Coaching

Get Yourself an Accountability Partner

Got a big goal or two? Find out why having a wingperson is your secret to soaring.

Last updated: August 20, 2021
Why You Need an Accountability Partner to Hit Your Goals

If you spend more time talking or daydreaming about all the healthy things you want to achieve than you do actually achieving them, it may be a good moment to call in some backup.

Having someone look out for you — or, better yet, join you — in your wellness quest could be the push you need to go from intent to accomplishment. In one study by University College London, couples looking to lose weight, get more active and smoke less were more successful when their live-in partners pursued the same goals. Other research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that spousal support helped create goal progress, whether those goals were for a day or more long-term.

You don’t have to go off and get married to have someone help you achieve your ambitions. According to many psychologists and trainers, you just need an accountability partner — be it a significant other, family member, friend or mentor — who’s got what it takes to drive you to your next level.

“The idea is to find someone to commit to holding you responsible to reach any particular goal.”

Courtney Fearon
Nike Trainer

The Benefits of a Buddy

At its core, an accountability partner offers exactly what the name suggests. “The idea is to find someone to commit to holding you responsible to reach any particular goal,” says Nike Trainer Courtney Fearon, who encourages his clients to get a “movemate” and often has one himself. “If you have a fitness goal, maybe this person helps you stick to a training schedule by checking in on the days you agreed you’d get after it. Or maybe they actually do every workout with you and challenge you to push yourself in the moments you otherwise wouldn’t.”

They can also help make the process more fun (by, say, creating a playlist or calling out your progress), which is a great motivator. And they can help you power through on the days you aren’t feelin’ it, correcting your negative self-talk or giving you water-break reminders, says Fearon. Meanwhile, you could be inspiring them to achieve the same level of greatness. It’s a win-win.

How to Find “The One”

Too bad you can’t just swipe right to meet your accountability match. (Million-dollar idea for a new app?) And while it may be tempting to rope in your best friend, it’s not always the right move. Our good buddies are typically people we turn to for comfort and support, but they’re not necessarily people from whom we welcome a challenge or unbiased advice — which is what you really need with an accountability partner, says Stephen Gonzalez, PhD, an executive board member for the Association for Applied Sport Psychology.

That said, you do want someone who’s on the same wavelength and has a similar attitude and values — along with different strengths. “The main thing is that you complement each other and each brings something to the table,” says Fearon. “It could be energy. It could be you’re the punctual one. It could be you’re the organized one. One of you could really love doing hill sprints, and the other loves hitting the weight room. You can bounce off each other’s strengths.”

Just don’t aim too high: That bodybuilder cousin, basically-a-chef coworker, or best-selling author colleague may have a routine or skill you aren’t quite ready for yet. Instead, look for someone who’s just a liiittle better at what you’re getting after. One study by Michigan State University found that exercisers were more likely to increase their workout time when sweating with a more capable partner. Because: Who wants to be the weak link?

Gonzalez recommends having a good talk with a prospective partner. Two key questions:

  • What are three to five core values you use to make everyday decisions?
  • How do you use those values to guide you when helping someone like me?

If their answers sit well with you, onward! If you feel iffy about their response, don’t settle — keep searching.

Why You Need an Accountability Partner to Hit Your Goals

Keep Your Partnership Going Strong

Found your buddy? Nicely done. Now here’s how to keep your connection strong so you both build each other up.

1. Be totally honest early on.

When you have a conversation about each of your goals and needs, get specific. “I want to run a trail half-marathon before the end of the year, and I’ll follow a 12-week training program and strength train twice a week. I’d love if you would text me the night before each workout and join me for one weekly run.” Make it clear it’s cool if your partner helps you recalibrate should they think it’s necessary (say, if your goal seems too challenging or stress-inducing, or if you’re asking too much or too little of them). Establishing these things at the start of the relationship will help you avoid failure and frustration, says Gonzalez.

Also discuss how — and how often — you’ll do progress check-ins. Regular ones may increase your chances of success (and the more, the better), per a study from the American Psychological Association, but agree to a frequency and format that feels right for both of you. If one of you happens to be the Worst Texter in the World, maybe a scheduled FaceTime is the way to go. Or if you like to do progress checks while pursuing your goal (like during a healthy lunch together), commit to that. However you can best and most accurately receive feedback, go that route, and plan it in advance as much as possible, says Gonzalez.

2. Have a thick skin.

No BS-ing is part of the deal — false praise won’t get you anywhere — so be prepared for constructive criticism. “Your accountability partner should be able to point out any flaws in your approach — you weren’t responsive to their texts this week, you phoned your workout in, it doesn’t seem like you’re taking ownership — as well as high-five you for all the good you’re doing,” says Gonzalez. Ditto for feedback you give to them.

If you’re hearing more tough talk than you’d like, try to find truth in what they’re saying and give them credit for speaking up. If their feedback is neither effective nor actionable, let them know you appreciate their time and effort but that you aren’t getting what you need to stay on track, says Gonzalez. If they’re willing to course-correct, or even if they’re not, consider it a learning experience (much like an actual relationship).

3. Pick new goals together.

To keep evolving after you’ve had your first big win, Fearon suggests that you continue to set event-based goals, whether it’s scheduling the next half or studying for that certification you both talk about. “As you commit to different events and complete them together, you gain new skills and success momentum and perhaps do things neither of you have done before, cementing your bond,” says Fearon.

It’s also a good idea to choose some fun non-workout goals, like reading a book every week, or learning how to play an instrument. This way, you’re always investing in and deepening the relationship — and ultimately growing together.

Words: Justin Block
Illustration: Kezia Gabriella

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