Accountability is a word you often hear bounced around your workplace (i.e. being held accountable for your responsibilities) and the big business arena (i.e. corporate accountability). What I’m talking about is a different sort of accountability. Really, the word has come to mean so little to me due to its jargonization from the first two instances that I needed to look it up.
Accountability, according to Merriam-Webster, means the quality or state of being accountable; especially: an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions.
I first heard of “accountability groups” from their use as post-rehab groups. Recovering addicts and alcoholics leaving rehab facilities who live in the same area get together regularly to discuss their recent progress and actions, and to accept responsibility for them.
That might sound pretty hard-core, but it’s something that I’ve been able to utilize recently to help me make some life changes I really wanted to achieve. For instance, most recently I decided that it would be better for my life overall if I started waking up earlier. I thought a long time before I mentioned it to anybody because I know myself and I know that waking up earlier is not going to be easy for me. Once I made the decision, I knew that I couldn’t go it alone.
How to get started
My accountability partner happened on accident. When I started my running program, I got so excited about it that I told everyone. One friend in particular made a point of asking me nearly every time I talked to him how my running program was going. I always answered honestly, whether it was going good or bad. When it was good, he was glad to hear it; keep it up, he said. When it was rough, he offered encouraging words; don’t give up, he said, you’ll get there.
The amazing thing, though, is what took place in my head. When I thought about skipping a run, I knew I would have to face my friend with the truth. I was going to be held accountable for my decision. Knowing that made me go through the excuses I would try to get away with, know that no one of them would work and I would sound like an ass, so I went for my run. It’s been 8 weeks since I started that running program and I haven’t missed a day!
So, when it came time to quit coffee and within a few days, begin a new morning routine, I told my accountability partner. Day Six without coffee and Day Two waking up early, and he’s asked me about both. And each time I see a tempting cup of coffee or I feel the desire to hit the snooze button, I imagine having to tell my accountability partner my lame reasons why I made those decisions.
Don’t just take – give accountability!
I realized this morning how much of an accountability monger I’ve been! Spread the love, people. You can be someone’s accountability partner, too. All it takes is a genuine concern and a little bit of effort to remember to ask a friend how he or she is doing on whatever new venture or project they are working on.
The nice thing about accountability is that it does have a whole lot to do with advice. If you know something about their project, great. Offer your experience. But it doesn’t matter if you don’t. The point is that you are there.
Tips for accountability
1. You’re there to give/get support. You don’t need to dish out advice every time you talk to someone. Ask them how it’s going, good or bad. Get details if it’s bad. Let them know if you’re seeing progress. This can be especially important for long-term goals.
2. Don’t be an unsolicited accountability partner. It sucks, but it’s true – sometimes people don’t want to be held accountable. I see it every New Year; people tell you about their new resolution, and when you ask them about it two or three weeks later you get a mumble and a growl. Not everyone wants to really change, and you’ll only piss them off, you busy body know-it-all!
3. Frequency is key. If you’re not being held accountable on a regular basis, then it won’t work. Figure out what the optimal schedule is for the task at hand. If it’s running four times a week, then at least once a week will work. If it’s sticking to a monthly budget, then once a month might work. Figure it out with your accountability partner so that you don’t go too easy or too hard on yourself.
4. Your accountability partner should keep you in line. Dump a doormat accountability partner. They’ll get you nowhere fast and you might not be helping them much either. On the other side of the spectrum, ditch an overbearing partner. You shouldn’t dread calling your accountability partner because you think he or she is going to rail at you. That’s the fastest way to give up.
5. Be honest. Otherwise, there’s no point. Remember, this isn’t forced upon you as a class assignment or as a job duty. It’s supposed to be about a change you really want to make. If you’re not honest, you’re only lying to yourself.
6. Spread the love; start an accountability group. If you are a person in the middle of totally reworking your life from top to bottom, honey, you might be too much for one person! In all seriousness, being an accountability partner is a big responsibility. Consider getting a group of like-minded friends together once a month to discuss your goals, actions and plans and hold each other accountable for them. Sometimes it’s just nice to know that not everyone is perfect 100% of the time. A group can be there to share their experiences with similar goals or projects.
7. Post it on a blog. Hard to admit publicly that your attempt at quitting coffee or waking up early failed miserably because you didn’t have the will power to pull it off. Heh.
Don’t forget the rewards
Providing a friend with support can be a truly amazing experience. My accountability partner told me recently how rewarding it’s been for him to see me achieve the goals he’s helped me with. I hope one day I can experience that kind of reward with many of my friends.