Monday, January 13, 2014

Commitment And Accountability

Well, we are a little over a week into the New Year, and by all of the news accounts, many people have already gotten sidetracked from those pesky New Year’s Resolutions and some people have just downright abandoned them already. We are not even two weeks into the year people! So what gives? Why do people give up so easily?

This week I’ve been involved in several conversations or read in several places about people and their “commitments” to do things. What is a commitment? According to, a commitment is “a pledge or promise; an obligation”. There is a popular quote about commitment that says, “Commitment is doing the thing you said you would do long after the mood you said it in has left you.” But that’s not what happens. People make commitments all the time. Why does one person keep that commitment and another does not? Why are we so quick to commit to things we know we will not follow through on?

Again, in these conversations and reading, another word has surfaced time and time again. And in my mind, this word is what makes the difference: Accountability. According to, to be accountable means to be “responsible to someone or for some action”. Being accountable changes the dynamic of your commitment. It makes it real. If you are not accountable, you can’t let someone down.

Something I read this week said that most people make New Year’s Resolutions each year, but in reality could use the same list each year because nothing changes from year to year. I alluded to this in my last post. And most people don’t reach those resolutions because they aren’t holding themselves accountable. In my opinion, the people who don’t hold themselves accountable don’t REALLY want what they are committing to. If they did, they would find a way to get there. I know that may make some people mad or cause some controversy, but that’s my true opinion. It goes back to what I said about getting out of your comfort zone. If you truly want something and you tell someone (to hold yourself accountable), you are more likely to go out of your comfort zone to get there.

I think people really need to think about WHY they commit to something, why they want to achieve what they say they want to achieve, and then figure out what kind of accountability factor will help them reach that. For instance, let’s go back to people who make a goal for a race. Some people want to achieve a faster time. Some people want to race a new distance. If the goal is to reach a faster time, what’s behind that goal? Is it to impress others? Is it to know that you improved yourself over the previous year? Is it to finally qualify for Boston, which has been a goal all along? Do you want to do a longer distance to see the impressed looks on people’s face when they find out you’ve done a race of that distance? Do you want to challenge your body to see what it is capable of? Do you just really enjoy the long training that comes with longer races (because you secretly know you may also lose a little weight along the way)? There is nothing wrong with any of these reasons, but your goal isn’t just going to happen. You have to put in the work along the way.

To achieve a faster time, people are going to have to train more and/or train faster. To hold themselves accountable, a great thing for them to do would be to find someone to train with them. If you know someone is waiting on you to go for a run, you are more likely to show up. Find someone who is faster than you and train with them once a week. If you want to race a new distance, sign up for it and tell everyone what you are training for. Post your training on some kind of log or social media every day where people can see if you did the work or not.

This kind of accountability is good, but still does not always work for some people. Why? I believe it’s because there is something they are afraid of that they are not facing. As a personal trainer, I’ve learned that sometimes there are deeper issues as to why a person won’t push hard in a workout or why they continually struggle with what they eat. I see this. I can see two different people who say they have similar goals (say to lose 20 pounds) do the same workout. The difference is that one gives the workout everything they’ve got. You know it’s what they want and they are willing to put in the work to get there. The other shows up and does the workout, but doesn’t push. Why? What is it that is holding that person back? What are they afraid of? People need to address these fears. As one of my yoga teacher training books says, however, “If we are to address our fears, we need to know the difference between the fears that keep us alive and fears that keep us from living.” (Deborah Adele, Yamas and Niyamas)

I also believe that another form of accountability is money. No one likes to “lose” money. For instance, when I signed up for my first Ironman triathlon and paid over $500 for the entry fee, I was motivated to get the workouts done. I knew that I needed to train so that I was ready on race day or otherwise, I could have just walked to a toilet and flushed that money down. I wasn’t going to let my entry fee go to waste. I’m even like that for a $30 race. If I pay, I’m showing up and racing.

But to hold myself accountable for my workouts, I also made plans. I don’t mind running long by myself, but I do not like doing long bike rides by myself. For those really long rides, I made sure to have other people meet me, even if they could only do part of the ride. I’m not really a big fan of open water long distance swims either, so I’d meet a group of friends for open water swims. And when training for a 60 degree swim at Arizona, there were a few times those of us doing the race would meet to swim in cold water and make sure we were use to it. I would not have done it by myself. I know that, so I made myself be accountable to other people.

Having to spend money hurts the pocketbook. People always want something for nothing. But when you get something for free, does it have as much meaning? Maybe it does and maybe it doesn’t, but I know that when I offered a free run group at church, most people did not stay committed. I had about 30-40 people at an information meeting and I had over 20 people show up that first week for the group run. Slowly, over time, people have stopped coming. I still have a committed few – the ones who said they want to run a half-marathon and SIGNED UP (spent their hard earned money on the entry fee). Those are the ones who still come. Or the ones who have a longer term goal of a bigger race in the future. They still come. And sure, there are a couple more who come when they can, but for the most part, the commitment level has dropped. I wonder if things would have been different had I charged for the program. Sure, I may not have gotten as many to begin with, but would those who did come have been more committed? I don’t know the answer to that.

There are always exceptions to every rule, but I believe people need to really think about why they agree to “commit” to something and then they need to find a way to be “accountable” for that commitment. Otherwise, it’s just not going to happen.

What do you want to commit to? What is holding you back? What are you afraid of? What can you do to make yourself more accountable?

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