by Elena Greco
Typical reading time: 4 minutes
April 28, 2020
What do you think of when you hear the word accountability?
You might think of some pretty unpleasant things, like justifying your spending, meeting your employer’s demands, accepting blame for something … it’s not a fun word, right?
But there is another way of looking at that word and experiencing it in your life. What if I told you that accountability could be a great support in attaining your dreams, accomplishing your goals and living a satisfying life?
One of the hardest things about the current COVID-19 lockdown, which has kept us mostly inside our homes for a couple of months now, is that our accountability has changed radically or been removed entirely. Maybe you previously had to be at your office job at a certain time. Maybe, before the lockdown, the only time you could work on your novel was right before going to your eight-hour work shift. You had a regular schedule imposed upon you by your job, your commute, your children’s after-school appointments, your theater rehearsal schedule, or whatever your regular life required of you. Now it’s all up to you!
That sounds great at first—wow, I’m free to do whatever I want whenever I want!—but many people quickly find that without accountability, they float aimlessly, watching the hours go by, losing track of the days, wasting precious time. Imagine you’re finally back at your office job (or whatever your old life looked like) at the end of this pandemic, and you remember that you had months of time off—time that you had always dreamed of and things you would do if only you had the time—and you realize you did none of those things with the time. How are you going to feel? Let’s make sure that doesn’t happen!
Accountability is something we very much need at this strange time of hibernation without commitments demarcating the boundaries of time in our lives. It is what allows us to live the life we want to live and keep our commitments to ourselves, the ones that really matter to us. That is always the case, but it has never more important than it is now.
Many of us aren’t accustomed to creating our own accountability, since accountability is something that is imposed upon us from childhood, when most of us are required to attend school at certain hours, go to lessons or sports at certain times after school, do homework at a certain time, and keep hours dictated by our parents. In adulthood we are accountable to our boss or our professor or our client for doing certain work within a certain framework. It continues this way throughout our lives, with accountability being imposed from the outside rather from within.
But before we talk about creating accountability for yourself, it’s a good idea to be clear about what accountability is.
The dictionary definitions of accountability include answerability, reliability, honoring your commitment, taking responsibility for your actions, accepting consequences and being trustworthy. It boils down to this: I’ll keep my word.
You keep your word, you do what you say you’ll do when you say you’ll do it, or, in the event that that becomes impossible, you let the other party (or yourself) know that you will not be keeping your word and what you intend to do about that.
Another part of the equation in accountability is accepting consequences; that is, there’s a consequence to not keeping your word, to not meeting your promise within the agreed-upon parameters. That is, something negative will occur if you do not keep your agreement.
Accountability usually requires specifics: I will do X by a specific time or date. It can also be ongoing: I will make sure you always have the most current report.
Accountability means keeping your word, to others or to yourself, with regard to a specific action, and that there is a consequence for not keeping your word. This is a beautiful thing!
What’s so great about accountability? Accountability helps us by keeping us honest with ourselves and allowing us to move forward in life in our quest for transformation and progress. Simply put, if there are meaningful consequences to my not keeping my word, I will likely keep my word, and in doing so, I will achieve my goals and dreams.
If I create stakes or consequences to not keeping my word, this helps me keep my word—and to live my life as I intend to live it.
You can be accountable to yourself or to others, but being accountable to someone else is usually more effective. You’re less likely not to keep your word to another person than you are likely not to keep your word to yourself. That’s because you know that your trustworthiness and integrity in the eyes of the other person is diminished when you don’t keep your word to them. But some people will keep their word solely because they understand what not keeping their word means for their own happiness, progress and transformation.
Example: If I’m accountable to no one, and I say to myself I want to exercise every day, how likely is it that I’ll exercise every day? Eventually I’ll have a reason or excuse not to exercise on a particular day, and then on another day, and then on every day. What happened to my commitment to exercise every day? It goes nowhere and eventually disappears. But if I’m accountable to another person, if I make a commitment to them that I’m going to exercise every day, if I know the importance of keeping my word in my life, and I know that I’m going to have to tell that person whether or not I exercised, I am much more likely to keep my commitment to exercise every day. Provided, that is, that my word means something to me, something we’ll look at below. So it generally works best to be accountable to another person.
The exception is that if you hold your commitment to be sacred (valuable), then it would be a sacrilege to you for you not to keep your word to yourself; in that case, it works to hold yourself accountable.
How much value you place on the act of commitment and how much value you place on keeping your word will determine how likely you are to keep your word to yourself or others. For our commitment to hold us accountable, keeping our word has to mean something to us.
Accountability means keeping your word—to yourself or others—with regard to a specific action, that there is a consequence to not keeping your word, and that keeping your word means something to you. The benefit to creating circumstances in which you’re accountable is that you can be certain of reaching your goals and living a life that you’re proud of!
The next time you have a goal you want to reach, and you know it might be a bit difficult for you, share your goal with a committed friend, acquaintance, colleague or group. Alternatively, if you know the value of commitment and hold your word to yourself as sacred, make an agreement with yourself to reach your goal. Make it real by putting it on your calendar or writing it down. Either way, make sure you give the goal clear parameters as to action and time frame.
Accountability helps us continue to take actions that support our progress in life. It allows us to reach our potential, to accomplish our goals, to manifest our dreams. It Increases the likelihood of our using our time beneficially instead of wasting it. It encourages us to have honor and to dream big. It gives us some control over our lives. It builds self-trust. It gives us satisfaction, pride and self-esteem.
It allows us to author our destiny.
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