Accountability buddy Sam Hansen at Hilma af Klint exhibit

5 easy steps to having an accountability buddy

I pride myself in helping to un-stick people by being an action-oriented sounding board and problem-solver. I’ve noticed that one of the top reasons people get stuck on something is that they don’t have any accountability to move successfully towards their desired outcome. That outcome could be something as big as a job hunt or move to a new city, or something as seemingly small as scheduling a doctor’s appointment or blocking time to connect with family. It could even be adopting a more mindful state of being.

Without accountability, it’s easy to cite too little time, too much to do, insufficient resources, the wrong context, an initial “no”, or any number of other factors as a good enough reason to not advance a goal.

An accountability buddy is a free, easy, and enjoyable way to build accountability into your life.*

Nearly nine years ago, an Internet friend turned real-life friend agreed to join me in an experiment of an accountability partnership.** We’re still going strong, and both they and I have advanced goals related to work, health, relationships, family matters, city moves, skills, and personal projects because of it. Most of my friends don’t know Sam directly, but they have heard tell of how big an influence they’ve been in my life by holding me accountable.

Accountability buddy (n) – a person who champions your success on reaching your goals through consistent communication.

You can have this friendship and accountability too! Here are 5 easy steps to making it happen.

  1. Find a strategic accountability buddy. Ideally, this is not a person that you regularly interact with. It’s not a close friend or colleague, or anyone who is a strong presence in the communities that you are a part of. They need to be an objective sounding board and confidante, and you don’t want to bias information that you share with them for any reason. I particularly value that Sam and I work in different industries, participate in different hobbies, and live in different places. So where do you find someone that you don’t really interact with? Posting online via social media, or asking friends if they know of anyone who might be interested is a great start.
  2. Establish norms for your communications. What medium will you primarily use to communicate? How often will you communicate? Are there boundaries or frameworks for what you want to share? How will you name and follow up on challenges, and also celebrate and learn from wins? In our first few years, Sam and I would email every weekday with goals for the day, and any longer-term goals and challenges that we wanted to identify. Anything was fair game. While we’ve gone down to just Mondays and Fridays, all else has remained consistent. We follow up with questions about how big things went, check in on unfulfilled intentions, validate fears and concerns while suggesting shifts in approach, and high five victories big and small. We occasionally video chat or connect in person when we feel a need to re-calibrate or give larger updates, or if travel puts us in the same place at the same time. Some updates are short, and others longer, but all are authentic, direct, and devoid of small talk.
  3. Be vulnerable. For an accountability buddy relationship to be successful, vulnerability is key. You can’t beat around the bush. You need to name stressors, root causes, and looming fears, and also admit failure. Similarly, you need to be able to brag about things that you would show humility about around others. There can be no judgment on either side. This is rooted in a deep trust, which is essential to this type of relationship. You may not start with a high level of trust, but you need to build it quickly, together.
  4. Commit to being a consistent cheerleader and challenger. You need to believe in your buddy’s ability to achieve whatever they set out to do. You must believe that their goals are the right goals for them, rather than inserting your own ideas about what’s best. You need to be in their court always; you can’t disappear. You need to give tough love when your buddy needs a nudge forward. Empathy, curiosity, patience, and long-term investment are your essential tools.
  5. Iterate and evolve as needed, together. While it’s been nine years, Sam and I have had moments of pause and re-calibration. You can’t possibly know what you need together in perpetuity. Life happens; goals change; ability to show up well for each other isn’t always optimal. Boundaries may need establishing where you couldn’t have known to establish them previously. What’s key is each taking responsibility to reconnect and evaluate where you’re at, what’s working, what’s not, and if and how to grow your partnership together.

If any of this sounds like a marriage, or something you don’t need because you’re in a marriage or have other close partnerships, think again. What is so refreshing and helpful about an accountability buddy is that it really is all about your goals and their goals. You receive objective, dedicated support in service of your goals, with your only commitment being to give the same to someone else. Unlike other relationships, there’s no give-and-take, no inference, and no personal opinions. It removes the layers of additional obligation and history of more direct personal relationships while introducing a different type of intimacy—full transparency.

There’s not much to lose. Give it a try. Imagine what you could accomplish by following only 5 easy steps.

*This is not intended to be another “be productive during the pandemic” post. Just last week, we were focused on holding each other accountable for resting up and keeping our evenings completely free from commitments.

**If you feel a sense of deja vu and have followed my writing for some time, I’ve written about this before! The old blog archives live on, as does this accountability partnership!

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