For many people, accountability is about knowing who to blame when things don't go as planned. In reality, accountability encompasses much more than that. It is about doing your best but also doing it with a level of willingness versus resentment. Accountability also means that if you can't keep your agreements you figure out what got in the way, make amends, and learn to do better next time.
In my experience, there are two main reasons why people aren't willing or able to be accountable. First, they made an agreement in order to please someone else without thinking it through. The second reason is that they don't know how to renegotiate an agreement when life gets in the way. Many of us, particularly women, feel the need to take care of everyone else's needs before we take care of our own. Over time, this can become so habitual that we rarely think of our own needs.
The traditional mindset is that it is selfish to put our needs in front of the needs of others and that self-sacrifice is more honorable. That may be but I believe a lack of self care is one of the underlying causes of depression. I have a client who has been struggling with this for many years but she recently had an epiphany that has made it easier for her to make herself a priority.
Shanna realized that when she makes time for the things that recharge her, including having quiet time for herself and one-on-one time with her husband sharing their love of nature, she is happier and has more energy. When Shanna gets busy at work or at home and stops making time for herself, her symptoms of depression return. This makes a lot of sense. Wouldn't it make you sad if you had a friend or a partner that repeatedly stood you up? One that promised to do something that was important to you and then just didn't remember or made something else more important?
People underestimate the degree to which a lack of accountability in our own lives affects them. Over time this leads to depression, putting on extra weight, lack of ambition, and ultimately a sense of hopelessness. And let's face it: if we aren't showing up for ourselves we start to train others to think that it is okay not to show up for us.
Whatever the goal, big or small, you're twice as likely to accomplish it if you create an accountability system. Start by writing out your goal and be specific. A goal of getting into shape isn't specific enough. A goal of fitting into your favorite dress in time for your reunion is. Then look at a period of time and schedule out clear activities for yourself. I recommend my clients work with a new habit in a very structured way for at least three months. If your goal is to get into that dress, what specifically needs to happen in the next three months?
Write out your daily actions for the next three months and review your action plan twice a day—before you go to bed at night and when you wake up in the morning. Why twice a day? Our minds have a funny way of 'forgetting' our commitments related to new behavior so a daily accountability system is essential for creating lasting change. One simple accountability system is a monthly calendar you can post on your refrigerator. Put a star or check mark on the calendar each day you keep your agreement with yourself. You might be surprised to see that what really motivates you in how good you feel when you keep your agreements.
You can also enlist a friend to help you. Commit to checking each day to make sure you are each staying on track. Even just sending a text each day can help. I have a client who is committed to writing a book. At the end of every day she sends me a text with the number of pages she wrote that day. Knowing that she has to be accountable in this way has doubled the amount of writing she does each week.
Be willing to renegotiate if needed. If it snows and you can't make it to the gym it's not a reason to take the day off. Exercise at home so that you keep your agreement for that day. Your mind is going to look for ways to let you off the hook and avoid change but accountability systems will keep you in charge!
If you're reading this and feeling discomfort in the pit of your stomach, you may not have been very accountable to yourself in the past. That's okay. It takes most of us a lifetime to figure it all out so don't be discouraged but do keep trying. You deserve to trust yourself and rely on yourself the way a best friend would.
This story was provided by our content partner, YourTango, a digital media company dedicated to love and relationships. No matter what love stage our users are in — single, taken, engaged, married, starting over, or complicated — we help them live their best love lives. Written by Kanya Daley.