Relying on Accountability to Drive Change – A Weak Approach

Accountability is not designed to drive change.

It seems we hear “accountability” everywhere these days. Whether people are saying that they need to be held accountable, they are going to hold you accountable, or whether they will hold themselves accountable, it is a common idea in the self-development space when people want to make changes in their life. 

Also see:

“I want to do that, I just struggle to hold myself accountable.”

And

“I would do better if someone held me accountable.”

Here’s the truth – these two sentences don’t mean what they appear to mean. Both of these sentences communicate:

“I don’t really want to do that but I think that I should. I think that it would benefit me, but if it were up to me, I wouldn’t change a thing”

This is because accountability is addressing the surface level of why people don’t make changes and they don’t have something deeper driving them to change. The better question to investigate, though, is why don’t people have the drive to do things they say they want to do? Why do most new-year’s resolutions fail before April? Why is accountability such a popular idea with it being fragile as it is?

Outliers

We first need to cover what types of activities accountability aims to achieve, which is the outliers. The outliers are those activities that lay outside of one’s Philosophy. They are the changes that people say they want to make but are not a Value that they hold; instead, they are held as a “want” or a “nice to have”. These are the things that people like to talk about but don’t like to take action on. It takes time and work to accomplish meaningful things in meaningful ways. It takes commitment. 

These outliers, though, sit just outside of a person’s Values. They are not tied to their Philosophy, there isn’t a strategy associated with them, they don’t have their place in a person’s life. They are the out-of-town relatives that you see during the holidays rather than the family that lives in your house. You visit these outliers when it’s convenient, but they will be lower priorities to you than those things that are part of your Philosophy. 

Think about this for a second – do you need to think twice about doing those things that are part of your identity or do they just happen naturally? 

Does a smoker need to be reminded to smoke?

Does the Netflix binger need to be reminded to watch TV?

These things are not outliers to these people – they are a part of their identity, their Philosophy, and they do these things automatically. 

Until you move things from being outliers to coming into your life as a Value, you will continue to rely on these “feel-good” ideas of accountability and motivation to drive change. The changes you are trying to make are not a part of your identity yet, so you need to be pushed to do them by something external to you. As they are not a Value to you, they remain a “want” rather than a “need”. 

When the going gets tough, or when you start to hit challenges along the road, that idealization of that “want” fades. As you learn about what it really takes to get to the level of achievement you want, you start to think that maybe you don’t want it that bad or that maybe it isn’t really important to you, and you begin to regress back to your old habits and abandon that pursuit.

Accountability Is A Few Levels Too High

I said earlier that accountability addresses the surface level issues that prevent people from making change. It is a surface level solution, too, meaning that staying up at the level that accountability operates at will prevent you from diving deeper. 

The deeper dive is where you find Values, Philosophy, and Identity – the real drivers of habits. You need to get down to these levels if you want to make real and lasting changes in your life. 

Accountability will always rely on someone or something holding you accountable – even if you are a believer in holding yourself accountable. Accountability will always be a two party system; it is fundamental to how the idea works. 

Further, accountability is built upon a system of avoiding punishment for failing rather than realizing fulfillment as when you hold Values and work to live in alignment with them.

Unpacking that statement further, accountability relies on the truth that there must be some consequence for not performing. Some of accountabilities methods for doing this are:

  1. Pride – if you don’t do what you are supposed to do, you need to admit to someone that you failed to meet expectations and it is a hit to your pride. 
  2. Monetary – if you are paying for a service and not using it, you are punished by having to pay the fees you agreed to pay without getting the value that you intended to get. 

Lacking Integrity

A result of relying on accountability to drive changes in life is the lack of Integrity that comes along with it. 

Accountability drives action for discrete activities like going to the gym. When an aspiring gym-goer hires a coach, accountability to actually go to the gym is often one of the services they are paying for.

There are a few issues with this.

  1. A fitness coach can only hold someone accountable for a limited number of things.
  2. Hiring a coach to help you in the gym is a discrete activity that is often an outlier to people that feel they want to get in shape – they cannot help integrate this within the larger picture of your Philosophy.

Both of these issues point to lacking Integrity in the larger plan of one’s life. The power of living with strong Integrity is that everything you do is tied to everything else, but most importantly it is tied to your core beliefs. 

Seeking accountability to drive action often leaves you with a fragmented set of priorities and you have different people holding you accountable to each of them.

If you were to take a step back and build a cohesive set of Values that included everything that you wanted to accomplish, you wouldn’t need to be held accountable as you would begin doing these things out of necessity. They would be a part of your identity and your purpose. To not do these things would be a betrayal to yourself. 

Make the changes you want to make Values. Go deeper than accountability and motivation. Drive action for yourself because you need to be doing the different things you are doing, not because you think you want them.

Yours in strength

-Chris

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