We’ve all experienced throughout time the frustrations that come with lack of follow through from others. Whether it’s the coworker or employee in the workplace that just does not seem to be able to say what she means and follow through, or whether it’s a personal friend who makes plans and then cancels every time, people not holding themselves accountable can be wildly frustrating both personally and professionally.
But what about you?
Given our proverbial tendency to look at the speck in someone else’s eye, and miss the log in our own, how do we approach the issue of accountability within ourselves?
Well that depends on you and if you feel ready to begin to shift your focus from external or outward, to internal or inward.
Research tells us that we tend to be generous with ourselves when we fail to do something, however much more judgmental toward others when we perceive they had a misstep. “I missed the meeting because I had important family matters to tend to, but so and so missed the meeting because ‘they just didn’t care enough to attend it’” is an example of how our brains assign causation to others’ actions, (or inactions) but give ourselves a more lenient out.
Such is human nature. However, if you are someone that has either been prompted by a close friend, partner or leader at work to begin to be more accountable, and you are ready to heed the prompt, here’s some ideas to get you started.
1. Slow Down Your Brain. In other words, take a big deep breath before thoughtless words come out. Think first and pause before volunteering to do something, taking on an extra task for your kid ( who may be perfectly capable to do a task on their own), agree to an extra project at work, or to commit to something you truly do not want to do. We will struggle to be accountable to that which we ought to have said no to in the first place.
2. Practice Saying What You Mean, and Mean What You Say. While this may seem redundant from no.1, it really goes hand in hand. The more you remind yourself not to say yes when you really mean no, and the more you stay true to your word, the “easier” it will be to hold yourself accountable because you consciously agreed to something or someone at the outset. This may sound like a no brainer, but actually people who are “people pleasers” can really struggle with this.
3. Say it Out Loud. Whatever “it” is, whatever you have committed to, say it out loud in front of the person to whom you are making the commitment. This accomplishes two important things- your brain hears you say out loud what you will do so it’s more likely to stick, and you are confirming and reaffirming to the person exactly what you will do and when. At work it may sound like, “ Sue I will get that report to you by tomorrow at 5p. Will that work?” Now you both have the opportunity to agree exactly what you will do (and by when) thereby allowing you and Sue to hold you accountable.
4. Write it Down. When we are truly committed to doing what we say we will do, whether that thing is for ourselves or for someone else, writing it down in your daily schedule/ planner is one of the best ways to ensure follow through. So whether you promised yourself you would go to that yoga class, or clean your office this weekend, once it appears in your calendar as a scheduled event, you are much more likely to follow through assuming you check your schedule/ planner daily.
5. Tell Someone Else. When we tell another person what we are going to do- again whether for someone else or to keep our promises to ourselves, it makes it more real and we automatically feel like we have to be accountable because it’s “out there.” Telling another person takes it from an idea “ I should go to yoga class” to a realization of “I am going to go to yoga today at 4p.” We know that person may follow up ( we can ask them to for additional accountability) and we want to ensure that we can say, “yes I did it! “
6. Build in Meaningful Rewards for Yourself! No matter how big or small a task, project or commitment is, it is important to build in little moments of celebration along the way ( for a prolonged commitment) and to celebrate our follow through. For some, completion of the task or project or going to the class is the reward, and others find meaning in more external rewards beyond that. What matters is an acknowledgment of your follow through and celebrating that in a way that works for you.
7. Imagine the Benefits of Following Through. If you are making good on a work project then a benefit of that is helping your teammates out by doing your part. If you are following through on showing up for a friend, then you are enriching the friendship. And, if your follow through has to do with something good for you that you told yourself you would do, then you directly reap that benefit. Keep the benefits of your choices top of mind and imagine the real consequences of doing what you say you will do.
Some of us had great modeling from parents, coaches, siblings etc. of what showing up or following through looked like consistently. For others, this can be a really difficult thing to hold oneself accountable, especially through the more mundane or unappealing tasks. By being more thoughtful and intentional about what you say yes to, and by imagining the benefits of holding yourself accountable, you can shift your focus where it needs to be- controlling that which you can and ought to control yourself!