When it comes to changing your habits and improving your health, you’re probably not lacking knowledge. You know what to do to become healthy, vibrant, and strong. However, knowing and doing are two different things.
I teach my coaching clients how to listen to their own wisdom, life experience, and knowledge. We put knowledge into practice with small, incremental lifestyle changes that give them more energy, better sleep, stronger digestion, and mental clarity. The habits are simple, but not always easy. Making habits stick takes effort!
Will Power is not The Answer
I used to think that willpower was the answer to making changes in my life. I’ve tried many times to restrict my behavior using sheer willpower. I can control and restrain for a while, but eventually my willpower runs out, and I rebel. Often the rebellion ends in a setback, leaving me with even more work to do.
As I learned the concept of habit evolution, I learned the secrets to making habits stick. One of the secrets to lasting change is found in the power of our dynamic groups who hold us accountable to the changes we commit to making.
Accountability, and Why it Works
Psychologists, researchers, and thought leaders offer science-backed techniques and insights that allow us to make habits stick. One of these techniques is accountability.
To be accountable essentially means to comply with an expectation. When you or someone else is expecting you to do something, you are accountable to do that thing. Dr. Robert Cialdini, author of the book Influence: Science & Practice is an expert on why people comply with expectations. Dr. Cialdini’s work has shown that peer influence is a powerful motivator, especially when it comes from a person or group we feel personally close to.
This is peer-power – the influence of an expectation from outside yourself that motivates you to comply with the goals you’ve set. A study done at Dominican University found that accountability among friends is effective in helping people achieve goals. More than 70% of study participants who sent a weekly progress report to a friend achieved their goals (completely achieved or nearly achieved).
Make Peer-Power Work For You
Not everyone responds the same way to expectations. Your unique nature influences how you comply or don’t comply with internal and external expectations. Author Gretchen Rubin offers a framework for understanding how we respond to expectations in her book, “The Four Tendencies.” Rubin organized the patterns into four types, or Tendencies:
- Obliger: Meets external, resists internal expectations
- Questioner: Meets internal, resists external expectations
- Upholder: Meets internal and external expectations
- Rebel: Resists internal and external expectations
Understanding your tendency is the key to using peer-powered accountability effectively.
Classic Accountability: Peer-Powered Partnerships
Accountability can take a number of forms. Many people find that working with an Accountability Partner helps them stay on track with their goals because it is easier to work with others than go it alone. However, accountability partnerships rely heavily on external expectations, and not everyone responds to external expectations naturally or easily (i.e. Questioners and Rebels). The key lesson from The Four Tendencies is that each type has a different way of dealing with expectations from internal and external sources. Understanding your tendency (and your partner’s) will help you successfully support each your action partner.
I have seen the power of accountability partnerships in my own life and in the lives of my course members. Knowledge of your natural Tendency, can help you take advantage of an accountability partner and avoid potential pitfalls.
The Tendencies At Work
Obliger: Easily meets external expectations, but struggles to meet self-imposed expectations
This most common tendency probably explains why the Dominican University study found that 70% of participants significantly or completely met their goals with the support of a friend who they reported to weekly. Obligers are naturally well-suited to accountability partnerships because they naturally meet external expectations. They thrive with a partner who check-ins consistently and encourages their progress. Obligers notoriously give more to others than to themselves. Using an accountability partnership can be an excellent technique for consistent inner work that Obligers may otherwise easily let slide.
Questioner: Meets expectations when there is a clear and meaningful reason to do so.
Questioners must satisfy their need for information and understanding before committing to expectations. Once committed, they naturally follow through on expectations. Questioners can benefit from an accountability partnership, but will need to be clear on what, why, and how the partnership will take shape. Making clear agreements about what the partnership will look like, how partner will support each other, how long the partnership will persist, and how partners will address resistance, conflict, and noncompliance will help a Questioner be an effective accountability partner.
Upholder: Naturally meets internal and external expectations without difficulty
Those who are Upholders don’t necessarily need to have an accountability partner to meet their own goals because they naturally meet their own internal expectations. However, Upholders make great accountability partners when they understand that their natural tendency can be a great support to others. It’s important for Upholders to remember that most people do not easily meet their inner expectations, so they will likely need to offer lots of patience and compassion to their partners. Deepening the qualities of patience and compassion could be a fantastic fringe benefit from an Upholders accountability partnership.
Rebel: Resists all expectations in favor of flexibility, creativity, and freedom
For those who resist internal and external expectations, accountability partnerships may seem an odd strategy, but Rebels can be similar to Questioners. Clarity about how a partnership will work sets Rebels and their partners up for success. Rebels will want to be creative and define flexible parameters that don’t feel confining. Rebels need the partnership to be convenient. The best accountability partners for Rebels are Obligers and Upholders, who use external expectations to meet their goals. A Rebel who embraces that her role is not only about meeting her own goals, but also to support her partner may be more likely to show up.
Make the Most of An Accountability Partnership
The busy, working moms in my coaching group use The Four Tendencies to help them navigate their accountability partnerships with ease. If you haven’t figured out your “Tendency” yet, take the Four Tendencies Quiz. (Bonus: You can also learn how to match your self-care to your Tendency in this blog by Yoga Health Coach, Kristen Polzien.).
Ready to supercharge your growth with peer-power? Make a clear commitment to yourself and your partner. Hold each other accountable, and behold the power of your loving support and encouragement as you become the next amazing version of you.