Developing Personal Accountability

IT STARTS WITH YOU. Words about community, accountability. text on grey paper on torn paper background.

or, Everything You Wanted to Know About Accountability But Were Afraid to Ask

Personal accountability is a hallmark of maturity, the ultimate in taking responsibility and ownership for an action. Governments and businesses are held accountable by laws and regulations. Leaders are expected to be accountable for their areas of responsibility. Parents are held accountable by society for their children’s behavior. But what about being accountable to yourself? That takes a slightly different mindset.


One of the challenges in establishing personal accountability is the lack of perceived consequences. In today’s society, people and organizations are held accountable by external forces, such as laws, employers, or society. If someone fails to meet their responsibilities, the consequences are relatively straightforward. Fail an audit? Expect fines or loss of business. Miss goals set by your employer? Expect disciplinary action. Have a child meltdown at a restaurant? Expect to be asked to leave. Fail to write the chapter in the book you’ve been working on that doesn’t yet have a publisher? Meh, drown your guilt in a pint of Rocky Road ice cream.

What’s needed here is a change in mindset to establish better goals and practical consequences.

Establishing Goals

Being accountable for your goals is impossible if the goals aren’t clear. Take a few moments to sort out the details.

Know what you want to be accountable for

What’s your big picture? Do you have an end goal that you’re striving for? You might have more than one but work through one at a time to get the list you need. For me, one of my big goals is to blog regularly. That’s a good start, but I need to drill down and clarify what that means to me. Blog where? What’s “regularly”? Is this a forever thing, or is there a time boundary? What exactly am I holding myself personally accountable for?

If your goal is to write a novel, that’s fantastic. That’s a different goal, though, from getting a book published. So, think through what it will take to get there (wherever ‘there’ is for you) from here.

When you have your big-picture goal, start breaking it down into smaller components that you can act on more quickly. That more compact list is where you can begin to measure yourself against your goals and even ask for help to make sure you stick to them.

Be honest about what you need

If you can’t be honest with yourself in the privacy of your own mind, you have some other challenges you might need to work through. But let’s say you have been honest with yourself; you struggle with meeting your writing goals, and you REALLY struggle with the lack of external drivers holding you accountable to your goals. These struggles are valid, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with them.

My challenge in blogging regularly (which for me means blogging on two separate blogs every week for at least the calendar year) is finding interesting things to blog about. My solution? Reach out to my network of friends and colleagues and see what they’re writing about or ask them what topics they wish someone would cover. I try to create a list of topics that will feed a few weeks of blog posts, like a backlog of ideas I can dive into. When you identify an area in which you struggle, you can start to work out how to get what you need to get past it or revise your goals to take that struggle into account.

Your struggle might be different. You have your topic, you have your target timeline and word count, but you’re just not getting it done. Maybe it’s a lack of time or inspiration, but either way, you’re stuck. Have you tried letting someone else know your immediate goals, so they can ask you about them and help you brainstorm past your block?

Learn from your experience to set better goals next time

Goals are great, and identifying common blockers and ways to work around them is fabulous. Still, the brain often confuses “what I can do” with “what I should do,” and that’s a problem. Periodically reviewing your goals and what you need to achieve them is necessary for personal accountability. Your goals and support structure have to work for you as you are, not as you think you should be. So, take a moment to self-evaluate. Were you able to meet your goals regularly? How can you improve the goals, or what you do to meet them? If you’re new to this way of thinking, you might do this every week. Others may come back to this each month, each quarter, or even each year. It depends on you and the size of both the long-term goal and the immediate stepping stones to get there from here.

Carrots and Sticks

One can argue that a fear of consequences shouldn’t drive people; consequences aren’t always dire. One should instead be guided by the glory of success. I would love to be someone primarily driven by the possibility of positive outcomes. That bit of fear, however, is a powerful motivator, and you can use it to motivate your personal accountability. Putting your goal, even just the immediate ones, out there where at least one other person can see them uses the social animal part of our brain concerned about things like reputation and guilt. Don’t forget, though, that if you meet your goal, whether it’s to create ten potential blog titles in a week or write even 1000 words for your novel, celebrating that with others is a pretty fantastic thing, too.


You can probably guess what your homework is now. Take some time to think about your goals and write them down. Feel free to use the S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound) or H.A.R.D. (Heartfelt, Animated, Required and Difficult) constructs. Then write down what is likely to block you from achieving those goals. Is it time? Lack of real consequences? Difficulties with focus? Once you’ve identified those, you can think of what might help in getting around them. It could be something like setting up a weekly call with someone to quietly work on writing. Or posting in your favorite online forum what your plans are and asking others to check in with you later to see if you’ve done what you said you would.

You’ll have this homework assignment again in a few weeks to see how well it worked for you. You will make changes based on your experience and the reality of your life. Make your goals and consequences real to help you be accountable to a very important person – you.

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