For years I was convinced I knew what kept people from achieving their goals in life: determination and persistence. But now, my opinion has changed. I think accountability is the key to success.
Persistence and determination are nearly impossible to sustain in a vacuum — accountability is the missing ingredient necessary for major achievement. Marketers know this and often use our lack of accountability to increase profits.
The gym industry’s business model, for example, is to vastly oversell memberships, knowing that a huge percentage of newly recruited clients will visit once or twice at most. In fact, Planet Fitness gyms average 6,500 members each but can hold a maximum of 300 people.
They’re quite confident that only the tiniest fraction of members will ever show up. Your lack of accountability is how they make a profit.
On the flip side, as both a yoga teacher and a writing coach, I know how powerful accountability really is.
Having taught hundreds of yoga clients one-on-one, it’s extremely rare that someone writes me a large check for a package of 10 private lessons and then vanishes into the woodwork.
Yes, paying the larger cash investment helps guarantee a commitment, but even greater than that is the accountability to me as their trainer. Unlike hitting the snooze alarm for an hour and blowing off a morning spin class, if we’ve made a 7 a.m. appointment I will definitely be knocking on their door at 6:59 a.m. That accountability makes all the difference in the world.
I’ve observed similar phenomena with my writing clients. I can always tell when someone is actually going to achieve his or her goals or whether when I circle back to them in two or three years, they will be in the exact same situation. I wish it were a testament to my psychic abilities, but it’s not. It’s entirely to do with the accountability they’ve created (or not).
In “real life,” we’re often held accountable by pure economic necessity (i.e., if we don’t show up for our nine-to-five, we'll become homeless) or an observant partner, roommate, or cable company (“I’m sorry, but why don’t you have your share of this month’s electric bill?”).
When we’re pursuing our creative or personal dreams, however, we’re usually totally on our own. No one’s prodding us to write the screenplay or novel we’ve been dreaming about, perhaps have even started, making sure we fill up the blank page.
Even worse, sometimes key people in our lives may be unknowingly sabotaging our success.
Rather than affirming your fitness goals, all your friends might, in a spirit of loving support, tell you not to worry about those 15 pounds you know you desperately want to lose. They mean well, but they’re agents of destruction for your workouts.
Someone might just be too close to really be objective or unabashedly honest. Worse still, an inappropriate accountability partner might have conflicts with your success, secretly hoping that you maintain the status quo rather than achieving your full potential.
One potential creative client of mine reconsidered at the last minute, saying that her husband volunteered to be her free accountability partner on her writing project. They may have an awesome relationship but there’s no way he can be both supportive AND objective. Of course, and not surprisingly, over the last three years, not one word of that book has been written.
I’m definitely not suggesting that appropriate accountability can only be had with paid coaches or trainers like myself.
What I am saying is that if you really want to achieve your goals, it’s vital that you not only have an accountability structure but also that it’s supportive, meaningful, and objective.
Credit card companies have this down to a science (except the supportive part). If you miss a payment, they’ve no problem quite literally calling you out on it. They are completely objective about the fact that you missed a deadline. The accountability becomes meaningful because they’re happy to remind you that there are consequences to your lapses: late fees and credit reporting.
A trained coach in your industry might be best, but how else might you find a solid accountability partner?
Perhaps you can find a gym buddy equally committed to his or her fitness goals who won’t tolerate even your best excuses.
On a creative level, you might find kindred spirits in a writers group, a theater company, or a shared studio space where a healthy, supportive spirit exists — perhaps even one with a dose of competition.
What’s most vital is that you realize that no matter how talented, how ambitious, how committed or tenacious you are, that you cannot do it alone.
No one can.
And that's the final bonus of accountability. Having someone in your corner who is cheerleader, champion, and a bit of a taskmaster not only makes you more effective — it’s also a lot less lonely.
Making sure that accountability is part of your support system will not only make all your 2016 goals infinitely more achievable; it will also make the journey vastly more satisfying.
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