“In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.”
~ Eleanor Roosevelt
In this blog, I’m going to talk about accountability. As a coach, it’s a topic that comes up often when I am talking to potential and existing clients, which has prompted me to really think about the role of accountability in the work I do and in the success of my clients. I’d like to share my thoughts on the topic with you, in the hope that they are helpful.
Years ago, when talking to potential clients, if they seemed too focused on needing a coach for accountability purposes (i.e. someone to keep them on track with their goals), I saw this as a red flag. Why? Because it always concerned me when people were too fixated on something external for their success. It was my firm belief that accountability was an inside job. I’ve softened on this over the years, because I’ve seen in my own business journey, how powerful some external forms of accountability can be.
In my recent musings on the subject, however, I’ve come to the realisation that internal accountability — our ability to keep our promises to ourselves — is crucial, if we are to have any chance of using other forms of accountability successfully. For example, it’s no good hiring a coach or joining a mastermind, if you consistently fail to take any action between the calls.
Over the years I’ve worked with hundreds of business owners, some who with a little guidance and strategic direction, dive right in, get the work done and enjoy success as a result and others who with the same, consistently fail to take action and struggle to move forward. As a coach, I’ve been obsessed with understanding why this is for as long as I can remember. What I now know is that without some level of internal accountability, no amount of external structure or support can truly help. When we can get ourselves to a place where there is self-trust, a commitment to something important and a willingness to show up for ourselves and the work that matters, with just a few additional support structures, we’re able to achieve things we might have previously thought impossible.
That’s how it’s been for me anyway. I haven’t always been good at follow through. In fact, in my twenties, I was terrible at it, so much so that people rarely paid attention to my lofty goals, because they knew that while I talked a good game, I rarely backed it up with action. Now in my mid-forties, I’m fairly confident that no matter what I set my mind to I’ll achieve it and most of the people who know me well would say the same.
So what changed? Well first and foremost, I healed my relationship with myself. Unfortunately there is no quick fix to this one, my journey included years of therapy, various trainings, lots of yoga and meditation, many healing modalities, hundreds of books and several years of coaching.
What was central to all the work I did, was learning to love myself. It was changing my internal dialogue from one of criticism and hate to one of support and love. When I was younger I used to joke that I was my own worst enemy. Now I can’t believe that I ever thought that was something to laugh about.
Once I moved into a much healthier relationship with myself, I noticed how much easier it was to stick to my promises to myself and others. It became easier to face my fears and do things that previously, I could never have imagined possible, it became easier to focus on deep work and spend time creating things that mattered to me. These days it’s not uncommon for me to hear comments from people like: “I just don’t know how you do everything you do!”, people (friends, colleagues, clients) regularly make comments on my ability to get things done. And the best part is that I’m not working crazy hours or killing myself to do it. I only work 6 hours a day, 5 days a week and I don’t work evenings or weekends. I even manage to enjoy a long two hour lunch with my boys in the middle of my working day and (for the most part) call-free Fridays.
Structures for success
When I sat down to really think about why this is, it became apparent just how many structures for success I have in place — check out this article for 10 such structures I have in place to support my weekly writing habit. Structures for success is the name I give to anything that helps me to succeed in achieving the results I want. I thought it might be helpful to share some of these with you.
A plan, goal or vision
I’m a perpetual planner, as a former project and program manager, I knew only too well how important a solid and well thought out plan is to the success of any project. Without a plan, we have no idea what we’re trying to achieve, what is required to achieve it or when and how those things will get done. I also believe that the gold is in the planning and that once done, we can give ourselves some freedom around how we implement the plan, safe in the knowledge that we’ve thought through all of the variables.
My big why
Knowing why the work I’m doing is important to me is crucial for getting through those moments when I’d rather be doing something else. A question I like to ask myself when my why feels distant, is what’s the alternative? If I think about this question in terms of working on my business and making my business a success, then I can quickly tap into why following through on creating content for my audience or on delivering work for my clients is so important. The alternative to doing work that I love and that has an impact is going back to the life I had before, working for someone else, watching the clock and spending my days working on things that don’t truly have an impact nor give me the joy, fulfilment and financial rewards I currently enjoy.
A daily schedule
Some people get overwhelmed when they see my rather full, color coded schedule but having clarity about what needs to get done each day and when I’m going to do that work is precisely what stops me from getting overwhelmed. As my business has grown and I’ve taken on more and more clients, I’ve had to get super organised with my schedule. This never feels restrictive, instead the opposite, I have a schedule that tells me what to do and when, so that I get everything I need to get done to keep my business running without having to work overtime or sacrifice quality time with my family. Without that schedule, for sure I’d be operating in a state of chaos and overwhelm, constantly trying to catch up.
This has been a game changer for me. I used to use Focusmate which I like in the main, but it has one too many things that frustrate me, not knowing who will turn up and if they will turn up, people turning up late and people not following the rules laid out by the platform. Most of the time this wasn’t the case but for the handful of times it has happened, it derailed my whole working session. Thankfully, one of my clients has created a wonderful alternative in the form of mindful coworking, where a group of us regularly meet for movement, guided meditation and deep, focused work. What I can get done in a 52 minute cabin session is double what I can do alone.
I don’t work full time with a coach these days, but when I’m struggling to move forward on something, I won’t hesitate to book a session with my business mentor to talk things through. Coaching has always been a catalyst for me and I find it really helpful to talk things out with someone who has more experience than me.
There are for sure, other things in my accountability toolkit but I’ll leave it there for now. The main purpose of this blog, for me, was to share with you the distinction between internal and external accountability and the importance of doing the work to facilitate the former before trying to use the latter.
I’d love to know what comes up for you as you read this blog. Has this been your experience? Do you find accountability useful? Or have you tried to use external forms of accountability with little success?
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