Accountability Partners

Why They Don't Work and What We Should Really Call Them

Accountability partners and accountability groups seem to be pretty popular these days. You decide that you want to commit to changing something about yourself. Maybe you want to exercise every day. You know it will be hard to keep your commitment, so you ask someone to help you and coach you to keep that commitment.

My wife, Taryn, and I have been a part of these types of groups. They sound noble on the surface, but, speaking from experience, here’s why I think accountability partners don’t work.

Merriam Webster’s Dictionary defines accountability as:

an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions

Accountability partners don’t work because, ultimately, we don’t want to be accountable. If we did – if we want to take responsibility for our own actions – we wouldn’t need an accountability partner to do it for us. We would already have the desire and the drive to work through achieving the goal on our own. I have always said, “If it’s important enough to you, you don’t need an accountability partner.”

The simple act of setting up an accountability partner says you aren’t that committed to being responsible for your actions. It’s an admission that, “This is going to get hard and I’m not committed enough to make it through those hard times by myself. So, I need to get some help.”

That setup is doomed from the beginning. If you can’t be honest and accountable to yourself, how do you expect to be honest with your accountability partner? The conversation will go something like this:

Partner: Did you exercise today?
You: Yes.
Partner: Did you eat healthy today?
You: Yes.

What wasn’t communicated to your accountability partner was, “When I exercised, I didn’t do my best”, and “I ate healthy for breakfast and lunch, but I was terrible at dinner”.

Let’s face it. Accountability partners aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

But before you call me a cynic, let me try to redeem myself.

What Accountability Partners Should Really Be Called

While I can argue the merits of an accountability partner, I can’t argue the merits of an encouragement partner. “Encouragement partner” doesn’t have quite the ring to it as an accountability partner, but I think it more accurately describes what we are looking for in these types of relationships.

If you’re looking for accountability from someone else, I would encourage you to take a serious look at yourself. Accountability can only come from you. Look again at the definition, “…willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own actions.”

But if you’re looking for encouragement from someone else, that’s an entirely different scenario. There is no doubt that getting encouragement from others helps us toward our goals and even helps us toward keeping ourselves accountable.

When we are trying to change our actions, and we hit those hard times, there is nothing more encouraging than hearing, “You’re doing a great job!” or “You look great!”.

Earlier this year, Taryn started a closed Facebook group called “Intentionally Refining Your Home”. In this group, she teaches how to maintain your home by working on it minutes each day, so that you aren’t scrambling at the last second when a guest drops in unexpectedly. She encourages you to shine your sink before going to bed as one of the daily tasks.

When the pictures of shiny sinks start showing up on Facebook, people see the pictures and are encouraged to shine their own sink. Although some may think of it as an accountability group, there really is no accountability, only encouragement. You (and the people you live with) are the only one who knows how clean your home is. You are accountable to yourself.

If you want an accountability partner, start having regular accountability meetings with yourself. (You can ask God to show up if you’d like too.) But, if you want to get an encouragement partner or start an encouragement group, go for it.

Here are three encouragement partners I would suggest:

  1. Your spouse! This is the person that is (or should be) the closest to you. Your spouse knows your strengths, but he/she also knows your weaknesses. Have a conversation with your spouse about what you’re trying to accomplish, discuss the areas you’re concerned about, and ask him/her for encouragement in that area.
  2. An exercise partner. Whether you run together, hit the gym together, or agree to workout separately, it’s always nice to have someone to go through it with you and encourage you when you’re struggling. When the alarm goes off at 5:00, sometimes you need the encouragement that comes from not wanting to disappoint your partner.
  3. A bible study partner. Having someone to bounce ideas off of and to discuss topics more deeply can make the study more interesting and more engaging. This encourages you to study even more.

Remember, when you start these “encouragement groups”, that’s exactly what it is – a group where you get encouragement. Accountability is your responsibility.

What do you think? What other encouragement groups have you started? Share your comments and questions with us on Facebook and Twitter.

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