Post Format

The Accountability Trap

Leave a Reply

Does this sound familiar?

“I should go to the gym. Nah.” 

“I should go to bed at a reasonable hour. OR, I could finish watching season 9,000 of The Bachelor!” 

“I’m NOT going to eat that last piece of leftover pizza.” (We all know how that turns out.)

I’m not going to dwell on the psychology of this, because there are many others out there more qualified than me to do so. I do want to offer some food for thought (not pizza, though, because I ate it).

There are two types of accountability. There is external accountability: all those tricks we use to get ourselves to accomplish that which we don’t want to do.  Here are a few of mine:

  • I told my husband that I was going to get up early to write. He didn’t believe me. I am proving him wrong, which is fun.
  • I asked my kids to ask me each morning how many pages I wrote.
  • I have to bring something for my writing group to critique.

Then there is internal accountability. I do it because I said I would do it so I’m doing it. 

Over time I’ve realized that I have a very, very, very low capacity for internal accountability. But if someone else is expecting me to do something, I am more likely to do it. In fact, I will most definitely do it, because I don’t want to let anyone down. I will let myself down in a heartbeat, though.

Now this is not true for everyone. My husband, for example, is highly internally accountable. He sees something that needs doing, and he does it. He makes a decision, and he follows through.

So annoying. Unless that’s how you are, too. Then rock on, sister.


I’m just going to lie here.

For me the problem is not so much what it takes to get my butt off of the couch. It is the feelings that arise when I fail to do so. If I say I’m going to stop binge-eating Ruffles, for example, but then I snack through an entire bag without realizing I’ve done so, I will beat myself up for days. That goes for just about every commitment that I make without some external accountability. Once I’ve started the self-flagellation, I might as well just get under the covers and write off the day, and the cycle of not following through and feeling bad continues.

There is nothing wrong with applying some external accountability to whatever commitments you make to yourself. It is not a sign of weakness. It shows that you understand your own wiring. So if external accountability is your jam, sign up for the local writing class you’ve been eyeing, or have your kids call you out when you don’t do something you said you were going to do.

FYI: kids love that power. Use with caution.

Note:  Author Gretchen Rubin has a great book that discusses this topic at length, if you need help figuring out your accountability tendencies. Not an affiliate link.


Leave a Reply