“Nowhere to run to baby, nowhere to hide,” sings Martha and the Vandellas. This is the point of accountability – it acts like an insurance policy – to do what you say you will do.

If you don’t follow through with your commitments, accountability will prompt you to do so.

And yet, people run. As a business coach, a part of which involves holding people accountable, I know this intimately. Together, the owner and I set their homework to do between sessions, much of which is initiated by the owner.

And still, I listen to people’s many and varied reasons why they didn’t do what they said they would do. Of course, this doesn’t apply to all clients. And it’s not something that I tolerate for very long with one-to-one business coaching clients.

Instead of repeatedly berating yourself, with your business coach or accountability buddy as your witness, it makes far more sense to focus on how your social conditioning and identity impacts your ability to follow through.

Why don’t we do what we say we want to do? Why do we know what we need to do, but don’t do it? This is the real work of coaching.

Eroding self-trust

You’ve told yourself you want to earn more. You’ve told yourself you want more: better-fit clients, more challenging work, more meaningful work, more creative, authentic marketing.

You’ve told yourself that you’ll turn off the laptop at 5pm every day, stop check your phone every minute, on the minute, and take a proper, work-free weekend.

So what happens when you don’t do any of this? You start to disbelieve yourself. You don’t trust yourself. You demonstrate this to yourself because your actions don’t line up with your intent.

This is one of the reasons why I’m not keen on the mainstream mindset movement – because too much focus on positive self-talk and affirmations, without the commensurate actions, can erode your self-trust over time.

Being in integrity

When you’re accountable, you take ownership. You’re an active participant in your life, not a passenger watching the scenery out the window.

Being in integrity means you take responsibility for yourself, and you don’t assume responsibility for other people. You have boundaries. It’s up to you to make your dreams come true and you’re acting accordingly.

Being accountable to other people is subtly showing you how to value your work – especially when you’re prioritising your own business development tasks, not paid client work. You’re valuing your future, rather than the immediate priorities of your hours and days.

You’re building self-trust in your own resourcefulness and abilities and demonstrating your self-worth to yourself. This is integrity in action.

Highlighting procrastination

The public nature of accountability – whether you’re accountable to one person or to a group – works quickly to highlight any procrastination. When you’re repeatedly saying you’ll do something, it soon becomes clear when you’ve been skirting this.

There are very real reasons why we procrastinate – research reveals that we procrastinate to avoid difficult feelings. When our work appears technically or emotionally difficult, we run, numb, and hide.

As business owners, we procrastinate from our most important work, by doing less important work, while telling ourselves that this is necessary, too. (We can successfully do this for years.)

As social animals, we care about the opinions of others; research shows we’re far more likely to follow through on a commitment when we share it with other people, as the threat of embarrassment motivates us. This is the value of accountability.

When accountability is misused

Paradoxically, it’s precisely the social nature of accountability that can make it problematic because, like all things, accountability can be misused.

The starting point in any relationship between a coach and coachee or an accountability pod is that the people involved are equal, with healthy boundaries and respect for each other.

Treating the person who holds you accountable as a master with whom you’re seeking to put yourself into a submissive role, wishing to be admonished, or admonishing and whipping yourself, is neither constructive nor healthy.

On the flip side, whoever is holding you accountable should not be punishing your lack of follow through with shame or embarrassment. This is an unhealthy relationship dynamic.

Normalising mistakes; building resilience

When we take responsibility for our mistakes and see setbacks for what they are, we’re more easily able to keep moving.

When a good rhythm of accountability is established, it’s easier for us to see when we’ve made a mistake or experienced a setback, without losing our perspective by catastrophising.

As we normalise mistakes and setbacks, we build our courage and capacity to take risks – both of which are necessary to grow our businesses.

Emotional resilience and regulation are part-and-parcel of self-employment. Over the years, I’ve learnt to normalise setbacks, mistakes and disappointments, experience my emotions more quickly, and get myself back into a productive, upbeat state of mind.

I’ve worked with many of my clients over a number of years. Within our Hustle & Heart program community, I’ve witnessed participants who dip out due to holidays or family illness or any number of other setbacks – and, most importantly, rejoin us to refocus and recommit to their business.

We witness each other demonstrating self-trust and integrity, which encourages us to do the same. And when big goals are achieved, one tiny chip at a time, one person’s victory becomes everyone’s. Joy is contagious, after all, so why wouldn’t we share it?

What to do when you don’t follow through

The beauty of accountability is that, while the public nature of it is necessary, much of accountability is self-directed: when you see you’re not following through, you course-correct.

So what does this look like? What happens, for example, when you share and declare the same task, week in, week out, and nothing is achieved?

You have options.

You need help. You’re procrastinating because it’s difficult (technically or emotionally). So get help. Seek advice from your fellow program participants. Outsource to an expert. Stop trying to grind on, alone.

Or, you like the idea of the thing more than the actual thing. This is a tricky one because big goals always involve tasks that are difficult, complex, boring or otherwise. But it’s quite possible that you’ve set yourself a goal which is not personally meaningful, or you haven’t made it personally meaningful. There’s nothing stopping you from removing this goal, or putting it on the “five year’s time” list.

Or, you need to set a timer, apply coffee, and do this first thing in the morning. So often, the task over which we’ve been procrastinatin takes no less than 15 minutes to complete. And yet the self-satisfaction, when done, is priceless.

Exercising your muscles

Over time, the daily and weekly practice of accountability exercises your muscles to help you become more self-directed, self-motivated, resilient and resourceful.

Building habits is a practice, not an event. It’s a million tiny decisions and actions that add up to big things. It’s the daily practice of choosing the most valuable and important thing to do, and not sweating the small stuff. It’s the weekly practice of making progress towards building leverage, growing your professional reputation, pitching and promotions, raising your visibility and growing your thought leadership.

Like all things of value, it’s not simple. It’s not easy. But it’s so very worth it.

Listen to Hold me Accountable! on the pod.
Want accountability? Want to build your own capacity to hold yourself accountable? Register interest in our Hustle & Heart flagship program.