Being accountable simply means being held responsible or answerable for your actions. This could be from an external source like a government, an employer, or a partner; or it could be more personal, like a goal that you set for yourself. Seems pretty straightforward right.
So why do so many people struggle with their goals? We’ve all been there, stuffed to the gills after the holiday season, determined that from January 1st we’re going to stop eating and start working out. Yet, come February 1st we’re lifting cheeseburgers instead of weights and joking about how we’ll start that diet next week.
I would argue that most people have good intentions, most of the time. We really do want to quit smoking because we know it’s bad for us. But logically knowing that won’t stop a nicotine addiction, a habit that has been formed over multiple years and ingrained as a personality trait in our very identity. Sure, going cold turkey has been successful for some people but it doesn’t work for everyone. Especially without some support and ongoing accountability- both internal and external.
In 2019 I successfully quit smoking. I spent months umming and ahhing, wanting to quit but struggling with the nicotine addiction, the social aspect and the routine habits. It was as much a mental challenge for me as it was a physical one. I knew that I didn’t want to be a smoker, to have that as a plague on my identity, and I wanted to prove to myself that I could quit so that I could encourage and support my future clients who might be going through the same struggles.
I started with awareness, becoming more conscious of when and why I was smoking. When I realised that a lot of my smoking was social, I actively took myself out of those situations. When I realised that it was a part of my routine, I found another activity to replace it. When I realised that it was the nicotine that I craved and that I was being a cranky bitch without it, I allowed myself to cut back slowly and I looked at how much less I was smoking than when I started. Yes, it took me a few months to go from being a smoker to entering into a smokefree life, and yes at times I felt like a vegetarian vampire. But I knew that the change was going to be a lasting part of my identity, so building a strong mental foundation when I felt sensitive was a big part of what ultimately led to my success. That belief was what inspired my internal accountability. Sure I could still smoke when no one was looking, but it wouldn’t help me change my status and that was always the intention behind the action.
By the end of 2019, I had a few people approach me about quitting smoking. As of February 2020, some have been successful in their ambition, some aren’t there yet, and some gave up on the goal (and themselves) entirely. The difference between these groups is that the first group recognised the value of accountability from the get-go. They set their milestones, they set their action steps, and they held themselves accountable by creating external accountability through sharing and even inspiring others.
The second group is still working towards their awareness and the mental attitudes they hold. They still have some excuses, some habits and some aspects of their lives they can’t change overnight, but they know that is ok. This group is focusing on making positive shifts for a permanent solution. They are not just quitting smoking, but rewiring their whole lives to be smokefree. Developing new thought patterns is not a simple adjustment, and (re)learning to be kind to oneself during this transition is absolutely key.
The third group are still struggling with their mental attitudes. They are the self-saboteurs, the ones who try to go cold turkey on day one so that they can fail on day two and say “I told you so, it was too hard so I can’t do it” without really trying. These are the people who really just want someone else to blame, they won’t take responsibility for their actions or beliefs and inevitably they won’t succeed because it doesn’t mean enough to them. I’m not saying that won’t ever change, but right now is just not the time for them to succeed because they won’t try to see how they are holding themselves back.
My clients have taught me that the different beliefs they hold about their identities are what makes them more, or less, willing to succeed in their goals. Those who can openly admit their successes and failures are able to make the mental shifts that are required to accomplish their desired outcomes.
What you believe, you can achieve. I believe that no matter the goal there are only four steps to winning. Start with awareness, follow with action, reflect with kindness and succeed with accountability.