A new kind of accountability relationship

One of my biggest highlights of 2018 is a new kind of friendship in my life: a loving accountability partnership.

  • Why? To be more intentional about how we live, to feel supported in our journeys of growth.

  • What do we do? Every week, we share our progress and intentions for our lives with each other. In writing and over a phone call.

  • How do we do it? With a strong dose of empathy, encouragement and trust in each other.

This relationship has transformed the way I live, as well as how I communicate and what I expect across all my friendships. Ultimately, it is a fantastic tool for your personal growth and living the life you want. In this post, I also share specific guidance for setting this up for yourself.

What I’ve wanted and needed: Consistent, objective and warm support

I’ve always felt like I’m all talk and no do.

I want to do so much – work on exciting ideas, take care of myself, do greater justice to my relationships, and learn and grow in many ways. I want to live my potential. But I’ve felt stuck, as if I’m making no progress, scrambling to live the life I want.  

I realised I didn’t want to do this alone. I wanted a partner who could support me in my journey of growth. I wanted someone to consistently touch base with, to share what I want to work on and how I’m doing on my goals AND someone who could encourage me without criticizing or pushing me, without bias. Consistency can be hard to find in friendships, and objectivity can be hard to find in relationships.

 

What we created: A loving accountability partnership  

In 2017, I met Sherry, also a Starting Bloc fellow, and we organized an SB event in India together. At the event, we learnt about accountability relationships from another fellow, Elliot, and decided to partner up. We had our first accountability call on November 30, 2017, and adapted the concept so that it worked for us. A loving accountability relationship was thereby born, which consisted of two main components:

  • A process and structure that held us accountable

  • A partner that provided a loving space for that accountability

Let me explain further.

The accountability process and structure:

  • The process we set up, requires me to take stock of my life every week – to review what the past week has been like and to share intentions/plans for the coming week

  • We have a shared Google Doc which we fill out every Sunday – noting our weekly progress update and intentions on the key focus areas of our lives (for eg. self-care, relationships, and purpose/work are my three categories)

  • We do an hour long phone call every Wednesday to touch base, which creates a sense of accountability (it ensures we fill our file out by Wednesday at the latest)

 

The loving partnership:

  • The role of the partner is to primarily witness my journey of growth, with love and empathy and the trust and belief that I am doing my best

  • She holds space for me to share my intentions, to celebrate progress and to explore what’s holding me back

  • Our weekly calls are not meant to serve as a check on intended goals – instead, I use my 30 minutes (half of the call) the way I want to; sometimes I’ll go over what I’ve shared in the file, or I’ll focus on one issue that’s holding me back, or share ideas and seek her inputs

  • We also have a dedicated Whatsapp ‘group’ chat where we can message each other any time to share where we are at

The mere presence of someone you respect, who is committed to witnessing your progress and intentions every week, holds you accountable and supported. They don’t need to do anything special to hold you accountable, except to show up.

 

Here’s what’s important: My partner is not responsible for holding me accountable, I am.

I don’t expect my partner to ask me about an intention I’ve set. It is up to me to observe and share that I haven’t been able to do it.

  • What matters is that she will listen and hold space for me to hold myself accountable – she will witness the struggle and empathize (“I’m sorry...That must be hard”)

  • Sometimes, she may ask me exploratory questions (“What’s holding you back? What do you want? Do you really want it? How do you want to move forward?”)

  • Sometimes, she will share her thoughts and perspectives (“Two thoughts come to mind...This resonates with me because...It sounds like the hardest part is...What helps me sometimes is to see it this way...”) 

Just as it is my choice to bring up what I wish to, it is her choice to respond as she wishes. She may choose to be silent or ask questions or share perspective, I do not expect her to solve my issues and nor does she. Our greatest need is to be heard and seen and witnessed, not to be solved.  

Having no expectations is most important when it comes to sharing on the Whatsapp group: there isn’t the boundary of a one hour call anymore, so you could easily demand greater time and emotional investment by sharing more over text. We have a clear understanding that there is no expectation for text responses, which then gives us the freedom to vent, share as much as we’d like without worrying about imposing.

 

What changed: Living an aware and intentional life, feeling secure and supported 

We’ve completed over a year of being loving accountability partners! This nourishing relationship has changed so much in my life:

  • I’m learning to show up for myself and my growth – to face my life even when I really don’t want to; it has resulted in a sense of resilience and trusting myself

  • I live more intentionally – it makes me choose between all the things I want to do, by focusing on setting a few goals each week

  • I see my life more holistically as I review and set goals for every area of my life – self-care (sleep, relationship with my body), relationships (family, friendships, dating), growth (books and programs for my learning), self-expression (writing, dancing), and work (projects, personal initiatives, collaborations)

  • I’ve started setting intentions around what mindset I want to remain grounded in, rather than just looking at habits and goals I want to accomplish

  • I’ve learnt to celebrate progress – I tend to criticize myself and feel like I’ve done nothing, but through this exercise I’m able to see all the ways in which I’m growing even if they are in the domain of self-care and relationships rather than work 

  • I feel fulfilled from supporting the growth of my accountability partner, and am grateful for the privilege to witness her life and growth at such close quarters; it makes me see how we all struggle with similar things and also inspires me when I see her show up for herself

 

To my surprise, this relationship also helped transform my other relationships:

  • It has changed how much I expect and need from others. I feel secure that I am not alone, that once a week, my need to be heard and seen will be met

  • I see the value of structure and consistency in maintaining other friendships, the importance of boundaries and not overloading one person with expectations, and it has helped me get better at leaning into support systems and asking for help

 

How to do this yourself: Finding the right partner, setting up and sustaining the relationship  

1) Looking for a loving accountability partner

What to look for in a partner:

  • Commitment to the accountability partnership: Do they REALLY want this? Will they be proactive and honest in order to make it work?

    • Sherry and I managed to meet almost ever week despite her moving through 5 countries, and each of us dealing with mental health challenges, and changes in our relationships and jobs

  • Common goals or shared interests and values: Do you both care about growing as humans? Are there some overlaps in identities or lived experiences that will help you feel more seen and understood?

  • Mutual respect and admiration: Do you feel drawn to them? Do you feel excited about getting to witness their lives and being supported by them? You won’t want to let them down.

How to look for a partner:

  • Look within your network of friends or communities of like-minded people – you don’t need to know them super well and in fact knowing them too well might come in the way of establishing a new way of relating to each other 

  • Share a little about yourself, where you’re at in your life, what kind of goals you want to focus on, and explain what kind of relationship you’re looking to create

    • Eg: A loving accountability relationship is about holding space for each others journey of growth and committing to a process of accountability together; its not about pushing each other or chasing a specific goal, but about supporting and encouraging each other

  • Invite them to connect with you for exploratory conversations if they feel called to (don’t pressure – they must really want it too, in order for it to work)

  • Set up a trial period – commit to a month or two and plan for check-ins to get a feel for people before making a longer term commitment

What worked for Sherry and me was that we got to work with each other a little in planning an event, so we got a sense of each other’s work ethic and developed some respect and trust in each other first. We then met in person and developed a heart-to-heart connection, so that when the accountability relationship idea came along, we naturally looked to each other.

 

2) Setting up the relationship

  • Decide on the relationship structure and plan: the level and frequency of engagement, what kind of goals you’re interested in, how you will record them, how you will connect with each other, how often you’ll evaluate the efficacy of the relationship, etc

    • Choose the level of commitment that works for you, even if its once a month rather than once a week (consistency is far more important than frequency)

    • It’s helpful to include a way to record your progress/intentions in depth (like a google doc) + a way to connect and build your relationship (like a weekly phone call); it is this combination that makes the relationship most effective

  • Agree on the underlying intentions and mindset for the partnership: how important is compassion, not being pushed, being asked questions about progress, honesty and transparency, honouring commitments etc.

You can find a copy of the structure and intentions of my specific loving accountability partnership with Sherry here. You can also find Elliot’s recommendations here (the SB fellow who inspired our relationship).

 

3) Sustaining the relationship, enabling it to thrive

Some of the key factors driving a successful loving accountability relationship are similar to what you’d find in other relationships: a loving mindset, low expectations and high level of communication.

  • Honour the relationship and make it a priority – be on time, don’t reschedule unnecessarily or without advance notice as much as possible; this is key to your partner building trust in your commitment and respect for them

  • Have gentle check-ins and reminders for filling out the file or mutually agreed commitments, while accepting whatever the other person is able to do, especially during vacations or periods of extreme challenge

  • Consistently check in on what’s working vs. not working in the partnership, be honest and transparent about how you impact each other and what you need

  • Focus on process and not outcomes – set goals that are achievable and which you have control of, rather than outcomes that depend on other factors which you can’t truly hold yourself accountable too

  • Staying invested in each other’s growth - even when you don’t feel like talking about yourself, show up for the sake of your partner who may be needing to talk to you

There are many ways to develop an accountability relationship – you may have specific goals or choose a different frequency or values that drive your relationship.

In the beginning, you may not know what you want, but as long as you keep coming back to your values, building a solid, respectful relationship, and keep communicating honestly, you will be fine.

Good luck!