Before I became a coach, I didn't know much about coaching.
I'd heard the term “life coach” tossed around, but I didn't understand why people needed to be coached in their lives. Why would I need someone else telling me to do what I already know I should be doing?
(Now I know that coaching has nothing to do with being told what to do.)
If the coaching profession could be distilled to the single most valuable tool for clients, it would be accountability.
Coaches do many things to help clients reach their goals. They challenge them to pull ideas and dreams to the surface. They help the client determine and focus on what's most important. And they support and guide the work of creating actions and strategies for positive change.
But if the client is doing nothing in between coaching sessions, all of the hard work during the session is for naught. Quite often, the only thing standing between the client and his or her success is accountability to the coach.
If you pay good money for a coach, agree to the actions you intend to take, and promise to report on your progress the following week, it's hard to show your face at that next appointment if you haven't done the work.
A good coach will hold the client's feet to the fire and question them on why they didn't follow through. And an ethical coach will release a client who consistently fails to follow through. Coaching only works for the coachable. And coachable clients respond to accountability.
The Motivation for Accountability
We experience subtle forms of accountability all the time.
If you are working out at the gym and a beautiful woman walks by, you'll probably do a few more reps at the bench press.
If your boss asks you and your co-worker to write a report, you'll do your best work to ensure the co-worker doesn't outshine you.
If you go for a jog with your neighbor, you may push yourself to run a bit farther than you would by yourself.
Accountability can be powered by integrity, fear of embarrassment, pride, or shame. Whatever the reason for using it, accountability works. It provides the element of tension to get the job done — to make something happen that might not have happened without it. Or at least to do it better.
By putting yourself out there in front of others, you are holding yourself accountable to their good opinion of you. You are setting the bar for yourself, and then jumping up to tap it when someone is looking.
But what about when someone isn't looking?
How do you jump up and hold on to the bar to sustain new positive behaviors?
The most powerful scenario for accountability is the one you intentionally create for yourself. This is the accountability that can support you through important, sustained self-improvement.
When you are trying to make a positive change in your life — to create a habit or reach a goal — accountability can be your best friend. And it's a friendship you need to fully embrace if you really want to succeed.
My friend and master coach Steve Chandler tells the story of wanting to lose 20 lbs. He walked into his office one day and told the ten people that he'd give them each $1000 if he didn't lose the 20 lbs. in five weeks. He put $10,000 on the line. That's serious accountability. That's intentional accountability.
In the Habit Course, Leo, Katie, and I teach course participants the power of accountability during the early stages of habit creation. In fact, setting up an accountability plan is a crucial element of The Simple Method that we teach.
It's one thing to tell yourself, “I'm going to write every day.” It's another to tell yourself and dozens or hundreds of other people — and to ask those people to pay attention, to ask about your progress, to hold your feet to the fire.
Setting Up Intentional Accountability
So how do you set up intentional accountability? There is no one right way. In fact, it never hurts to set up more than one system of accountability — like an additional alarm clock to make sure you get up in the morning!
Here are some ideas for setting up accountability for your own self-improvement goals:
- If you want to achieve something big, something that has many layers or steps, and that might take several months, consider hiring a personal coach. Big change requires more accountability, because you are likely to grow tired, discouraged, or bored before the process ends. A coach will help you stay on track.
- If you want to create a specific, individual habit (like writing, meditating, running, etc.), find an online forum, support group, or blog where you can report your goals and progress. You can even use social media like Facebook and Twitter for accountability.
- If you are working on something personal, like spending more time with your children, improving your spiritual life, or creating a good hygiene habit, ask your spouse, friend, or a close family member to help you stay accountable. (Although be careful with hidden agendas or potential conflicts with spouses.)
- Consider putting something on the line to hold your feet to the fire. You may not be able to promise $10,000 if you fail to follow-through, but perhaps there is something you could promise to confirm the seriousness of your intention to succeed.
- Be sure you tell your accountability partner or group exactly how you want them to hold you accountable. Do you want to be called out if you haven't followed through? Or do you want only positive reinforcement when you get the job done? This is particularly important with spouses and family members, as you don't want accountability to feel like shaming or nagging.
If you have a self-improvement goal or habit you would like to create but haven't been ready or known how to get started successfully, I hope you will consider The Habit Course. Not only will you receive accountability from me, Leo, and Katie as we coach you through habit creation, but also you will learn all of the skills to create sustainable habits for life.
Leo will be hosting a free webinar on Monday, April 23, at 7:00 p.m. EDT, called How I Used the Power of Bad Habits to Change My Life. You don't need to register in advance. Just click on http://www.ustream.tv/channel/the-habit-course and use the password habitjedi.