Have you ever looked back at recent journal entries only to realize that all of the optimistic goals you wrote down never made it off the page?
Maybe you said you were going to lose 20 pounds, and actually ended up gaining five.
Or perhaps you were going to write the Great American Novel, but instead only wrote two blog post drafts, neither of which you ended up posting.
You’re not alone. A lot of well-meaning individuals find themselves in similar circumstances.
According to, research, a common reason that people fail to meet their goals is that they are too vague. Without a clear sense of what exactly you are aiming to accomplish, you can lose focus, and give up.
At other times, the goal may be too challenging (e.g. you decide you’re going to do an IronMan triathlon in two months, even though you’re haven’t run a mile in 10 years). In this case, research shows that even though hyper-ambition may improve performance in the short-term, it also may reduce your commitment and level of engagement when the going gets tough. Another common mistake is becoming so focused on the eventual outcome that you lose all intrinsic motivation to achieve the goal you set to begin with.
That said, none of these common pitfalls mean you should give up on your goals. Just because you’ve struggled to translate desires into action steps doesn’t mean you don’t have the capacity to make things happen. You probably just haven’t figured out the best work structure to support your process.
Whether you’re someone who works best alone or someone who is most inspired by collaboration, working with an accountability partner on your personal goals could be just what you need.
As the name suggests, an accountability partner is a friend or colleague who helps to hold you accountable to the goals you are setting, and each of the steps along the way.
You may love the idea of checking in with someone about your progress, or the idea may send you immediately into an anxious tailspin. Research has actually shown that setting a goal and receiving feedback results in better performance than mere goal-setting alone. Support from a coach or accountability partner has been linked to better performance and goal attainment at work and in a variety of health domains including chronic illness, diabetes management and weight loss, to name a few.
If you’re curious about whether or not you might need an accountability partner, here are some clues:
1. You keep missing the deadlines you set for yourself.
If you constantly commit that you’re going to do X by Y date, but then blow past each deadline, you could probably benefit from an accountability partner. Often, the fear of embarrassing yourself by missing the deadline you promised to yourself and to another person is enough to make you get things done. I have a lot of clients who follow through on our agreed-upon action items the day before our scheduled meetings. It might be last minute, but the fact is, they’re progressing towards their goals. A sloppy, first-draft version of an action item is better than no deliverable at all.
2. You “fall off the wagon” quickly.
If you find yourself quickly abandoning your efforts to develop new habits, then you might benefit from an accountability partner. An accountability partner can be a cheerleader who encourages you when the going gets tough, or even in those moments when change feels overwhelming.
Many people become discouraged about their goals when they find themselves fixating on the “big picture” or end result too soon. They want to reach their goal perfectly and immediately, and so not being able to becomes an opportunity for self-sabotage. An accountability partner can remind you of this pattern, support you through it, and help you keep things in perspective.
3. You’re competitive, and perform better with peer pressure.
If you’re the type of person who performs better when you have an audience or someone to compete against, an accountability partner can help. For example, I never work out as hard by myself as I do when I’m working with a personal trainer. Somehow, knowing someone is watching makes my sense of pride kick in, and suddenly I’m willing myself through additional step-ups or push-ups.
Even if you’re not comfortable asking someone to be your accountability partner, you might get some good results by using social media for support (or peer pressure). One research study even found that people who posted about their weight loss journey on Twitter lost more weight than those who were striving to lose weight, but chose not to post their progress.
4. You make a lot of excuses.
Be honest with yourself here. If you tend to make a lot of excuses for why you can’t get things done, then an accountability partner who is willing to push back and call you on it is the way to go. If you can’t count on yourself to challenge your rationalizations, then finding someone else who is willing to serve this role can help you out.
5. You simply like doing things with a buddy.
Some people simply prefer to have a partner in crime as they’re working towards their goals. It gives you someone to bounce ideas off of and a feeling of support. You could even pick similar goals and hold one another accountable.
As human beings, we are social animals, and it’s important to remember that. When we set goals, we can often be more stubborn and prideful versions of ourselves, but that stubbornness and pride can sometimes do us more harm than good. If you find yourself glomming onto the idea of a goal that you just can’t seem to make happen (even in small steps), an accountability partner might be the perfect hack for you. Seeking support doesn’t mean you’re weak—it means you’re taking action.
For more tips on working with an accountability partner, click here and here.