How to Set Up an Accountability Partnership

 Here's what helped me when life got a little too delicious. Photo by www.lluisbarniol.com

Here's what helped me when life got a little too delicious. Photo by www.lluisbarniol.com

There’s an unsung heroine in my life.

It’s my accountability partner.

Earlier this year, I struggled with a persistent and seemingly intractable annoyance: I was gaining weight in my new (and exceptionally tasty) life in Spain.

Having been an exchange student, I knew that gaining weight is normal when you move to a new culture. It’s okay. It’s a just a matter of getting adjusted.

It’s just that… it really bugged me.

So I exercised more. I used a diet app. I fretted as invitations to epic lunches and dinners kept rolling in. (It’s common for meals to last several hours, and have 3+ courses.)

I hated seeing the upward creep of the scale.

Plus, on the horizon, was our May wedding. I really wanted to like how I looked in our photos.

It took up more mental space than I’d like to admit. I finally brought it up to my mentor coach. “Do you have any suggestions?” I asked. “I feel like I need someone to keep me accountable.”

My coach told me about having been similarly stuck on a business project. As important as the project was to her, she regularly avoided it. So she enlisted a friend to join her in a hardcore accountability partnership. 

Here’s what she recommended:

1. Pick someone to be your accountability partner. This person should be:

  • Someone you trust and feel comfortable with
  • Seriously stuck on a personal project of their own
  • Fully committed to figuring it out

2. To get started:

  • Clarify and agree on your goals
  • Specify a reasonable time period for this intensive project (likely between two to four weeks)
  • Schedule a daily 15-minute call

3. The calls:

  • Each person shares how they did on their goal yesterday and what they commit to doing today.  
  • The other partner has a few minutes to offer words of encouragement, celebrate, or ask questions.
  • Are 15 minutes or less.

I knew exactly who to ask. My friend Amira was in the final months of finishing a draft of her first novel, a challenging task when she also had a full-time job.

She was game.

Our partnership would last the month of April. We shared what our goals were and why they were so important to us. Then, we got down to our progress markers. Amira set a daily word count. I set a daily calorie count. We would have a 15-minute check-in call every day.

Incredibly, we did it. Even with a six-hour time difference between us (NYC - Spain), we talked nearly every day, even weekends.

It didn’t matter that sometimes it was the spottiest Skype call, in the car or dashing for the subway, or outside a loud dinner party. This call was my steady, ongoing encouragement and support. Amira was my secret weapon.

After one month, we both hit our targets.

I fit my dress and loved my wedding photos. Amira was set up for a summer of writing where she’d rewrite her manuscript and submit a sample to an agent. We had helped each other to the finish line.

The most important thing I learned is that sharing my struggles with my tough and sometimes frustrating goals with someone else made a huge difference in my ability to achieve them.

Right away, I found that talking about my weight concern with Amira changed my relationship to it. It was no longer my secret struggle that I’d privately bully myself about everyday. When I put it out in the open, it lost some of its power over me. It became more manageable.

Through our calls, I also started to realize that this goal was so frustrating because there was a lot more behind it. It was all wrapped up with the fears I had about making my new home in Spain.

I had started to worry that if I couldn’t adapt to the culture (and its passion for food), I couldn’t be myself living there. I’d never be as relaxed and comfortable as I was back home. I’d be unhappy.

No wonder that my lack of progress on this goal got me so worked up. This insight in itself gave me a tremendous sense of relief.

If you have a goal that is a consistent point of frustration and struggle for you, it probably is worth your extra time and attention to resolve it.

Amira and I have since expanded our goals and have a check-in call once a week. We’re a steady, encouraging force in each other's lives. Her support was invaluable to me in my first year abroad.

Do you have a struggle in your life that you could use some help on? Who could partner with you on an Accountability Project?

Remember that you can set up your accountability project however best suits you.

Like me and Amira, if you want intensive, short-term support, so you might want h daily check-ins. This is the most extreme though.

Depending on what you're working on, it might make more sense to do half hour calls weekly, or every two weeks. Test out the frequency with your partner and adjust to what works best.

This is a powerful tool that can make a huge difference in your goals, and form a special bond between you and your accountability partner. You get support and you get to give support. Win-win.