Accountability: How it Can Play a Role in Relationships and Life Management

I’ve integrated accountability into my process a number of years ago and only recently became aware of it’s huge impact on creating change. What brought this aha moment was my own experiences with it. Having a workout buddy, I noticed a huge difference recently with my increase in consistency with working out versus just being active (ie. going for a walk). Having someone to be accountable to makes a world of difference when it comes to following through with your goals and owing up to your actions.

What is Accountability?

Regardless if we are talking about being accountable in a relationship or at work it’s about taking responsibility and fulfilling our obligations. Even when we don’t follow through, we take responsibility by owning up to our actions and the impact they have. In a relationship it could be that you have accidentally done something wrong and you are willing to admit to hurting someone or letting them down. This creates an openness and willingness to accept responsibility, which in turn encourages the other person to do the same. The flip side looks like making excuses for broken promises, abandoning commitments, missed deadlines or an appointment.  

It’s important to note the different types of accountability. There is a different dynamic when you are accountable to a coach, boss or collegue. Here you are following set expectations that you agreed upon and in a way you are answering to someone else. In a personal relationship there is no power dynamic and that means it’s an ongoing discussion of seeing what works for both people as opposed to one person laying out the law, so to speak.

Why is accountability so important to achieve your goals?

The first step of my process is about defining your core values. This makes it clear what you want to focus on in your life and also creates expectations for your lifestyle etc. From there you create meaningful goals. Part of being accountable is being very specific and clear what your expectations are. If you don’t know what you value, are unclear or not living up to them, it will be hard to follow through with goals. That’s where accountability comes in handy because it helps you be really specific and clear on what you need to do. 

Accountability can be compared to boundaries, what you are willing and unwilling to do. These are all connected: values, goals, accountability and boundaries. To be clear, we should not think of our boundaries as impenetrable, unchanging barriers, but rather as ways that we stay accountable and true to ourselves and what we value. They work together to keep you focused, take care of yourself and be able to follow through on your personal goals as well as your career goals.

How Can Accountability Help You with Life Organization and Mental Health Management?

The challenge with mental health is that it affects our ability to make decisions if we are struggling. This in turn means that we are likely to make excuses and not follow through, especially when you are the only one keeping yourself on track. 

If you are disorganized it’s really hard to be consistent when your life is a mess. Being organized means that you have clear boundaries and expectations with how you use your time and spaces. Creating an organized environment includes creating an organized inner environment where your habits, routines and lifestyle support your mental health.

When you literally own your stuff, you are less likely to blame others for the mess. This gives you the opportunity to gain awareness and shine light on patterns in your environment that may not be helpful to you. For example, let’s say you organize your home and let go of items that weren’t serving you anymore, but then the mess just comes back. By being accountable you can dig further to see what this pattern is all about and see what needs to change. 

How to be Accountable?

It starts with you 

Accountability is about you not others. If you are not accountable you can’t expect others to be. This is even more important if you have a position of leadership. You want to be a role model and set the tone. The same goes for parents wanting their children to be accountable, it starts with you.

Long term – Slow and Steady

Being accountable is not a one time thing. Like getting organized, it’s a process of growth, change and discovery. If you go too hard too fast then you are likely to give up and abandon ship. Going slow and steady ensures you will see change and be able to sustain the energy to do so.

Have that difficult conversation

Often accountability means confronting someone about their actions or lack of. At work this can be challenging because you want to keep things on good terms.  However, in any setting, if you focus on the behaviours (what you noticed, the facts) and don’t blame or make it personal you will likely have a positive outcome. Check out this great article that gives an in depth approach in the workplace.

Follow Through and give feedback

To keep the dialogue going it’s important to both give feedback and ask for it. Following up allows the other person to know that they need to be accountable for and gives you a chance to acknowledge the steps they have taken to change. This builds healthy connections in any type of relationship.

Start by writing down the expectations and going over them with the other person. Get clear on what the other person needs to be able to follow through. Then follow up in the form of an email for work or take notes that you can reference later together. If you are doing this in a romantic relationship you can do it in a journal and reference it each week when you have a check in date. 

Be clear on your expectations 

If you are clear on what you expect then there is no room for someone to misunderstand what you need. I found a great exercise in this article where you create a chart. I love charts, and write down all the general and specific expectations. The colleagues then state what they need in order to meet those expectations. This way it’s a collaboration instead of dictating what one “should do”. When creating these expectations be sure to make them realistic and attainable both for you and others. People are far more likely to follow through if they have personally come up with and agreed to any plan of action. 

Be honest and open – be willing to be vulnerable

If you are not honest with yourself then how can you own your actions and take the steps to change? If you are not honest then how can you expect others to be open and vulnerable with you? Accountability starts with you and taking small steps to being willing to change is all you need.

In the end accountability means getting support and having someone to hold your hand while you grow, change and overcome past barriers. Be willing to ask for help! That’s one of the first steps to creating change.

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