The value of accountability buddies is accepted wisdom. But that value is often overstated.
Why Accountability Buddies Are Great
Peer groups play an important role in shaping our mindsets, thoughts, beliefs, and actions. According to the late Jim Rohn, you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.
Whether you’re trying to make progress on a business outcome, run a marathon, or just hit the gym every day, an accountability buddy can be a great way to stay on track. The support of one person or even a larger group, is especially invaluable when you hit the rough patch in your path to progress.
And there will always be a rough patch.
When it works, it’s great. I know I’m much more likely to do my post-trapeze practice conditioning when my friends also do it; it helps to have the peer pressure to push me when I might otherwise want to be lazy.
Why Accountability Buddies Are Overrated
At the same time, I’ve learned that I can’t always rely on support from a group or a specific person. I’ve enrolled in many courses that offered the promise of a “supportive community” and masterminding, only to be disappointed when that support didn’t materialize.
Unfortunately I find this is often the case in programs with other women, although that’s an issue for another time.
Years ago I had an accountability buddy for the gym. She lived in a different state. We called each other at 5:30 am each day to make sure we were up and out. It was great while it lasted — which was about 3 weeks. Then life got in the way. She had a meeting, a vacation, needed to sleep in.
I’ve also worked with many coaches who promised — and failed — to keep me accountable. To be fair, I own my part in this. One thing I’ve learned is that I’m a master at coming up with rational, believeable reasons why I didn’t do what I promised my coach or buddy.
The problem is that most people don’t call me out on those excuses. They let me get away with it. That doesn’t really serve my interests so well.
Why Accountability Buddies Fail
Let’s look at three main reasons why accountability buddies fail.
(1) Wrong Match, Wrong Stakes
Obviously, you need to have the right accountability buddy and the right stakes to keep you accountable.
To hold someone accountable you need to have the right leverage over the person. What’s at stake if they don’t meet the check-ins or hit their milestones?
If you want someone to hold you accountable you must find someone who calls you out on your bullshit.
My clients work with me because I see through every excuse and am willing to call them out when they tell tall tales.
Beyond this, there are two reasons that often go overlooked.
(2) The Wrong Type of Motivation For You
Before you go searching for an accountability buddy, it helps to know what motivates you. If you are extrinsically motivated, an accountability buddy will likely work well for you. The leverage to get you to do something is that you’ll disappoint others, you’ll let down the team.
If you’re internally motivated, you won’t feel the peer pressure of the accountability buddy. It will not be as effective for you. That doesn’t mean it can’t work; but it’s helpful to know.
Intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation is different from the question of whether you work better alone or in groups, or whether you’re an extrovert or introvert.
(3) Wrong Type of Motivation For the Outcome
One thing I’ve learned in my experiments with cultivating multiple long-term daily habits — some of which I have sustained for years — is that if you want to sustain something, you’ve got to stand behind it for yourself.
Over the long term, nobody will be more invested in your outcomes than you will.
For long-term outcome and daily practices, the only accountability buddy that truly matters is the one in the mirror.
There are two elements to this:
(a) You must hold the mirror up to yourself
I can hold the mirror up for others only because I’ve learned to hold it up for myself. This has required an unfiltered look at my actions, motivations, and the stories I tell about why I did or didn’t do something.
You must be willing to look at your behavior with an unflinching eye and ask yourself the questions that will illuminate your false stories, such as:
How was I able to make time for this activity and not that one?
If I was so tired that I couldn’t do that thing I said I would do, how did I find energy for that other thing?
(b) You must be willing to do things for you
One reason accountability buddies work is because we are generally wired to want to do things for others more than for ourselves.
If someone else is holding us accountable, we are doing it for them, even if it’s something we want. That’s the mind trick of accountability buddies.
If you want to truly be extraordinary, you must value yourself enough to do the things you want to do. Not because someone else is holding you accountable, but because you recognize that your desires are reason enough. You are worthy on your own merits.
An Unexpected Outcome of Rituals
People ask me why I do all of my daily habits and rituals. Would it really matter if I skip a day of publishing to my blog?
Maybe not to anyone else, but it matters to me. I’ve learned that that’s enough.
This noticeable shift in my self-worth has been an unexpected outcome of my commitment to my daily rituals. And it bleeds into every other area of my life.
When you master your relationship with yourself, when you learn that you’re worth doing things for, you become unstoppable.
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What’s your experience with accountability buddies? Please share in the comments.