Find an Accountability System That Works

Jan 18, 2022

Today's episode is all about accountability, accountability, accountability—how to find an accountability structure that works for you, and how to get started taking consistent action.

Hello, and welcome to the Client Attractor Show. I'm your host, Jacob Ratliff, client attraction coach and author of the new book Client Attractor, which you can find on Amazon today or get a free copy at

In yesterday's episode, I talked a little bit about my journey with first discovering I had burnout, and then how I actually handled it, once I discovered it. And one of the really big points that I brought up yesterday was that diagnosing myself with burnout was actually half the battle. Once I had figured out that “Oh, I'm really dealing with burnout,” that's when I really began to actually address it. So really, that diagnosis, so to speak, was by far the hardest part of the process. 

In light of that, today, I am going to talk a little bit about one of the other issues that really showed up a lot during this time in my life, and was an outgrowth of what I've been talking about, where I was telling myself this narrative, that I was lazy, or that I was unmotivated, and that's accountability, which is, at the end of the day, really only how you actually do the things that you say you're going to do, doing the things that you commit to doing. 

Because when a lot of us are binding ourselves in these places of inaction, one of the things that comes up a lot is what's the accountability structure? What structure do you have in place to ensure that you are going to hold yourself accountable or be held accountable by someone or something else? The truth is that there are a million different ways to go about creating a system for being accountable, but the important piece is that you actually have a system that works for you. 

This has been something that I have struggled with throughout my life, and I think it was about two years ago now, I was talking with a business coach, who was really helping me with my mindset. We spent almost an entire session talking about how I was going to hold myself accountable, how I was going to make sure that I was consistent with doing everything I needed to do to grow my business. She asked me, she said, “Jacob, what do you need in order to hold yourself accountable?” and I said, “I have no idea,” and that was the truth, I really did not know. She started to explain to me these different types of accountability structures. So did I think I might need something that was some sort of external accountability structure, like an accountability buddy? Or was it more of an internal thing for me, maybe a reward system, to keep myself motivated to stay consistent with my daily actions? 

She explained the difference between these positive and negative accountability systems, the idea of having a reward system for staying consistent versus having some sort of punishment to motivate you to stay consistent. So in that case, the thing that would be holding me accountable was this fear of experiencing something unpleasant. She asked me, she said, “Knowing what you know about yourself, Jacob, what do you think might work best for you?” And again, I was like, “I have no clue.” So I said, “Yeah, I think a punishment system sounds great and would totally motivate me.” 

She said, “Okay, so what is a political organization that you would rather die than to give money to?” and I didn't have to think about that at all. I gave her a pretty quick answer. She said, “Okay, so here's this list of things you need to do every day, consistently. How many days do you think you should miss of the system before you have to donate money to that political organization?” Again, I didn't know what to say, so I said, “Sure, you know, two days. If I skip out on two days of my daily routine, then sure, yeah, I'll donate to this organization,” and she said, “Okay, so how much do you want to donate to this organization if you miss two days of your routine?” and I said, “I don't know, $100.” 

She kind of looked at me for a second, and she said, “Okay, but is that really going to motivate you? What about if you decided to give $1,000 to this organization?” So I said, “Sure. Okay, if I miss two days, in my routine, I will give them $1,000.” So inevitably, four days later, I had missed two days of my routine, and I thought, I'm not giving them $1,000. I would never do that. The thought in and of itself was laughable. It just wasn't a motivating accountability system, because I knew that I wouldn't actually follow through with the consequences of not completing my routine. 

Now, maybe if it were $100, maybe that would have actually been more motivating, because that would actually be more realistic in terms of would that actually motivate me? Would that actually be something that I would do if I fail to follow through? Or it might have been a little bit more motivating, because it was a lot more realistic at that point for me to give $100 than to give $1,000. That taught me there's this thing with accountability, whether it's a positive or a negative kind of consequence or reward, that more extreme and more intense is not always better. At least it's not for me. 

Now, there are some people I know who if I said, “Okay, if you don't do XYZ tasks every day, you're going to donate money to this organization that you hate,” I know that that would light a fire under them and would be enough of an accountability structure to get them moving and to get them taking action. But at that point in my life, I had tried so many different accountability systems for my own business, from talking to an accountability buddy every week to working with a coach on accountability to even rewarding myself for consistency with really unhealthy rewards, like food, for example. If accountability is something you're struggling with, my first recommendation is to start with some sort of external accountability structure. 

What I mean by that is some sort of accountability system that involves something or someone outside of yourself. An accountability buddy, for instance, would be a great first step, if you have really historically struggled with accountability, and this can be your partner, a friend. One of the best accountability buddies I ever had, actually, was someone I met through a six-week group-coaching program that I was participating in. Part of the program was the coach in charge matched participants up with each other to be accountability partners. Her name was Annie, and I talked to her Tuesdays at 1pm, or something like that, for six weeks. We just had a 30-minute call, and for the first 15 minutes, she talked about what she had accomplished over the past week and what she wanted to do over the next week, and then I did the same thing. 

That was such a great example of having an accountability buddy that really worked, and I think part of it had to do with the fact that, at that point, I really didn't know her. She was basically a stranger to me at that point, and that ended up being really great. Because if I had gone to my partner as an accountability buddy, for example, I wouldn't fear as much judgment from them, because they're my partner and I know they love me, and that really, whether or not I checked all the items off my task list for the day, it wasn’t going to have a significant bearing on our relationship. But on the other hand, with a stranger, with Annie, who I really didn't know, I feared that judgment and shame a little bit more, and that prompted me into action. 

But for you, it may be the exact opposite. You may not care at all about what a stranger thinks about you checking things off your task list, but having your accountability partner be a partner or a family member, for example, could actually be really great for you, in that you care a little bit more about what they think than what a stranger thinks. Really, what it all comes down to is finding a structure and system that actually works for you, a structure and system that actually motivates you and actually works. 

This does mean that you probably have to experiment a little bit, that you have to experiment with having different accountability buddies or experiment with different accountability structures as a whole. If you keep doing that trial and error, trying to find the right accountability system, eventually you will. That's the really beautiful thing, that really, the only important thing in an accountability system is that it motivates you and that it works, and ultimately, everything else about it doesn't really matter, as long as it actually motivates you, as long as it gets you taking the actions that you need to be taking. 

If you want a little bit of homework after listening to this episode, maybe you can sit down with a pen and a piece of paper and just brainstorm five or 10 different ways that you could hold yourself accountable or be held accountable by someone else—and then try them. Try one for a week and then another for another week and see what feels good to you, and what actually lights that fire under you to get you going. 

Thank you so much for joining me for today's episode of the Client Attractor Show. Again, I'm your host, Jacob Ratliff. Thank you so much, and I'll see you tomorrow.

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