A is for Accountability
What is accounability and why is it so important? What are the two biggest fears people have being held accountable? You'll find answers to these questions and more in this post.
This is the first post in a series that I’m calling A to Z. You can find other posts in this series here.
In each post I explore a concept or idea and share my reflections and insights on why it’s useful or important. To start with, I thought I might choose to write about acceptance, but I’ve written about it before and accountability just feels right.
What is accountability?
Accountability and responsibility are related but distinctly separate terms. Responsibility or ownership is the obligation to complete a task or comply with a given set of rules, whereas accountability refers to the measurement or results of these actions.
We take responsibility and we accept accountability. Taking responsibility or ownership is action oriented. It helps us get the right things done. Whereas accepting accountability or being held accountable shows us how well we took responsibility and invites a reflective process.
The word accountability comes from the latin accomptare (to account). It’s a way of measuring alignment between our intentions and our actions. In order to practice accountability you need some form of metric to evaluate. Here’s a practical example: as I’m writing this, I’m on day 19 of a 21-day accountability challenge.
I’ve committed to my group to write for 21 minutes for 21 days. So every day I set my alarm for 21 minutes and start writing. I’ve chosen to be accountable to this group and once my alarm goes off I send a screenshot of my phone to my WhatsApp group. Others in the group also post to the group each day as they complete their tasks.
The example above is an example of group accountability. Taking ownership of something that you need or want to get done for 21 days is a fantastic short-term strategy to help you build momentum and establish good habits. It consists of four basic steps:
- Decide what you’re going to be accountable for (what am I responsible for doing?)
- Tell someone what you’re committed to (make a commitment)
- Do it
- Report back to the group so they can hold you accountable
Self-discipline is an expression of personal accountability. But self-discipline sounds rather vague. The more specific we are the easier it is to measure. For example, one of my commitments to myself is to live a healthy life so that I can be of service to others (and reduce my own suffering of course). This means that I make sure to eat well, sleep well, exercise regularly and cultivate healthy, positive relationships.
If I have no-one to hold me accountable then I must be accountable to myself. When I practice the things I listed above, I feel good. When I don’t, I know it, and I don’t feel so good about it. This is my conscience or inner compass guiding me. I like to avoid feeling bad about myself so generally do what’s good for me to avoid the pain of disappointing myself.
This is what living a values driven life is all about. You know what’s important to you and your sense of inner accountability ensures that you do it. Sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Of course, all of us face obstacles on the path.
I’ve noticed from running WhatsApp accountability groups that people are afraid of being held accountable. I think there are two main fears: fear of failure and fear of commitment.
Fear of failure
If I don’t make a commitment then I can’t fail. The problem with this is we all want to achieve things in life, whether we admit it or not. This fear of failure is actually fear of disappointment.
Disappointments are very difficult to deal with, despite all the opportunities life gives us to practice acceptance. But our fear of failure can also be paralyzing, stopping us from even getting started on a project.
Another way of looking at failure is that it’s just learning. All human development is based on failing over and over again until you don’t. After all, that’s how we all learn to walk.
Fear of commitment
The fear of commitment is concerned with losing agency, control or power. If I commit to something publicly then it may feel like others have power over me, because I said I would do something. While we are social animals and cannot exist in isolation, there is at the same time a fear of others and the power of the group. If I don’t commit to being a part of the group then the group has no power over me.
Making a commitment is scary because it opens up the possibility of clearly and publicly failing. Gulp! We also give up some independence when we make a commitment and autonomy, control and independence are highly valued by most of us. But modern society masks our lack of independence – we are all deeply dependent on others, our environment and the planet.
While these fears can be rationally explained and justified, they are just fears and if we allow them to rule our actions then we lose out on so much we could be doing and being.
Holding up a mirror
There is another aspect that’s offered by group accountability, and this is the act of supporting and holding others accountable. It’s a great honor and privilege to experience because it’s a sign of trust. Someone trusts me enough to overcome the two fears mentioned above and invite me to hold them accountable. I also meet them in my own vulnerability through making my own commitment to both them and the group in turn. It’s a beautiful thing!
Accountability is a powerful tool to get things done and draw you closer to others. Group accountability also builds trust and community. If you’re feeling curious after reading this article then I invite you to sign up to my 21 day WhatsApp accountability group. Who knows what you could achieve and you may even make a new and unexpected friend in the process!