I’m going to go out on a limb and make a prediction. You, or someone you know well, would like to make at least one positive change this year. Maybe the goal is to get healthier/fitter/leaner/stronger. Or, maybe, you simply want to perfect your favorite celebrity impression (no one’s judging) by the end of the year. Setting goals and believing in our abilities to make positive changes is great. But, do you know what’s even better? Getting started. And the best way to get started and turbo-charge those resolutions is by recruiting an accountability partner.
The Buddy Benefit
In 2018, researchers at the North Carolina State University published a study titled “The Buddy Benefit: Increasing the Effectiveness of an Employee-Targeted Weight-Loss Program.” The study followed 704 individuals through a 15-week weight-loss program and found that those who chose buddies, i.e., accountability partners, lost more weight and inches compared to those enrolled in the program by themselves without buddy support.
The above research only reaffirms what we anecdotally know. We stick to our commitments and flake less when we are accountable to someone else other than ourselves.
Think about it. By default, we have built-in accountability in many areas of our life. Most of us are generally law-abiding, responsible citizens and show up for most of our external commitments, because not doing so can put us in a great deal of trouble.
But when it comes to self-improvement goals, all bets are off. That’s because, by design, self-improvement goals don’t impact others. No one’s going to call the cops, or deny you a promotion, because you aren’t able to bench press a hundred pounds at the end of the year. For that matter, no one is probably even aware that you had such a goal. Also, sadly, it’s likely that no one else cares.
So, the worst-case scenario when you fall short of your goals is for you to be disappointed in yourself. But even that may be fleeting. It’s easy to shrug the disappointment off with the rationalization that “it was not to meant to be.” And keep putting off your someday hopes and dreams.
In his book The War of Art, author Steven Pressfield makes the case for why procrastination can be so insidious to our growth.
Procrastination is the most common manifestation of Resistance because it is the easiest to rationalize. We don’t tell ourselves, “I’m never going to write my symphony.” Instead, we say, “I am going to write my symphony. I’m just going to start tomorrow.”
But there is a way to combat the endless putting off. We can battle procrastination by recruiting an accountability partner.
When you know someone’s going to check next Tuesday to see how far you’ve progressed in your book’s synopsis, you are more likely to start working on the synopsis. At least by Monday night. The guilt and the accountability will make you do it. No question.
So, who should you be accountable to (other than yourself)?
Finding an accountability partner
In the traditional sense, an accountability partner is an individual with two roles:
- They have to check-in with you on a recurring basis to see how you’re progressing on your goal
- They should be able to offer guidance and encouragement when things go sideways (which will happen at some point)
But there are other, non-conventional ways to incorporate the concept of accountability into your self-improvement efforts.
Use social media
Announce your intentions and goals on social media before you begin. When you’ve told the entire world that your book will be released in September, you’ll be less tempted to spend entire weekends re-binging The White Lotus instead of writing.
Stake a monetary (or other resource) claim
Those who prefer less human contact (Gen Z’ers?) can use accountability apps to keep themselves on track to meeting goals.
Stickk, for instance, is an app where you set a goal, say, to exercise three times a week. If, at the end of the week, you don’t mark your three exercise days as complete, you can configure the app to withdraw money from your checking account. You can decide who the money then goes to—a friend, a charity, or even better, to someone you don’t like, or an anti-charity (a cause you absolutely detest.)
Put your non-refundable money where your heart is.
I use this method to make sure I train for marathons. I sign-up for out-of-town races, book travel (non-refundable), and request for time-off work. All these add up to a pretty penny. Knowing I’m fully paid up (with no recourse) and need to be at the start line gives me enough push to not hit snooze but instead wake up and train.
Adulthood has its perks. But sometimes those perks present themselves in the form of options. “Do nothing” is usually one of those options. For instance, why push yourself when the going gets tough when you have the option to quit?
We’ve all heard how actions have consequences. But the converse is equally, if not, more true. Inactions have consequences too.
It’s easy to fall short of our potential because we can’t be bothered or because no one’s holding our head to the fire. And since most of us don’t face consequences when we give up on intended self-improvement efforts, it’s tempting to take it easy. Doing so, though, can mean a lifetime of mediocrity. No one deserves to or should want to live that way.
Accountability is the link between commitment and results.