Even without years of schooling in nutrition or a career as a dietitian, you probably know quite a bit about how to achieve your nutrition and fitness goals and live a healthy lifestyle. We’re living in a time where we’ve essentially got all the information we need at our fingertips.
You know that if you didn’t eat so much sugar, cooked at home more often, and hit the gym a few times a week you would probably be in better shape. You also know that you can improve your health with more vegetables, more walking, more water, and more sleep.
But if the keys to building the life you envision and the body you desire are so easily accessible, then why do you always feel like you’re trying to get “back on track” with your health and fitness?
Don’t worry, it’s not just you – studies on New Year’s resolutions have shown incredibly low levels of compliance with new year goals, especially in the long term (1, 2, 3). So what is preventing so many people from achieving their goals?
It’s because knowing what to do is not enough!
When you set a goal that involves you and only you (i.e. losing weight, getting stronger, etc.), achieving it is dependent on your hard work, consistency, and perseverance. ⠀
The problem is that after going at it for a few weeks, your motivation tank sometimes runs low. You know what you need to do, yet you stop putting in the same effort and commitment you had in the beginning and eventually you give up.
So how can you change that? ⠀
Let me tell you a story:
I hired my first nutrition coach a couple of years back because I needed to get in shape for my 30s. I had been coaching clients and I was already a dietitian. Of course I knew HOW to meet my goals – I’d been helping clients meet similar goals for several years.⠀
Yes you read that correctly. Me, a registered dietitian, hired another dietitian to help me. Here is why I did it: Me failing to achieve my goal was not a result of not knowing what to do, but a lack of ACCOUNTABILITY.
What is Accountability?
I think most of us have a general sense of what accountability is, or what it means to be accountable for something. But different sources define the concept in different ways. In essence, accountability involves making a commitment to someone to follow through on a specific action (4).
I particularly like the way the company Effective Managers defines accountability on their website, as “An obligation for which one can be held to account for one’s results and one’s actions by a specified other” (5). To break it down a bit further:
- An obligation is the task that one has committed to completing.
- You are responsible for making sure a certain action takes place and a certain result is produced.
- Accountability involves some kind of contract, sometimes an informal or unspoken one, where another person helps to monitor your results.
Why are you falling short of your potential?
When you set a goal like weight loss, but don’t share your goal with others, the only person you let down when you don’t achieve it is yourself – and sadly, a lot of us are okay with that. When we keep our goals private, all our motivation comes from internal sources, and in the face of a challenging goal we might feel overwhelmed or alone.
Humans are innately social and depend upon each other to survive. Therefore, a lot of the actions we take are driven by the need to fit in, feel accepted, and uphold social contracts. When we break a commitment to ourselves, it seems less severe than if we feel that someone is judging us when we fall short.
We’re going to talk a bit later about building a sense of internal accountability, but for now, let’s focus on external accountability – our sense of responsibility to others for acting a certain way – and how we can use that to our advantage when it comes to how to achieve your nutrition and fitness goals. To begin, we’ll look at what the research tells us about the value of social support and accountability.
Have you gone through periods of time when you felt isolated or alone? Maybe after a break-up, moving to a new city, or starting a new job? Loneliness is common and has reached an all-time high in recent years. Research in 2018 indicated that nearly half of US adults sometimes or always feel alone – even before the social isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic (6).
And this isn’t the kind of research we should be ignoring in the face of other widespread health problems like obesity and cancer; research from Brigham Young University indicates that social isolation increases health risks as severely as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or abusing alcohol. Studies from the same researcher also have found that loneliness is twice as harmful to health as obesity (6).
On the other hand, there is a strong connection between social support and positive health outcomes, such as increased happiness and resilience to stress. In general, strong social support is associated with high levels of physical and mental health in a variety of subject populations (7).
While social support has many health benefits on its own, tying in an element of accountability can allow your social support system to help bring you closer to your health and fitness goals.
The Power of Accountability
Research by the American Society of Training and Development (ASTD) found that if you commit to someone to achieve a specific objective you have 65% greater chance of meeting it.
If you set up a specific accountability appointment with the person you’ve made the commitment to, your chance of success reaches 95%! (8).
We also see evidence of the effectiveness of accountability in clinical trials for drug treatments and studies on treatment adherence. In these studies, more check-ins with health providers led to greater consistency in taking prescribed drugs (4, 9).
Accountability can come from many sources, including friends, personal trainers, dietitians, doctors, coaches, and gym buddies. But one key person to look to for accountability may be your spouse or partner. Research on couples who live together has shown that when one partner adopts a healthy behaviour, both men and women are more likely to make a positive behaviour change as well, in areas including smoking, physical activity, and weight loss (10).
So far, we’ve identified several barriers that are keeping you from reaching your potential and discussed the evidence to support accountability as a tool to help you reach your goals. But what are the tangible steps you can take?
Harnessing the Power of Accountability
1. Embark on a goal with a friend and set weekly check-ins
Using accountability to bring you closer to your goals is all about consistency. If you set a deadline to meet a goal by a certain date and plan to check in with a friend months down the line, you’re not making the best use of an accountability partnership.
The initial excitement and motivation to pursue a goal may fade very quickly, as the behaviours needed to reach your goal become routine. The idea isn’t to check in with a friend when you meet the goal. You should schedule your check-ins to help you stay consistent with the behaviours that bring you closer to your goal.
Say you and your friend want to get stronger, so you both set a goal to be able to do 10 pull-ups in 6 months. On a daily basis, that 6-month deadline is likely too far off to create a sense of urgency that motivates you to put in consistent effort.
Try this strategy: you and your friend commit to practicing pull-ups once a day and send each other a message when you’ve completed them. Then, once a week, you video chat to do your pull-ups in front of the other person to see the progress you’ve both made.
Not only do check-ins encourage consistent action so you can demonstrate your progress to a friend, but embarking on a difficult challenge with a friend (or partner) can add an element of solidarity that helps keep motivation high as you work towards something challenging.
Photo by Christina Morillo from Pexels
2. Find your crew
You’ve probably heard the famous quotation by Jim Rohn, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with”. While Rohn is a motivational speaker and hasn’t conducted research to verify his point, there is significant research suggesting that your social circle influences the kind of health behaviours you engage in.
Spending time with others who encourage a sedentary lifestyle or unhealthy eating habits can make it difficult for you to stick to your healthy lifestyle goals. Research indicates that someone’s chance of becoming obese increases by 57% if a close friend becomes obese during a given period of time. Additionally, the chance of obesity increases by 40% if a sibling becomes obese, and 37% if a spouse becomes obese (11).
Try to spend time, either in person or online, with people who live in accordance with the values and habits you hope to embody. There are plenty of Facebook groups, including the Team Vive Nutrition group, where members are all working to improve their nutrition and overall health. Join us over at Team Vive Nutrition to share your wins and challenges and learn more about nutrition through live sessions.
Additionally, when making plans with friends, suggest options that fit in with your goals – try out a restaurant in town that offers healthier meal options, go for a hike or a walk, sit out on your deck with a glass of cold sparkling water or kombucha, or see if your friends want to do a workout with you in a local park.
Staying committed to your health and fitness goals doesn’t mean cutting yourself off from social events – it’s about using the power of social support to bring you closer to your goals.
3. Don’t forget about internal accountability
So far, we’ve been talking about external accountability, where you make a commitment to another person. But shouldn’t upholding your own personal standards be just as important as not letting others down?
Although there is not the same social pressure driving you to take action and produce results, I encourage you to work towards building a personal culture of accountability. This means setting and meeting expectations for yourself and taking responsibility for your results.
Photo by Vlada Karpovich from Pexels
There are some simple steps you can take to implement more internal accountability in your life today:
1. Identify your core values; your values are the standards by which you can live your most fulfilling life.
2. Brainstorm daily habits that align with your values. When you act in accordance with your values on a daily basis, you consistently generate evidence that supports your desired identity (12).
3. Commit to small, daily value-based goals – and write them down. By consistently following through on the small expectations you set for yourself, you build self-trust. When you write down your goals and check them off at the end of the day, you monitor your results and stay accountable.
For example, if growth is one of your values, you can consistently act on this value by taking time to read each day. If self-awareness is a value for you, taking 10 minutes each day to journal is a value-based commitment that you could make. If you value health, aim to eat 5 different vegetables each day and set a daily water intake goal.
When creating your goals, remember to make them SMART:
- S – Specific: when setting your goal, you should identify a clear what, when, where, and why.
- M – Measurable: the goal must be something that is measured in some way so you know when you have accomplished it.
- A – Achievable: the goal needs to be something that is possible for you to achieve given your resources and time constraints.
- R – Relevant: the goal should be important within the broader framework of your life, and act as a steppingstone for other goals. In this case, your goal should be tied to your specific values.
- T – Time-bound: the goal should have a time limit for completion. In the process discussed above, your time frame is a single day.
Small goals each day are a way that you can show up for yourself, and since they are measurable, you can clearly identify when you’ve successfully completed them and met your commitment to yourself (12).
4. Hire a coach
It’s not because of a secret magic formula – we simply give our students the tools to build a healthy life and then hold them accountable for their success.
Here is how we’ve built accountability into our coaching programs at Vive Nutrition:
- We have weekly check-ins (if clients miss checking in they risk losing their spot on the team) ⠀
- Our clients share their wins with our community and receive support from others on a similar journey⠀
- We hold group calls to answer questions and support our clients ⠀
- We get our older clients to help our newer clients⠀
- We set standards and expectations
- We give tough love when it’s needed. Part of the contract of an accountability partner involves consequences of not upholding your side of the agreement. Compassion is crucial and we will always be on your team, but sometimes you need a reminder about what is expected of you.
One thing that often holds people back from hiring a coach is the cost. But it’s much more effective to invest in one high quality wellness coaching experience than to cycle through fad diet after fad diet, spending more money each time you try to find a new strategy to get in shape. Take some time today to consider the coaching options available that could help you meet your goals. You will not regret investing in yourself and your quality of life.
Accountability: The Secret to Going from Good to Great
If you want to succeed in a personal goal that you have struggled with in the past, you don’t have to go at it alone. You may have some of the knowledge you need to meet your goal, but sometimes putting in the work and sustaining motivation can be difficult.
Accountability is about making commitments and following through and is a way you can optimize your existing social support systems to help you meet your goals.
On its own, a strong sense of social connection can support your health in many ways, but if you have specific health and fitness aims you want to accomplish in the final 4 months of 2020 – and beyond – finding someone to help you stick to your goals may be the key to elevating your results.
Try finding an accountability partner, joining a group of people all working towards a similar goal or lifestyle, connecting with your core values to build personal accountability, or hiring a coach.
Your goals are achievable, and results are maintainable, but you make success more likely when you reach out for support.
You don’t have to do this alone. At Vive Nutrition, we are ready to give you the support and accountability you need to succeed. So consider this your official invitation to join our team and take your results to the next level!
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- Novotney A. The risks of social isolation. Monitor on Psychology. 2019 May;50(5):32.
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- Phillips PP. ASTD handbook for measuring and evaluating training. American Society for Training and Development; 2010.
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- Jackson SE, Steptoe A, Wardle J. The influence of partner’s behavior on health behavior change: the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. JAMA internal medicine. 2015 Mar 1;175(3):385-92.
- Christakis NA, Fowler JH. The spread of obesity in a large social network over 32 years. New England journal of medicine. 2007 Jul 26;357(4):370-9.
12. California State University. Building Self-Trust. Available from: https://www.csustan.edu/counseling/building-self-trust [Accessed 24 August 2020].