire to learn Japanese.

If you do not understand how you respond to expectations — whether it's a study goal you've given yourself or an accountability system you've set up — then you are much less likely to succeed.

Take some time to figure out the types of approaches that have worked for you in the past.

Do you feel like you need a class to learn something, that "just a book" never seems to be enough for you? You're probably an Obliger, and you might want to form a study pact with some people in our community, or a friend or family member.

Are rebels doomed?

Reading Rubin's book, I found that I perfectly fit her description of the rebel personality type.

Finally, an explanation for why I so deeply despise accountability systems!

The moment I feel "locked" into doing something, I tend to resist, to run away — to rebel, if you will.

This perhaps explains why I'm so good at forming new habits that I truly want to form (as opposed to simply thinking I "should" form), but I tend to let people down when they want me to do something I don't want to do.

If you think you fit the same personality type, it may help to start making Japanese learning part of your identity.

Instead of worrying about ways you can make yourself show up to learn every day, it may be more effective to mold a crystal-clear image of yourself — present and future — as the type of person who gets very good at Japanese.

Ty took this advice when he first started and attributes it to be the big reason why he was able to show up every day.

Or, you could just have so much fun learning that you can't help but open NativShark every day.