Accountability is a beautiful thing.
You can be held accountable by someone else, something else, or even yourself. Regardless of how you choose to go about it, countless studies have shown that by stating your intentions out loud and setting up a system to help you stay committed to them, you’ll be much more likely to achieve your goals than you would if you decided to just “wing it”.
Have you ever had one of those weeks that started off with the best of intentions? You tell yourself you’ll go to the gym after work three times that week. You’ll stick to the heathy foods you prepped. You’ll practice self care by going to bed early and spending less time on social media.
But then Friday rolls around and you realize the only time you broke a sweat was when you were running up the stairs at the office, you have an entire tupperware container full of vegetables in your fridge that you haven’t touched, and you’ve made it through two seasons of the latest show on Netflix. #Oops
So what gives?
It’s not that you didn’t set yourself up for success. You did what the experts told you to do – you planned out your workout days and knew what you were going to do. You prepped the healthy food, and you even bought a book to read during your social media-free time.
The missing piece? Accountability.
But what is accountability? And why does it work? When does it not work?
What is Accountability?
The dictionary defines “accountability” as “the condition of being accountable”. Okay, that doesn’t tell us much. What about “accountable”?
Accountable: “(of a person, organization, or institution) required or expected to justify actions or decisions; responsible.”
Starting to make more sense, right? Essentially, accountability is the responsibility of following through on the things you said you were going to do. It’s one thing to do all the planning and preparation to help you stay on track with all your healthy habits. It’s another to follow through on them.Accountability is the responsibility of following through #accountability #goalgetter Click To Tweet
It’s telling your friend you’ll meet her at the gym after work. It’s writing your weekly meal plan out on a calendar and keeping it on your fridge. It’s putting your big scary goals somewhere visible so you’re reminded to take action on them every single day.
All of these little steps boost your chances of actually getting those things done, and they can be very powerful when pieced together in a system.
How Does Accountability Work?
Accountability works because we’ve been trained to do things because they’re expected of us. As children, we’re basically told what to do all the time. This continues through school, and although you might consider yourself a rebel at some point and stray from the conventional path (I may or may not have done this myself 😉) you’ll still do lots of things just because they’re what’s expected of you.
You do the tasks that are outlined in your job description at work. You pull your weight in a group project so you don’t let your partners down. You (hopefully) buy groceries so your kids don’t starve. Pretty straight forward, right?
There are different psychological perspectives on why this is so, but an overarching theme is that we’re social creatures. If we think our behaviour is going to be evaluated by others, which it often is in group settings, then we’ll be more likely to follow through on the things we said we were going to do.
But notice how I didn’t say “we are guaranteed to follow through on the things we said we were going to do”? Unfortunately it’s not as simple as that. All of these things – your co-workers who expect you to do your job properly, your partners in a group project who expect you to follow through, your kids who expect you to feed them – all of these things are external motivators.
And at some point, you’re going to need an internal motivator as well.
What happens when there’s no one there to hold you accountable to going to the gym? To saying no to the muffin? To sitting down and meditating for 5 minutes? There’s no one there to evaluate your behaviour, and even if they are it doesn’t directly affect them so they probably don’t care as much. The social stakes aren’t as high.
It’s not that being held accountable to your actions by others isn’t effective (because it is). But at some point, you have to learn to hold yourself accountable as well.
How to Create an Accountability System
To be truly effective, your accountability system needs to be multi-faceted. It’ll likely include those external motivators, like friends, coaches, and social groups, but you also need to address the internal accountability factor as well.
There are some really simple but effective ways you can help yourself stay the course and follow through on the things that are important to you. The beauty is that you can pick and choose what you think would be most effective for your personality. Let’s start with the external factors.
- Find an accountability partner. Reach out to someone in your social circle who you trust, and let them know your intentions for the day or week. Set up various check points throughout the day or week to update them on your progress.
- Get others in on the fun. Make a run date with a friend. Ask a co-worker if they want to go for a walk with you at lunch. Catch up with a friend during the time you’d normally be mindlessly watching TV or scrolling through social media.
- Enlist the help of a coach or mentor. Hire an expert to help guide you in the right direction. Telling your personal trainer you’ll meet her at the gym at a specific time is a powerful motivator to get out the door!
You can do all of the above to give yourself a really good shot at achieving the goals that are most important to you. But like we saw above, at some point or another, you’re going to need to be accountable to yourself. So how the heck do you do that?
Begin by asking yourself the following questions:
- Why is this important to me?
- What will accomplishing it do for me?
- What will that feel like?
- What steps do I need to take to get there?
- When do those steps need to be done?
- How can I give myself a super juicy reward after I complete each of those steps?
Really take some time to tap into why this thing you’ve committed to is so important. If you’re saying no to gluten just for the sake of saying no to gluten, that’s not very compelling, is it?
But maybe you’ve noticed it makes you feel tired and sluggish. It makes you want to take a nap at 3pm. It makes you moody, it makes your skin break out, or it just makes you feel like crap.
So when you work through the above questions, you’ll have much more compelling motivators. “It’s important to me because I want to feel utterly amazing” “Accomplishing it will allow me to have more energy, think more clearly at work, be more productive in the evening, and be an overall badass” and so on.
Once you’ve answered all of those questions, find ways to remind yourself of the answers. You can write them on sticky notes and leave them around your house. You can schedule your gym date into your calendar and call it something like a “Feel Good Date”. You can begin planning ways to take action on those steps that need to be done, and then put those plans into action!
Create that accountability! Get clear on why those things you want to accomplish are important to you. Break down what needs to be done and when it needs to be done by, and then begin reaching out to friends, co-workers, and trusted mentors to help you get there.
If you’re looking for some extra accountability in reaching your health and wellness goals but don’t really know where to start, I would love for you to join us in The Daily Sweat Facebook group! It’s a free community for women (sorry boys) from all different fitness levels and all walks of life. The common piece is that we all want to help one another become our happiest, healthiest, most confident selves. You can request to join us right here.
How do you create accountability in your own life? Do you have a system in place to help you stay the course?