Nine Surefooted Ways to Hold Yourself Accountable to Your Goals
We all have goals—like eating healthy, working out, getting a promotion. And when we achieve our goals, we feel on top of the world. But if we fall off track or lack the self-discipline to follow-through we can lose sight of our plans. What you need is responsibility, accountability, and discipline to hold yourself to your actions.
“Accountability isn’t important for any sort of behavior change—it’s essential,” says Molly Carmel, LCSW-R, a trained behaviorist and author of Breaking up with Sugar: A Plan to Divorce the Diets, Drop the Pounds and Live Your Best Life. “Having some sort of accountability makes it much more difficult to throw in the towel when a goal feels hard or when times get tough, which inevitably they will. Accountability also allows you to keep a better eye on your progress, which helps you to stay motivated.”
Get that dopamine boost associated with achieving goals when you adhere to these nine ways to follow-through with your commitments.
1. Know Your Why
“When I set a new goal—especially if I want to embed it as a long-term healthy habit in my daily life—the first thing I do is write myself a note as to why,” says Liz Grantham, founder of TheOptimal.me. “I really give some thought to it and make sure that I have a compelling personal reason and am not doing it on a whim.”
Having a strong understanding as to why you want to achieve a newfound goal can hold you accountable toward achieving that goal. Like, Grantham, after you write down your goals, you can always refer back to them when the going-gets-tough.
2. Log Your Stats
We suggest breaking your big goals into smaller, more obtainable steps to help identify what to measure and track. Track your goals to boost encouragement—you can use a spreadsheet, a goal tracking app, or a piece of paper.
“It’s very motivating to check something off and look back to see that you are making progress, even when you don’t feel you are,” says Samantha Kellgren of Simply Well Coaching.
3. Choose Your Accountability Buddy
The person you ask to keep you accountable doesn’t need to go after the same goal as you. Instead, “this is someone who is willing to confront you when you veer off track, is capable of expressing belief in you when progress has gone sideways, and will celebrate with you when you reach milestones,” says Clinical Psychologist Forrest Talley, Ph.D.
Create a schedule for how often you will check in with your accountability partner and let them be 100 percent honest with you—and call you out if necessary. Getting viable feedback is key to keeping you on track.
If your accountability partner ever has to give you tough-love feedback, “thank them for their honesty, then get back to work and double your resolve to reach the goal,” Talley says.
4. Post Your Updates
After you finish a workout or write 100 pages of your book, consider putting your goals up on Instagram or Facebook and posting photos to show your achievements. When you make your goal public, you have to put-up or shut-up.
Going public with your goals gets you a ton of support from friends and even strangers, which boosts motivation, especially on rougher days.
5. Make It Impossible to Overlook
Carmel explains that reminders are helpful because “change requires retraining your brain to create new pathways so you can signal new behaviors. Left to our own devices, we are likely to forget our goals and how badly we want to achieve them, allowing us to revert to old habits without even realizing it.”
To keep your goals in sight, we recommend:
- Writing notes on Post-Its and putting them on your mirror, fridge, or laptop.
- Change your phone home screen to relate to your goal.
- Schedule daily alarms to help keep you on track.
6. Raise the Cost
“The higher the cost of failure, the more likely you are to persist when things get tough,” Talley says.
Talley suggests giving your accountability partner a lump sum of money if you do not reach your goal by your deadline.
7. Seek Professional Guidance
Whether you use a coach or join a group program led by a professional, spending that money is often highly effective in helping you achieve your goals.
“Unlike friends, family, and coworkers, when you hire someone, they are invested in your success and have the tools to help guide you to reach your goals,” Kellgren says.
Consider the following professionals that can help you reach your goal: a personal trainer, registered dietitian, health coach, dating coach, career coach.
8. It is OK to Reward Yourself
Identify key milestones along the way to reaching your goal. For instance, if your goal is to eat more at home and spend less money eating out, reward yourself when you cook dinner 10-days in a row. Have a reward for each milestone and set money aside each week that you can only use to purchase these rewards, Kellgren suggests.
Choose a reward that supports your goal—like if you want to cook at home more, buy a new cookbook or kitchen gadget to keep you on track to spend more time in the kitchen. “Small wins” can keep you motivated toward obtaining the big prize.
9. Flexibility is Key
Avoid the all-or-nothing way of thinking. When life happens, avoid throwing in the towel when you get distracted from your goals.
“If I am lacking motivation or my present circumstances make it difficult to get to the gym, I tell myself that even if I don’t do the full workout I wanted to do, I can still do something. Maybe that’s push-ups, jumping jacks, and sit-ups in my bedroom,” says Psychologist Renee Exelbert, Ph.D, CFT, CPT. “After all, your muscles don’t know if you are in the gym or sitting in front of the television watching American Idol.”