“Do I really need accountability?” Derek asked me.
“Why do you ask?” I replied.
“I mean, shouldn’t I be able to hold myself accountable to my healthy eating goals? This is something that really matters to me, so I should be able to do that myself, don’t you think?” Derek continued.
“Well, I don’t know,” I said.
Healthy eating, we were learning, was a critical issue for Derek.
When he ate well, he felt good about himself, which made him happier, which helped him do better work, which fueled everything else in his life. But when he didn’t, his energy would spiral downward. It was like a kind of switch—the one activity that would change his energy from vicious cycle to virtuous cycle.
In this particular coaching conversation, his energy was low. (Not surprisingly, healthy eating hadn’t been great either.)
We learned that the only time he’d successfully stuck to healthy eating was through outside accountability, whether through a trainer, coach, or otherwise.
Today, he was questioning the power of accountability.
“Well, I don’t know,” I continued. “Accountability is a part of every successful behavior change story I’ve every heard, and every proven behavior change system I’ve seen. But we live in a culture that expects you to do it yourself. And if you can’t, there’s something wrong with you.”
“Yes, yes!” Derek replied.
“But, really, we are social creatures. We rely on people for everything we do. I think we’re tricked into thinking we can do things ourselves, but really we just lose sight of just how much help went into it,” I said.
Let’s think about a simple example—you reading this article. You’re reading this on some kind of device, which needs to be powered. Somebody had to find out how to generate the electricity, invent wires to supply the energy, invent the power grid that gets it to you (thanks Nikola Tesla), build the power plant and energy grid that supplies it to your location, and all the tiny parts that had to be designed, built, shipped, and installed to get the energy from the building to your device.
All of that work. Just to power your device. It would take a lifetime to do yourself.
But you don’t think about that. You just plug in your phone, tablet, or computer and expect energy to start flowing.
So when we attempt something simple like changing a habit, reaching a goal, or getting one more client, we expect to do it on our own. And it’s OK to expect that. It’s just that, more often than not, it’s inaccurate.
The truth is, you can’t do it on your own. By time you got dressed this morning, you relied on hundreds, maybe thousands of people. You likely never meet them, but they helped you.
Honestly, the world “accountability” doesn’t quite capture the real power of partnership.
Something incredible happens when you become vulnerable and open yourself to help. When you let someone in, their mere presence changes the game. Your new future gets anchored in another person, and in your relationship. Through their support, the future becomes more likely to happen.
This change is especially tangible if you’re trying to stop a destructive behavior. There is a redemptive power of having someone walk alongside you, rescuing you from your unwanted behavior. Someone to help you be more compassionate with yourself when you inevitably mess up.
But building that accountability is risky. The risk of vulnerability. The risk of a failed partnership. The risk of not changing. (Often, these risks are well worth the potential rewards.)
Later that meeting, Derek and I established accountability around his goals. And then he texted me last week: “Hey coach, Just thought I’d let you know my eating is going really well. I’m in a good space thanks to you. Makes me really happy to have some discipline again :D :D Working together is much better than going it alone.”
So, do you need accountability? No.
But does it help a whole lot? Yes.