Accountability means having both the ability and the willingness to give an honest account of your thoughts, feelings, and behavior to someone else. And while it’s important to always hold ourselves accountable to ourselves, it’s also important to be accountable to others, and have others keep us to that accountability.
That’s where accountability partners come in.
“You would give your account to your accountability partner,” says Christine Scott-Hudson MA MFT ATR, licensed psychotherapist, licensed marriage and family therapist and owner of Create Your Life Studio.
A popular and widespread understanding of accountability in our culture is telling a priest your sins, telling your therapist your actual feelings, or telling your sponsor in a twelve-step program your behaviors.
They can be found in the least likely of places.
“You have to in tune with yourself to be attuned on letting someone else in your life in such an intensely personal way,” says Mary Joye, LMHC. This may take some soul searching.
Counterintuitively, as you must choose someone you know you can trust, you have to trust your ability to pick supportive people. “If you have a history of dysfunction in your family history, you may subconsciously choosing someone that will do you more harm than good,” says Joye.
Once you make an inner view of yourself, begin to interview others. Ask for help from a professional if needed. “Counselors have a great store of resources of other professionals you can be referred to or they can help you see which one of your close friends is the best fit. Know and care about yourself before choosing someone else,” says Joye.
“Choosing an accountability partner is all about what works for you two,” says Scott-Hudson. Ideally, you will choose someone who is non-judgmental and with whom you feel comfortable to share authentically.
If you hide things from your accountability partner, it defeats the purpose of having one. “Many people do this with physical trainers and life coaches,” says Scott-Hudson. They end up getting nowhere. “The point is to choose someone with whom you feel a healthy dynamic between safety and change,” says Scott-Hudson.
“If your accountability partner is too validating, you might not be pushed hard enough for the change piece to work. If your accountability partner is too rigid and demanding, it can backfire and you might not feel understood,” says Scott-Hudson. You might even give up altogether.
“Choose an accountability partner who is dynamic and can bounce off of you from moment to moment whilst holding you to your word, keeping you accountable,” says Scott-Hudson.
The top three kinds of accountability partners:
1. Those who are far ahead of you. “They are successful in the issue you are working on to improve,” says Joye.
2. The person with your best interests at heart and who will motivate you. “They will not merely tell you their story. They will help you make your own story come to fruition with encouragement and motivation,” says Joye.
3. A peer (someone on the same level) would be good – but only if “they are as dedicated and motivated as you are,” says Joye. This one could be a precarious choice, but it can work.
What to look for:
1. A person who is nonjudgmental.
2. Someone who understands relapse is part of the process and allows these times to be learning experiences instead of embarrassments.
3. Someone you feel at peace with. “How you feel about you is more important than how you feel about them when you are under their tutelage,” says Joye.
In order to be a good accountability partner to someone else, have a thorough, open, and honest discussion at the start, covering time of day (early morning, lunch break, evenings, weekends), frequency of appointments (once a day? Twice a week? Every other week?), and method for checking in (text, email, FaceTime, phone call, coffee date, walk, etc.).
“Make a plan together and make sure you go over every line. Then, both of you sign it. Make the goals SMART goals and break them down into smaller mini steps that can be accomplished each day or week,” says Scott-Hudson.
Accountability partners are part cheerleader, part coach – they are there to help you achieve your goals and keep you on track when life gets tough. “They can be a friend, a colleague or anyone in whom you trust who is willing to cheer you on, and help you achieve your goals,” says Christine Fonseca, an author, consultant, coach, and licensed educational psychologist.
That’s why finding an accountability partner can be a challenge. “Depending on your goals, check within your circle of friends and colleagues. Extend that circle to your online network if needed, but make sure you have trust in who you are working with. Once you have found a partner, remember that this is a partnership,” says Fonseca.
You are there to help each other be successful.
Once you find your partner, some guidelines need to be set.
- Set norms with each other. “These should include when/how you will communicate, expectations for the partnership, how to gently push each other,” says Fonseca. These are important details to determine from the very beginning
- Give feedback more often than you receive it. Treat the partnership with respect. “If you agreed to check in every day, check in every day,” says Fonseca. Make it a priority. The more you show up for your partner, the more they show up for you. Helping your partner automatically reminds you to focus on your goals as well.
- Push gently. “The point of an accountability partner is not to pound the person if they lose their way – it is to cheer them on, be a thought partner and gently nudge,” says Fonseca. Find out how your partner wants to be nudged at the beginning and use that strategy
- Practice good communication skills. If there are concerns in the partnership, talk. Don’t wait until things are awkward or worse. Talk often. Talk early!
- Be consistent. Be respectful. “Do not ever use shame as a motivator. Speak to them the way you would like to be spoken to yourself,” says Scott-Hudson.
- Own your mistakes. “If you fail to uphold your promise, do a thorough accounting and be radically honest about why!” says Scott-Hudson.
- Honor your appointment times. “Even if you choose phone calls as a way to check in with your accountability partner, it is important to follow up with the agreed upon steps between accountability sessions by summarizing them in writing,’ says Scott-Hudson.
Remember, these sessions are called accountability sessions for a reason! “Even if you fail to meet your goals, the act of consistently being accountable will help you glean more about why you failed to meet them,” says Scott-Hudson.
In the right accountability partnership, you will ultimately become more accountable to yourself.