Some days you’re locked in, working toward an important goal and feeling great about your hard work and progress — until an unexpected problem arises from a communication breakdown, derailing the project and leaving you defeated.
That leaves you with two options: practicing self-accountability or blaming others for the issue.
Learning how to hold yourself accountable is hard. Studies have found that people prefer shifting the blame from themselves to other people or situations, making it natural for us to avoid responsibility. It’s a habit many of us have formed. And if it feels like the mistake wasn’t truly our fault, why should we accept the blame?
But accountability is a valuable quality that furthers your personal development and makes learning from setbacks easier. Practicing accountability helps create a mindset that can inspire others to admit to and learn from errors. Losing the fear of accepting blame or admitting responsibility is another step to take on your self-improvement journey.
What does self-accountability mean?
Self-accountability means taking responsibility for your actions and behaviors without blaming others. It means you’re fulfilling your obligations, tasks, and goals without excuses. And, if an unexpected challenge comes your way, being accountable means you can focus on a solution without pointing fingers.
Accountability is closely related to self-discipline because it demands that you remain honest about your actions and intentions. It’s tempting to dodge the guilt of letting someone down, but you must strengthen your emotional regulation and sit with those negative feelings.
If you really did let someone down, don’t make an excuse. Instead, admit that you know you made a mistake, reflect on what happened, and figure out how to make it up to them.
Here’s an example of accountability in action: Your team members ask if you can cover for them while they’re out of office for the week. You agree, but then a client issue emerges that demands all your attention. When that coworker returns, some of their deliverables are late because you didn’t do the work you promised.
Instead of blaming the client’s emergency and your workload, you apologize for dropping the ball and letting them down. Together, you make a plan to complete the deliverables together. Then, you go to your boss to let them know the deliverables are late because of you, not your teammate’s vacation.
Why is accountability important?
Being accountable for your actions supports personal development by welcoming the changes that accompany growth, no matter how uncomfortable it makes you. Resisting to adapt to new circumstances or opportunities seems like the easy option, but accountability will help you find better ways forward in the future.
Here are some benefits of having greater self-accountability:
Greater self-awareness. You’ll have an easier time finding patience with yourself, feeling in control of your life, and deepening personal relationships when you can understand and accept your actions.
Better goal-setting. Self-accountability also helps you prioritize when working toward your goals. Acknowledging that you choose how you spend your time allows greater productivity. Accountability reminds you to focus on your goals and use your time meaningfully.
Increased self-confidence. Learning more about your capabilities builds self-confidence.
More motivated. Your motivation grows after reaching certain milestones, fueling your drive to keep setting new goals. If you can keep yourself on track to meet one goal, it will provide the burst of inspiration you need to focus on the next one.
How to hold yourself accountable: 5 tips
Holding yourself accountable doesn’t happen overnight. While it might be tempting to blame others or make excuses, self-discipline combined with accountability means you’re managing your behavior and emotions.
Here are five tips for holding yourself accountable:
1. Start small
Don’t expect to become a self-accountability expert overnight. As you’re starting this practice, take time to understand why you’re trying to be accountable in the first place. Then, break down tasks into smaller pieces to get started.
Short-term goals are more realistic, and achieving them will motivate you to continue. Developing these habits will be a big change, and starting small helps you adjust.
2. Set goals
Goal-setting forces you to own what you set out to do, so think carefully about what you aim to accomplish. Your long-term goals may seem daunting, but breaking them into short-term goals helps them stay realistic. If you’re stuck, try using the SMART goal-setting method to ensure your goals are measurable and achievable.
3. Create a schedule
A schedule creates a sense of control and accountability over how you spend your day. Form your schedule around when you’re most productive in your day and leave time to be available for questions or answering emails. But while it’s helpful to plan ahead, things may pop up and disturb your plans, so leave some wiggle room.
You’ll have an easier time checking things off your to-do list if you’re realistic about how much you can accomplish in a day. Time management is difficult, but giving yourself reasonable timeframes to complete smaller tasks will help limit procrastination.
4. Reward yourself
Make it a habit of celebrating wins, both big and small. Take a moment to reflect on how far you’ve come and what you’ve learned after each milestone. This will help motivate you to continue working on your personal development.
While some reward themselves with a fancy dinner or a cocktail night, others will enjoy an hour of uninterrupted reading time or a long bath. Rewarding yourself is self-care, regardless of what that looks like for you.
5. Have an accountability partner
Any self-improvement journey is more challenging alone, so find a family member, loved one, or friend with similar goals and support one another. Your accountability buddy is someone with who you can vent, discuss big goals, and exchange positive affirmations. Just make sure you’re comfortable confiding in them.
Accountability at work
Accountability is valued everywhere in life, but it’s crucial in the workplace. It’s a desirable quality for both employees and employers. One study found that the number one thing Millennials want in a job is the opportunity to learn and grow. But you can’t grow without accountability.
Having accountability in the workplace changes how you do your job and interact with your coworkers. The benefits touch you as an individual and your workplace as a whole. Here are a few ways accountability benefits the workplace:
Accountability in the workplace is about owning your work and being transparent about your mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes and acknowledging that often means finding solutions faster. Let small problems stay small by addressing them right away.
Think of our earlier example of workplace accountability where you agreed to help your coworker on vacation. When you talk to your boss, acknowledge how and why your mistakes happened without making excuses.
Explain that next time, you’ll create a better schedule to manage your workload and set clearer goals. Your boss will likely admire your honesty and resilient mindset, despite their frustrations.
Learning how to hold yourself accountable is no easy task. It demands effort and the right mindset to admit to mistakes while avoiding the urge to blame others. Self-accountability makes you dig deep, and some days that’s hard to do.
One thing that helps when learning self-accountability is a positive mindset. This doesn’t mean you ignore everything bad — life’s not perfect. But approaching accountability positively rather than negatively may help embrace this new habit.