Accountability is what keeps us all on track, but most of us struggle when we’re answering only to ourselves — especially when it comes to health and wellness.
Add in work stress, family obligations, and the constant presence of unhealthy food, and staying accountable becomes extremely difficult.
But if you want to have a long, healthy life, then sooner or later, you’ve got to figure out how to hold yourself accountable, even when (or, perhaps, especially when) life gets complicated.
Searching for accountability could be why you joined the Whole Life Challenge (or are considering it). Becoming part of a group aligned around a common goal is a great way to stay accountable, and the Whole Life Challenge is designed to create lifelong healthy-living habits. But that isn’t the only way to create accountability for yourself, so we’re going to let you in on a few of our secrets (which are really not “secret” at all).
Here are four tools for staying accountable for the long haul — all of which you can enact on your own, but all of which are also built into the Whole Life Challenge.
1. Writing Things Down Creates Accountability
It may seem trivial, but the simple act of writing down your goals increases your accountability and your chance of success. One study found that writing down a goal makes you 42% more likely to achieve it.
One theory to explain this phenomenon is that we use our right brain to think about goals, and our left — or logic-based — brain when writing. By putting our goals into writing, we tap into both hemispheres of the brain and this could help cement the idea in our minds. At the very least, if you write something down and put it in a prominent location, you’ll have a daily reminder (i.e. accountability) of what you’d like to achieve.
This is why when you register for the Whole Life Challenge, we ask you about your goal and also part of why we ask you to “reflect” each day.
2. Concrete and Specific Goals Increase Accountability
Imagine you’re throwing a dinner party, and you’re rushing around the kitchen in the last frantic moments before the meal is served. A friend wanders in and says, “You look busy. Can I help?”
Now rewind the scene. But instead of asking you a question, the friend walks into the kitchen, sees several platters of food, and says, “I’ll take these to the table for you.” Generic offers of assistance are well-meaning, but not particularly helpful. The person who arrives with a specific action is the true lifesaver.
When you’re trying to hold yourself accountable, be the second person — make your goal(s) specific and concrete. A promise to “eat healthier” is too vague. Instead, pledge to cook dinner at home five out of seven nights. Suddenly you have a specific, achievable goal and a metric by which you can hold yourself accountable.
This is why the WLC includes before and after self-assessments. In addition to body measurements, a baseline workout, and before-and-after photos, you can test your blood lipids and blood glucose pre- and post-Challenge. The WLC Self-Assessment also asks you to reflect on how the lifestyle changes have affected your mood and sense of well-being. These are all great ways to measure success — and therefore encourage accountability.
3. Accountability Means Celebrating Progress and Milestones
People often focus on the final goal and neglect to honor the smaller milestones they achieve along the way. But when you only celebrate the end result, it’s easy to get discouraged, especially when you’re in pursuit of a lofty goal.
The other problem, and this is a big one, is there’s no finish line when it comes to health and wellness. Even if you reach your goal weight or run a marathon, you still have to keep eating well and exercising for the rest of your life if you want to be healthy. Big goals are wonderful, but it’s important that you take time to recognize your smaller achievements in pursuit of your bigger goal. Acknowledging your progress will give you a boost and encouragement to keep going.
Many people mistakenly think accountability is about punishment, but it’s really a way to mark progress, recognize important milestones, and stay on track. For example, if you are training for a marathon, celebrate when you first run more than ten miles. If you are trying to improve your nutrition or lose weight, give yourself a pat on the back for going a week without drinking any soda.
In addition to a reward for achieving a specific goal, try building in incentives along the way — both positive and negative, depending on what motivates you. You could require yourself to donate to an organization you hate if you neglect to exercise three times a week as planned (ouch, right?). A more positive motivation idea is to incorporate your incentive into the task. Why not walk the couple miles to your favorite coffee shop, with the latte at the end as your reward?
The Whole Life Challenge is all about the baby steps, but we certainly like to celebrate, too. That’s why we build bonus tokens into the game. Eat well for four days, and you’ll earn an Indulgence Bonus to use for a small treat. Exercise consistently and sleep well, and you’ll earn a Rest-Day and Night Owl Bonus. We don’t believe in perfection — we think real progress comes from practice.
4. Accountability Increases When You Tell Friends and Family
Whatever your goals are, it’s beyond helpful to have face-to-face support from family and friends. One study showed people who posted progress photos and shared them with others lost almost a pound more per week compared to those who kept their progress to themselves.
So, don’t keep your goals a secret! Tell your coworkers you want to avoid the break room treats, and they’ll be there to remind you of your goal when donuts appear. Even better, enlist a friend to join you in achieving your goal. Solidarity benefits accountability.
While being on a team isn’t a required part of the Whole Life Challenge, we definitely recommend it. You can join a team of people you actually know “in real life,” or you can join a virtual team of people from your city, country, or around the world. Seeing other people have struggles and successes, and sharing yours, will keep you motivated, inspired, and on track.
Review: How to Stay Accountable
Being accountable is about taking the time to set up systems that contribute to your success. Remember these four simple steps:
- Write down your specific goals
- Track your progress
- Celebrate milestones
- Share your intentions with family and friends
Even integrating one of these strategies will help you stay the course, but working toward all four can truly empower you to achieve your goals.