Imagine what you could accomplish with a system in place for establishing goals, monitoring them, and helping you make adjustments along the way. Accountability offers this—and much more.
Accountability isn’t a “fun” word. We often hear it in a negative context. And it’s counter-intuitive for us to seek accountability. However, learning to hold yourself accountable will unlock your potential to change your habits and achieve great things.
What does it mean to be “accountable”?
What does “accountable” mean? The root word tells us a lot about this: “account.” It means “able to give an account.” Giving an account implies that you’re measuring something and keeping track of it—both of which are necessary to be truly accountable. Beyond this, we can also gather that measuring and tracking takes place in the context of a relationship. Accountability can look very different depending on the relationship in question. For example, I’m accountable to the police for how fast I drive. I’m accountable to my boss for how hard I work. My family also holds me accountable to give proper time and attention to them.
If you think about it, the accountability idea applies widely to every relationship imaginable. Law enforcement, commercial trade organizations, neighborhood associations, marriages, friendships, sports teams—all these have their own forms of accountability. That is why some sociologists have called accountability “the glue that holds society together.”
What is Self-Accountability?
As with other forms of accountability, self-accountability involves a relationship—but it’s your relationship with yourself, not anyone else. In some ways, this makes it the most intimate form of accountability. Self-accountability means that you measure and track something and keep an account of your progress. It requires self-awareness, honesty, and patience with yourself.
What are some misconceptions about accountability?
In our culture, accountability often means little more than subjecting powerful people or organizations to punishment. Accountability does often include consequences—that is true. However, if accountability is viewed strictly in this punitive sense, we can overlook its real value.
Self-accountability doesn’t mean you beat yourself up each time you fail. Doing that won’t motivate lasting change, it will only discourage you. Self-accountability rather means learning from your mistakes, measuring your progress, and making incremental improvements.
Why you need to hold yourself accountable.
Can I make a pointed observation about you? You have hopes and dreams that you aren’t achieving. You have bad habits and unhealthy lifestyle patterns you need to improve. I know this because it’s true of everyone. We all struggle. We all have unattained goals.
What are your goals?
Stop for a moment and think about your goals. What do you want to do with your life? Who do you want to be? How do you want to be remembered? I’m willing to bet you reflect on these things from time to time, and you’ve probably also experienced some disappointment at your lack of progress. You need a system in place that’s going to help you get from where you are today to where you want to be tomorrow. Accountability is that system.
Accountability is the “golden ticket” to life.
Do you remember Willy Wonka’s Golden Ticket? It gave a few lucky winners access to his secret chocolate factory (not to mention a lifetime supply of chocolate!). Covenant Eyes President and Chief Operating Officer Davin Granroth calls accountability “the golden ticket to life.”
On its surface, accountability isn’t as exciting as a mysterious chocolate factory, but it actually contains a more powerful and life-changing secret. When you learn to seek out accountability, you will find yourself achieving things you never thought possible.
8 Ways to Hold Yourself Accountable
Here are some practical steps to keeping yourself accountable.
Think long and hard about what you want to accomplish.
Have you ever heard the expression “If you aim at nothing, you’re bound to hit it”? This is so important when it comes to accountability. If you don’t know what you want, no amount of accountability will help you. At Covenant Eyes, we help people overcome habitual pornography use. When someone comes to us looking for accountability, they know exactly what they want—they want to be porn-free. This is vital to success.
Set SMART goals.
In 1981, George Doran came up with criteria for businesses to set goals: specific, measurable, assignable, realistic, and time-related (S.M.A.R.T.). It’s worth looking at each component briefly.
In military strategy, you want an attack to channel an overwhelming force on a single point where the enemy is weak. This applies to goals as well. If you spread out your “attack,” you’re much less likely to succeed. If you aim at nothing you’re sure to hit it. Better to narrow the focus as much as possible and maximize your chance of victory.
Another benefit of specificity is that it’s easier to measure success. And if you can’t measure your success, then there’s no way to know whether you’ve succeeded. “Be more self-controlled” isn’t a measurable goal (mostly because it’s not specific enough). “Stop watching porn” is both specific and measurable.
This criterion applies more in a group context, but it’s still helpful to keep in mind. It means you need to know exactly who is responsible for the assignment—with self-accountability, this is always you.
Here’s a big one. Is your goal to bench press 1000 pounds? Do you want to build a rocket in your garage and take it to the moon? Are you trying to go from a minimum-wage job to six figures in one month? Realistic goals are important to keep from getting discouraged. When it comes to changing habits, we advise people to think one day at a time. Make incremental changes that will last a lifetime, don’t burn out all your effort in one go.
It’s easier to hold yourself accountable for a time-sensitive goal. This is true even if your goal is ultimately life-long behavior change. You can break these down into specific periods that will be much more manageable.
This is true even with quitting porn. Now, this might seem like a bad idea—”I need to resolve right now that I’m never going to do this again!” Deciding to quit porn for the day is much easier to accomplish than deciding to quit for a lifetime. And the lifetime decision is misleading because you still have to make the decision every day that you’re faced with the temptation to relapse.
S.M.A.R.T. goals are helpful because they allow you to break down impossibly large tasks into small and manageable ones.
Set up tracking.
This relates to the M of S.M.A.R.T. goals. But not only do the goals need to be measurable, but to hold yourself accountable you need to set up a tracking system. My wife has the goal of spending 1000 hours outside this year (specific and measurable!), and to keep herself accountable, she has a chart on our fridge to mark off each hour.
At Covenant Eyes, our Screen Accountability reporting monitors your devices for pornography and reports activity in the Victory app.
Schedule regular reflection time.
With self-accountability, the “set-it-and-forget-it” mindset is ineffective and counter-productive. You will need to spend time reflecting on your goals, your progress, and your setbacks. Many people have found journaling a vital part of their personal development. Reflection time helps you honestly look at yourself and where you stand in relation to your goals—don’t skip it, this is important.
Plan for setbacks.
Have you ever worked on a goal—like exercising every day—and you’ve had great success until you slip up and miss one day? Once you’re off the wagon, it can be hard to get back on. Have a plan for setbacks so you don’t just give up. Expect challenges to get in the way of your keeps. The reflection time can be a great place for this. Think through why you experienced the setback. Think about the mindsets, situations, and other factors at play. What went wrong?
Adjust and improve.
Don’t expect to get it perfectly. Accountability doesn’t mean just watching for failure. Accountability should be watching for areas to improve. Regularly evaluate your progress and make adjustments to your plan.
After a time, you may need to adjust your goals as well. Your self-accountability plan may reveal that certain aspects of your goals need to be adjusted. That’s OK—adjusting and improving may mean that you improve your goals or the way you hold yourself accountable as well.
Ask someone to keep you accountable.
Ultimately, self-accountability will only get you so far. Human beings are social creatures, and we need relationships to keep us going (even introverts!) This holds true for any kind of goal, but especially something like overcoming pornography.
Keep others accountable.
Sam Black is the director of recovery education at Covenant Eyes, and accountability has played an important part of his own journey away from pornography addiction into a full-time career of helping others. “I keep what I have by giving it away,” he says.
When you’ve experienced the power of accountability for yourself, you have an incredible gift that you can give to others. What’s more, as you give it to others, it will continue to strengthen your own resolve and purpose.
Why Self-Accountability Isn’t Enough
After helping people quit porn for more than two decades, we’ve learned the importance of having people to walk alongside you through life. Therapists, psychologists, and sociologists all agree accountability relationships with other people are vital.
That’s because your willpower isn’t strong enough to sustain you. If you’re struggling with a deeply ingrained habit like pornography, a self-accountability plan will only get you started on the recovery journey. But it’s not going to get you all the way there. Accountability relationships will help fuel your motivation far beyond what you could accomplish with self-accountability alone.