Let’s face a sad truth. Most people are bad at achieving goals. Need proof? Ask ten friends if they followed through with their New Year’s resolutions. If they match the national average, according to U.S. News and World Report, eight of your friends will admit to failure. Why is it so hard to achieve our goals, especially when it comes to improving our health and fitness (a perennial New Year’s resolution favorite)? It’s not for want of passion. We all want to change, and yet somewhere along the line, we just run out of steam.
One important component to achieving our goals that could be missing is accountability. Whether you want to lose 50 pounds, run your first marathon, or simply start working out three times a week, none of these goals is accomplished in a day. Instead, you need to embrace long-term change. That means holding yourself accountable for getting to the gym each morning, putting in those long runs over the weekend, and making healthy meals for dinner instead of grabbing fast food.
It all comes down to creating accountability so that you keep going even when your initial motivation mellows. Accountability matters, but how do you incorporate accountability into your life?
Focus on “Implementation Intentions”
Creating a clear and compelling fitness goal is a great way to begin building your accountability system, but having a goal isn’t enough. If you want to lose 50 pounds, for example, it might be easy to make healthy meals each night for the first few weeks. But what happens when you take that business trip and the boss wants to go out to eat every night or when you can’t go to the grocery store because life happens or your kid gets sick?
Writing for Psychology Today, Dr. Marwa Azab, a professor of psychology and human development at California State University, Long Beach, explains that you should try pairing your goals with implementation intentions. She describes implementation intentions as “an if-then plan that specifies the exact behavior the individual will perform in a particular situation.”
For example, if your boss insists on eating out, you’ll order a salad with dressing on the side and soup. If you simply didn’t make it to the store or your child is sick tonight, you’ll use an app to have your groceries delivered. Creating implementation intentions forces you to hold yourself accountable even in the face of real life.
Recruit an Accountability Buddy
We are all experts in making excuses to ourselves when we don’t want to follow through with our goals. We tell ourselves it’s okay to have that extra slice of cake because it’s Mom’s birthday. It’s okay to skip the gym this one time because we had to work late. It’s okay not to hit our weekend run because it’s important to spend time with the family instead.
But it’s always someone’s birthday, there will always be long work days, and there’s always something more fun to do on the weekends than running.
Instead of being accountable only to yourself, recruit an accountability buddy. This person can be your spouse, best friend, sibling, or a friendly co-worker. Just make sure your accountability buddy is trustworthy, responsible, and supportive.
The best way to work with an accountability buddy is to spell out your goal, explain the actions you plan on taking to achieve the goal, and schedule some sort of regular check-in. For example, check in with your accountability buddy each week. Show them your food diary, tell them how often you went to the gym, or how many miles you ran.
Often, just the knowledge that you have to report your progress to someone else will be enough to shut down all your internal excuses and get you to take action.
In an article for Psychology Today, Dr. Shauna Springer explained that her sister promised to hike Half Dome in Yosemite National Park with her if Dr. Springer agreed to exercise four times per week on average over 10 months. Dr. Springer wrote, “In the context of this challenge, the goal I set was not a weight loss goal, but rather one that involved building exercise into my daily life. I sustained it because I did not want to let my sister down and fail to honor the faith she placed in me.”
Recruit a Workout Buddy
What’s even better than an accountability buddy? How about someone who will tag along with you at the gym. A workout buddy is one of the best accountability partners you can have. It’s easy to skip the gym when you have only yourself to convince. It’s a whole other ballgame when you know someone is waiting for you to show up! Workout buddies can even help you exercise more, according to a study from the University of Aberdeen.
Best of all, a workout buddy can make achieving your goal more enjoyable. It’s nice to have someone rooting for you during that last heavy back squat or someone to complain to about your sore booty after a tough cycling class. If the two of you are trying to eat healthy together, you can share recipes and text each other for moral support when Gary from accounting brings a box of donuts into work.
Treat Yo’ Self
It’s nearly impossible to maintain that same level of excitement and focus you felt when you first committed to your goal. To keep your eye on the prize, you might want to… well, give yourself prizes.
Dr. Springer was inspired to kick up her gym habit when her sister agreed to hike Half Dome with her. You can surely think of a few great ways to reward yourself as you work toward your goal. Research shows that earning rewards can give you a nice dopamine hit to keep your brain happy as you take the steps needed to achieve your fitness goals. Specifically, a study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that immediate, frequent rewards for completing small tasks elicited the most interest and enjoyment from respondents. So, instead of giving yourself a trip to Hawaii when you lose 50 pounds over the course of the year, stick with smaller rewards, like a manicure or massage each month the scale ticks down.
Sign Up for a Competition
Nothing keeps you more motivated than the knowledge that you’re going to have to put your fitness to the test on a certain date. When you have a 10k race scheduled in two months, you can’t afford to skip that weekend run. You’ve got to get your miles in so that you won’t suffer on race day. Better yet, you need your training in order to beat your previous time!
Competition brings out our competitive nature. We want to best our previous effort, beat the other guy, and stand atop the podium. Look around your area and see if there are any competitions or even just a fitness charity event happening in the near future that can keep you inspired to push yourself a little harder each workout.
Hire a Personal Trainer
A personal trainer is essentially a leveled-up version of a workout buddy. Not only will someone be waiting for you to show up at the gym, but you’ve actually paid them to make sure you exercise. Personal trainers hold you accountable and keep you motivated in a variety of ways. First and most obviously, it’s hard to skip your workout sessions when you’ve got financial skin in the game. Your personal trainer will also design a fitness routine customized to your fitness level and goals. That means you don’t have to guess what to do when you arrive at the gym. Your trainer will make sure every session is an interesting challenge.
Finally, with a personal trainer at your side, you are likely to see results much more quickly than on your own. There is nothing more motivating than seeing your body change in the mirror or putting out a better performance with each workout.
If you are struggling with accountability, then it might be time to invest in yourself by investing in a personal trainer.
Creating accountability for yourself might be the most important factor in your fitness success. It doesn’t matter if you have the best fitness plan in the world if you never actually show up at the gym. Accountability matters, so if it’s time to change your life for the better, start by defining your fitness goals and then build yourself an accountability system using some or all of the suggestions in this article.
Want even more great health and fitness advice? Keep reading our informative fitness blog written by our certified personal trainers.