Everybody needs to be held accountable in life.
There are a number of different ways in which this occurs naturally. One of the most basic is, of course, the legal system and its enforcement. Minor infractions, such as speeding, may be punished with annoyances like traffic tickets, while more major violations, like embezzlement and narcotics possession, can result in prison sentences. For those of us who generally live on the right side of the law, accountability still exists in plenty of other forms, most notably employment. There are (or at least should be) incentives for doing your job reliably, such as raises, promotions and awards. Likewise, consequences exist for failing to do the job, the most extreme of which being termination.
In both of the above cases, accountability is already in place, as both the rewards and consequences have been well established for you. But often times, we have goals and dreams that go unfulfilled simply because we have not pushed ourselves hard enough to reach them. Consider New Year’s resolutions. We all have ways in which we want to improve, and flipping over to the next year on the calendar provides a natural point in time for self-reflection about what we’ve done over the past year, where we are currently, and where we’d like to be going forward. Many of us, for instance, take this opportunity to look at ourselves in the mirror and think, “Boy, I sure could stand to lose some weight.” Maybe we feel inspired enough to join gyms and begin working out.
But reality sets in very quickly. After that first attempt at working out in umpteen weeks, months, or even years, you’ll find yourself hurting everywhere for at least the next day or two. Perhaps you push through that and go back again, perhaps not. Even if you do return for another session, though, it’s only a matter of time before you become exasperated. You’re tired of feeling physically sore. You’re frustrated that it’s taking much longer than you’d hoped to start seeing the results you had envisioned. And, all too often, you just quit. There is a good reason why gyms are packed full of people during January and February but frequently become relative ghost towns by March.
How, then, might we actually overcome the obstacles to actually reach such goals? Sometimes we need to create the accountability that may not exist naturally on its own. Whatever the ultimate goal might be, it is always a great idea to have incentives or rewards in place for accomplishments made along the way, but also to have consequences for coming up short on both effort and results. Maybe you’ve decided that you want to lose 30 pounds. It’s a big dream that will certainly take some time to achieve, and will thus require a great deal of diligence to accomplish.
For starters, it helps to view this big goal as the long-term project it is, and to therefore break it up into smaller, measurable steps that will serve as checkpoints along the way. About a year and a half ago, I embarked on such a quest just before Thanksgiving, and wound up shedding just over 20 pounds in about half a year. It was a slow, steady pace that surely could’ve been more dramatic, with bigger and faster results. But at the time, my goal was to incorporate gradual lifestyle changes that had a better chance of sticking with me in the long term. On a short-term basis, I figured that if I could maintain a consistent pace of losing about a pound per week, then I would eventually get to where I wanted to be.
I can’t honestly say that I ever did see this project all the way through to my ultimate weight loss and fitness goal, but at the very least, I experienced some degree of success and established a blueprint for how I can eventually complete this mission down the road. What had originally led me to take on the weight loss quest in the first place was the rather sobering reality that my current pairs of slacks and jeans were no longer fitting comfortably. So beyond the simple cosmetic goal of liking what I saw in the mirror, I’d received a financial penalty of having to buy several pairs of pants the next size up–a tangible and legitimate consequence for having let myself go a bit too much. I was determined, first and foremost, to return to my previous pant size–one at which I had remained for years–and by dropping 20 pounds, I was able to realize this particular goal.
Unfortunately, I then took a break from this mission, allowing myself to become distracted by other things in life. Most notably and quite fortuitously, I had begun dating Mia, my current girlfriend, around this time, which has been an unequivocally positive life-altering development in countless ways. Its only real drawback was that I essentially used such a dramatic lifestyle change as an excuse to divert attention away from this fitness mission for a while. But the reality is that while I did have a strong enough desire to return to a previous pant size, which was certainly a major goal along the way, I clearly have not displayed sufficient interest in surpassing that goal and achieving even better results. The ultimate goal is still a long way away, and the first step in its direction from here is to find the proper motivation that will guide me there.
The future, however, looks very bright. Mia and I both share long-term goals of improved fitness, and have already incorporated some activities to help reach them, such as hiking up a large hill at a nearby park, tracking daily steps taken with a pedometer, and aiming to drink the recommended 8 glasses of water on a daily basis. We’ve also discussed other things to start doing soon, such as taking a dance class. But the bottom line in all of it is that we are working on such improvements together, which ultimately holds us accountable to one another for continuing along the right path. And while this post has focused more specifically upon health and fitness, such accountability applies to many other areas of life as well. It’s easy to give up or lose focus when you’re trying to achieve a major goal all by yourself. It’s a lot harder to do so when someone is there to support you or push you to keep going. Valleys are an inevitability in life. Staying down in them, fortunately, is not.