Well-being: It takes two
Build a personal support system of accountability partners
After months - years even - of dreaming, dawdling and dallying, I have at last got to work on the creative projects that were previously all talk and no action. I can't take much of the credit on this one. I didn't discover a fountain of inspiration or an untapped well of motivation. Actually, I discovered that the key to actualising these projects was just a phonecall away.
No doubt you've heard the term 'accountability partner'. It's often used in a health and fitness context and it describes a person who tracks your progress and keeps you focused on your goals. It's also the backbone of the 'buddy system' in AA and NA.
Yet accountability has countless other avenues. Indeed, it can be used in just about any scenario where you're trying to break a habit, or take up a new one.
One of my accountability partners has agreed to read over a script I'm writing. There's a loose deadline each day, which is generally preceded by a text reminding me to stop dilly-dallying and get to work.
My other accountability partner is helping me with a book project. She sends me Google Docs which we edit together in real-time. (There's no hiding from this one.)
I was slightly terrified at the beginning of this process. It's very easy to tell people you're writing a script, but it's considerably more difficult to show these people the unfinished manuscript with all the badly drawn characters, sloppy plot holes and typos.
I felt exposed at first. Asking for help of any nature is an exercise in being vulnerable, while teaming up with an accountability partner essentially means admitting weakness. This is especially challenging if you're a perfectionist or a control freak, but it's a humbling and liberating experience in the long run.
It's also rather enlightening. One of my accountability partners is fond of reminding me that I have no more excuses. He's right. When you let somebody else track your goals, they can clearly see the hurdles that you're putting in your own way.
Or as Steve Maraboli writes: "For most people, blaming others is a subconscious mechanism for avoiding accountability. In reality, the only thing in your way is you".
Corkwoman Susan Hayes, aka The Positive Economist, touched on this subject in her book The Savvy Woman's Guide to Financial Freedom. "You already have accountability systems and accountability partners without realising it," she writes.
"It's the person that you rope into walking three kilometres with you every night when you start a diet; the study buddy who has their head in the books with you over Christmas; the friend who makes sure you don't text 'that person' when you're feeling blue after a night out".
In many ways, finding an accountability partner is simply reaching out for the support that is already there. By the same token, not all of your friends will meet the essential job requirements. It's best to avoid partnerships with people who are naturally competitive or combative.
A good accountability partner inspires you. It's a person who shares your vision and, better still, has already taken the route that you want to embark upon. A good accountability partner believes in you - and even the most self-sufficient people need someone like this on their side.
Ultimately, a good accountability partner knows your shortcomings, challenges and blindspots. This is a crucial aspect of the partnership: it has to be someone who is acquainted with your authentic self.
Perhaps this is why we don't usually rely on accountability partners outside of the health and fitness arena. We don't like asking for help that exposes our emotional weaknesses or reveals our fatal flaws.
The decline of local communities and the rise of social networks have led to a culture in which it is difficult to build solid support systems.
Often we go searching for life coaches, business coaches, mentors and counselors without using the first line of defence that a network of genuine friends can offer.
The autonomous approach certainly has its advantages (mainly that you don't have to deal with criticism). An accountability partner, on the other hand, will push you, challenge you and motivate you. There's an African proverb that is translated as: "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with others".
An accountability partner isn't just for realising tangible goals. They can help you overcome destructive thinking patterns too.
For instance, if you've started to moan or nag more than usual, ask a well-meaning friend to correct you the next time you veer towards a negative appraisal. If you have difficulty saying no, ask a trusted colleague to tell you when you've taken on more than you can chew.
If your self-esteem has been affected after, say, a bad relationship, tell someone. A good friend can help you regain your confidence after the setback. The help we need is often closer than we realise - we just have to learn where to find it and how to ask for it.
Health & Living