Want to Achieve Your Goals? Make Yourself Accountable

by Shana Montesol Johnson

Have you been lagging lately, not accomplishing as much as you would like?  Are some of your projects, goals, or dreams stuck in neutral gear?  Here’s how to generate some forward movement: make yourself accountable.

Last month I looked at the calendar and realized I’d hit a milestone: five years of working as a professional coach – helping people get unstuck, make decisions, take actions.  I’ve been thinking back on the clients I’ve been privileged to work with (they really are amazing, smart, accomplished folks who are up to great stuff in their careers and in the world – but I digress!), looking for common threads.  What I found is that whether I am working with someone on “what’s next?” for their career, or I’m coaching someone on how to be more effective in the job they’ve got, I’ve observed a powerful dynamic at work in every case: accountability.

When a person is accountable to someone else for doing what they said they would do, they get stuff done.  They make changes they’ve been toying with for years.  They reach their goals.

This is not surprising.  After all, when we tell someone we’re going to do something, we engage the power of social expectations.  For many of us, that power is very strong.  When we tell our boss we are going to get that proposal done by the end of the week, we do it.  When we tell a client or project counterpart that we’ll write that report, we deliver.  When we promise our kids we’ll throw them a birthday party, we keep our word.

However, when we tell ourselves – and no one else – that we’ll ask for that raise, stand up to the jerk at the office, or quit our “just okay” job in order to pursue on our dream job, we are less likely to do it.  It’s easy to hit the “snooze” button on that idea for a cool project if nobody knows about it but us.

Yet simply telling others about our goals is not sufficient, either.  In fact, it can actually prevent us from making progress.  To move beyond mere talk, we need to commit to specific actions that will move our goals forward, and agree with someone else to hold us accountable.

The spouse of one of my coaching clients has been known to comment, “Ah, I can tell you have a coaching session tomorrow – you’re running around getting a bunch of stuff done!”  And it’s not because I spend the coaching session checking my clients’ list of commitments and wagging my finger at them if they missed something.  In my book, that’s not what coaching is about.  I do ask questions like, “What actions did you commit to taking when we last spoke?  How did it go?”  If everything fell apart, I ask, “Where did you get stuck?” and coach them to identify ways to move around those obstacles.  “What do you think you need to do next?”

By the way, the same thing happens to me, too.  The day(s) leading up to a session with my own coach are a flurry of activity as I tick off items on the list of actions I pledged to take.  Had I not told my coach that I would do those things, they’d probably still be at the bottom of my To Do list.

You don’t have to hire a coach in order for the power of accountability to work its magic on your goals.  You can ask a friend, a colleague, a spouse to help you.  Here are 4 things to keep in mind:

  1. Tell them about the commitment you’ve taken on, and let them know how and when you will be accountable to them.  Would you like them to call you at a certain time to check on your progress?  Would you like to send an email by an agreed upon date to report your progress?  Will a simple SMS that says “Its done!” suffice?
  2. Agree on what you’d like them to do if they don’t hear from you, or if you don’t follow through.
  3. Specify if this is a one-time event (e.g., complete that report you’ve procrastinated on all month) or a recurring commitment (e.g., work out 3 times a week).
  4. Offer to hold your partner accountable for something they’re trying to accomplish, in return.

Go ahead, give it a try.  Think of one thing you’ve had trouble accomplishing.  Choose one person to ask to hold you accountable.  (If you can’t think of anyone, I volunteer!  Drop be an email at shana (at) developmentcrossroads (dot) com )  Decide what you want that accountability to look like, and let them in on your plan.  Then watch – and be amazed – as you achieve your goals. 


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