Permanent change happens when we challenge our underlying beliefs about what amount of change we not only desire but are capable of, and then strategically position ourselves to make our dreams reality.
You’re most likely to be accountable to yourself—the only one who truly matters—by surrounding yourself with people who have what you want: an engaged mind; a strong, healthy body; an active civic responsibility; energizing relationships built on trust and clear communication.
The best strategy when looking to foster accountability and implement change is to do everything that makes it easier, and avoid everything that makes it harder.
How You Spend Your Days Is How You Spend Your Life
I spoke with Mark Groves, a human connection specialist whose work spans the academic and the human, the head, and the heart. Groves says, “Here’s the deepest truth I (currently) know: I’m not here to eff around on this planet during this lifetime. I don’t want to ‘kinda’ do things. I am here to rock the boat. I’m here to share my truth. My purpose? To empower individuals to step into their power, transform the way they relate to themselves and others, and create authentic change.”
Sounds good, but Groves also pointed me to a 2005 Fast Company piece by Alan Deutschman called “Change or Die" that says even when people are told they’ll die if they don’t change, only 10 percent do. Even with severe heart disease and a promise of death if diet and lifestyle changes aren’t made, people resist. Dean Ornish discovered that creating lasting motivation to change resides in replacing “fear of dying” with “joy in living.''
So the odds of change are bad, but we all have a chance to be in the 10 percent and shift the scales. The good news is that you can start with yourself and you can start from wherever you are.
“Start with the simplest act,” Groves says, “like making your bed." After that, pay attention to what you’re consuming, which includes food, drink, media, and the people you surround yourself with. Having a community of people who want the same quality of life that you do is critical, which is why Groves created Mine’d, which offers daily live and on-demand classes with a chat component, so people can interact while learning.
“We need to connect with people who are already doing what we want to be doing,” Groves says. “And Mine’d creates a community that is alive and impassioned about a subject.” Mine’d offers individual sessions such as “Why Hitting a Wall Is Good” and series such as “How to Stop People Pleasing” and “Money Mindfulness.” Mine’d offers a free trial and then is $14.99 billed monthly, or $149.99 billed yearly.
Make Accountability Personal
Rob Ferrari is a spiritual life coach and strength and conditioning trainer, and I’ve spent the past nine months working with him through Future, a fitness program where the workouts are designed specifically for you and your goals as well as your limitations, allowing for growth as you gain strength and flexibility. Future believes that partnership is key to making progress.
I was two months post-surgery when I started working with Ferrari, then I had two car accidents—on top of a stressful family time—that caused some physical setbacks and zapped my energy. Ferrari met me where I was, incorporated more yoga and meditation into my workouts, and also worked with my physical therapists’ recommendations on how I should be training. Ferrari also told me not to fear my body, that I had to believe I’d get stronger and that my body was capable of it.
“Accountability is about openness,” Ferrari says. “It’s not just about sticking to the numbers.” Ferrari believes in setting small goals that aren’t too specific, because he doesn’t want people feeling guilty when they don’t reach them, while also bringing mindfulness and awareness to our achievements.
Like most of us on fitness journeys, I was diligent the first couple of months, but then the weather got nicer and I wanted to hike and run outside instead of doing my inside workouts that had been more appealing during the winter. There was an easy fix: I told Ferrari, and he adjusted my workouts to include strengthening and stretching before my runs.
Your first month with Future costs $19, and after that it’s $150 per month (though they often run $99 specials), and it’s more cost-effective than an in-person trainer. Users rank it 4.9 out of 5 and describe is as “life changing” and “a fantastic investment in your health.” Similar services are Kickoff, which costs between $90 and $240 per month, and CoPilot, which costs $99 per month.
You Just Need to Show Up
Most adults know that life doesn’t change when we peel off the cellophane and flip the calendar to a fresh January. You have to adjust your habits to support your growth, and that includes taking ownership of your actions. You, after all, are the only thing you can control.
There’s an app for everything these days, including keeping yourself accountable to your own goals and dreams.
Personal accountability tools such as HabitShare, which goes beyond a to-do list, also give the option to connect with friends, which can add to accountability if they’re also working on goals. The goals don’t have to be the same, you both just have to be committed to growth and change. HabitShare is available for Apple and Android and is free.
Another option for remote workers and freelancers is Focusmate, which connects “accountability partners.” The idea is to quietly work with your partner for an hour—you can’t chitchat, share memes, or play music with your partner during this time frame. Focusmate works best on a desktop with Chrome, but also works on Safari for iPhone/iPad or Chrome for Android. They provide three free sessions per week or unlimited sessions for $5 per month.
If you don’t need an accountability partner but struggle to tune out distractions, Ommwriter is a good option, with inspiring nature backgrounds and music to stimulate focus. Ommwriter is available for Mac or PC and allows you to try it for free; after that you set your own price starting at $8.17.
If you struggle to stay organized and visualize your goals—both daily and long-term—a planner can be helpful, but the disconnect between digital and paper calendars can be challenging. Artful Agenda combines the style of a paper planner with the functionality of a digital calendar. Artful Agenda is the only digital calendar on the market that is 100 percent compatible with Google, iCloud, and Outlook and they offer a free two-week trial. Membership is $3.99 per month or $35 annually.
The Workplace Conundrum
Work requires a lot of accountability. For the self-employed or those working in their dream jobs it’s easier, but many people find themselves in roles where they feel neither inspired nor valued, which challenges accountability motivation.
A Harvard Business Review study shows that an unexpected consequence of 2020’s lockdown was that people spent less time in large meetings and more time interacting. Lockdown and WFH also offered more scheduling autonomy and the view that our work is worthwhile.
The pandemic presented many unwelcome circumstances, but it also provided an opportunity for people to consider their life choices and adjust course as necessary to move toward more fulfilling lives. The Great Resignation is not only a thing, but a big thing.
“We’re not supposed to just be unhappy and burned out all this time. Work should be about more than just getting a paycheck,” says Danielle Boris, founder of ConnectFor, a platform to prevent boredom and burnout and help people love their work.
ConnectFor helps managers create strong teams based on employees’ interests and skills, but what if you don’t know what their strengths are? You can read a tried-and-true book like What Color Is My Parachute?, which has been updated for 2022; you can hire a career coach; and/or you can start with some online resources.
Free tests include High5Test, which helps users find their top five strengths, and CareerFitter, which provides insight into your “work personality energy” and “what drives your actions,” with a premium, 10-page report available for $19.99.
So What Gets In The Way?
The short answer is, a lot of things get in the way. Natalie Dattilo, a clinical psychologist and instructor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, says, “The foundational and fundamental skill in life is, ‘How much self-awareness do you have?’ And some of that is trial and error.”
When we try things that don’t work, it’s not necessarily that we failed. If we set up a morning workout partner and one person doesn’t stick to the commitment, that’s not a failure but rather an invitation to explore how we’re wired, and what some of us discover is that we’re more accountable to ourselves than to others.
Dattilo says that people say they want to be motivated, but what they really want is to be inspired. She says it’s important to evaluate what matters most in your life, and recommends a values clarification quiz, such as this one, to identify what we want to honor this year, though she recommends limiting it to three top goals. Once we’ve identified our values, we can have sturdier boundaries and an increased chance at living our best lives.
“Our motivation to do just about anything is contingent upon the belief that whatever effort we put into something will pay off,” Dattilo says, “And the more guaranteed the payoff the more motivated we are to do it.” It seems so obvious, but she also says that the belief our effort will pay off is built on previous achievements: how successful we’ve been in achieving the goals we set for ourselves, and also how guaranteed—and how far out—the payoff is.
For this reason, Dattilo suggests setting small, attainable goals. “Set a goal, cut in half, and then cut in half again,” she says. Small wins build confidence, optimism, and self-efficacy, which is the belief that we can achieve what we set out to achieve. The dopamine system is complicated, but dopamine hits motivate us because of the anticipated payoff.
When it comes to goals, Dattilo offers the hack of all hacks. “If the only goal you ever have is to learn something,” she says, “you'll never fail. You’ll always succeed. You’re going to learn something about yourself and you’re going to learn something about the world. You’re going to learn something.”
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