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We can create an empowered relationship to accountability, to create greater leadership in our lives.

In this episode, Leo looks at how to create accountability that's effective, and shares examples of how he's used it in his life.

Topics Covered

  • How we have different relationships to accountability, ranging from disempowered to empowered
  • Coercing oneself to be disciplined can lead to issues when one falls off track
  • Accountability is simply accounting for whether a task was completed or not, without judgment
  • Accountability can be used to celebrate progress and learn from successes, as well as to get curious about failures
  • Accountability helps individuals take responsibility for their actions and make changes
  • Leo’s experience with a 33-day fitness challenge and how accountability affects his motivation
  • Suggestions for implementing accountability: find someone to be accountable to, set a consistent reporting schedule, and commit to specific, measurable actions
  • Dealing with discouragement and getting back on track involves reaching out for support, choosing to recommit, and starting small
  • The importance of forgiving oneself, letting go of negative emotions, and being compassionate to encourage progress


Welcome to the Zen Habits podcast, where we dive into how to work with uncertainty, resistance, and fear around our meaningful work. This is for anyone who wants to create an impact in the world and cares deeply enough to do the work. I'm your host, Leo Babauta, creator of the Zen Habits blog.

Hello, my friends. Leo here. Let's dive into the next podcast episode. Today, we're going to be talking about accountability. So fun, exciting topic. And then the other one is how to get back on track when we've fallen off. So these are two important topics and I think they're related. So let's put them together into this one episode.

That'll be chock full of yummy goodness. Okay. So accountability. So first of all, accountability often is like a dirty word for some people, for some people, there's maybe a more empowered relationship to encounter accountability. We talked about empowered versus disempowered. Relationships in the last episode, episode five of season one.

So go listen to that or watch it on YouTube if you haven't already. But let's imagine that we have a relationship to accountability and. What we're finding is that it's disempowered. You know, for some people it's empowered and some are, it's disempowered, so maybe it's disempowered. It's just like accountability has always been a way for me to be embarrassed and shamed and made wrong and called out.

So it's like a little, you know, kid being called out and shamed in front of the class. You didn't do your homework. So that's a disempowered relationship to accountability. Now, others might have what might feel like a more empowered relationship, which is accountability is a way for me to be disciplined and, you know, challenge myself to get stuff done.

And so that's, you know, more empowered because you're like, I want to hold myself accountable. We might notice about people who have that, which you might be one of them as, as I'm talking to you. Is that accountability is a way for me to be disciplined and more consistent and showing up for my stuff more, but it's also kind of a holding myself to what I should be doing.

We talked about that in, what was it? Episode two, I believe I'm. trouble keeping track of all the episodes. But episode two, I believe was around inspiration and possibility. So go listen to that one. But if you tend to coerce yourself and try to be disciplined and you try to be really like, you know, kicking ass at work, that's where you're trying to force yourself to do stuff, even when you're not feeling that excited about it.

There's something really cool about that, really committed. But what we might notice is that you're coercing yourself. And so accountability is just a tool to people like that. And I count myself amongst those as a tool to keep myself more disciplined and to coerce myself. And so if that's your relationship to accountability.

You know, what tends to happen from that is you will do it for a little while because you're supposed to, because you should, because it's going to keep you to be more disciplined. But at some point when you fall off, you're going to feel like accountability is just a way to show, to remind yourself how undisciplined you've been.

So if you really want to force yourself to be disciplined, then when you don't, you know, you fall off for some reason. Then accountability just shines a light on that. And so we have any kind of accountability system, whether it's a habit app or some kind of way to check in with others. We, we like that as long as it's keeping us going.

So right now I'm doing. As I record this, I'm doing a 33 day fitness challenge with my wife and kids. And I like that because it's keeping me going. And I'm actually showing up for my exercise a lot more, but you know, I might notice that if I fall off for a couple of days because I just wasn't feeling good, or I just needed more of a rest, or we had visitors, or there's a crisis or in our family or whatever is going on.

I fall off and then the challenge becomes this thing where I don't want to open the messaging app and tell people I've fallen off. And so I just stop even opening that thread. And that's what happens when we relate to accountability in that way. So what's a more empowered way to relate to accountability?

Why do it at all? Why even talk about it here in this podcast? Well, what I've found is that accountability... that people either tend to avoid or they use to coerce themselves. But there's another opportunity, at least in my own work with accountability and in my work as a coach, helping others to hold themselves accountable, which is that accountability is simply putting some facts on a piece of paper.

It's, you know, that's. That's the one way to put it. It's just accounting, you know, for how things have gone. So did I do this or not? I said I was going to do this by this date. Did I do it or not? Now, that is a simple yes or no. It's not like, am I good or bad, do I suck or am I amazing, am I lovable or unworthy of love?

That's not in the question. We put that meaning into the question, but the question is simply, did you do it? Yes or no? And if people have to report no, then they add on an extra meaning to it. Report, yes, they add on an extra meaning, but in accountability, it's simply, did I do it or not? That's, that's the whole meaning and we can look deeper if it's, if it's no, then if it's yes, great.

Like what, what actually worked would be the next question. What helps you to actually get that done? You know, is there anything to be learned from that victory? Is there anything to be celebrated? So accountability is a way to actually celebrate our progress as we go, to encourage ourselves if we're making progress, and then to learn from those successes.

There may be something there, I'm like, oh, when I did this, that really helped. But if the answer is no, I didn't do it, then accountability, instead of being a place to shame myself, Accountability can be a place for me to get curious. Oh, what, what happened? Like, is there something that got in the way there that I could take a look at?

Is there something that, you know, some way that I can take responsibility for how things went? So it's a way for me to show up with greater and greater leadership. Which is taking ownership, taking responsibility for how things have gone as opposed to, Oh, you know, like, you know, another way that people do accountability is I didn't do it, but you know, here's all the reasons why.

And I'll give you a thousand. It's like, Oh, I, you know, my dog did this, my kid did that, you know, the weather was this way. you know, the, the governor was this way, you know, whatever it is that is your, like, you know, pointing the finger outward, or I was not, I just wasn't feeling good. And these are all true, right?

You know, I'm assuming the person's not just making up a bunch of fake excuses. They feel really true to that person. And so if that's what someone's doing. What we can use accountability for is to notice, Oh, this person is not taking full responsibility, but on the other side is that we can actually use accountability to take full responsibility for how things go and say, yeah, I didn't do it, but here's, let's take a look at why.

And as opposed to just like, I suck, but actually what got in the way there? Is there something for me to learn? Is there something in the way that I'm showing up that caused it to go that way? Is there a way that I am relating to this in a very disempowered way? Is there, you know, some blocker outside of me that I can start to take a look at?

Maybe it is my dog and I need to look at how am I going to deal with my dog going forward or my kids or my, you know, the weather or the governor, whatever it is that I'm pointing outward. What can I do to have things go differently so that each time I hold myself accountable, I'm learning more and more.

It's going to help me to get closer and closer to what I want to create in the world. And that is taking leadership, full responsibility for how you want things to go. Not just, ah, I got stopped and I suck or things suck or it's their fault, but actually I got stopped and I'm going to take responsibility for how it went so that I can start to move forward in a different way that's going to have things go differently.

If I don't take responsibility for how things went, it's going to keep going the same way. So hopefully you can see as I talk about this, that what we're doing here with accountability is it's giving us greater and greater access to our own leadership and power to our own empowerment, because now we can actually take responsibility for how it went, even if.

There were outside factors that we didn't control. It's like, yeah, I didn't control any of those things, but can I see how I didn't have a way to deal with my dog or my kid getting sick or whatever? I didn't have, when that happened, I just decided to throw everything out or I just kind of slumped over in like disappointment and defeatedness.

And so that's a way for me to take responsibility for how that went. What on my side can I take a look at? It's not that there isn't stuff outside of you that's not in your control, but pointing to that gives you nothing. You don't have access to any more power. You don't have anything you can do about it.

It's just like that was just an uncontrolled one time thing. But when you look on your side without any kind of shame or blame or guilt or like wrongness, it's just like what, what can I look at over here that I could have shifted, that I could have done a little bit differently, so that going forward I will have something to do here.

So that's what accountability is. So how do we, or that's an empowered relationship to accountability. It's, it's something that gives you access to more power and moves you closer and closer to what you want to create. Now, how do we work with that? So what you can do is you can have someone you're accountable to.

A coach, an accountability group, an accountability partner, I mentioned with my fitness group it's my wife and kids and we have a, you know, a messenger messaging thread, that's simple accountability every day we're committed to posting now do some people miss some days? Yes. They do. I myself am really holding myself accountable to posting every single day.

I post, you know, right before I go to bed. So it's easy to remember. So have a group or a person or a group of people who you're reporting to have a consistent, you know, schedule for posting. So it's daily at the end of each day or it's weekly every Monday or every Friday or something like that. Monthly.

So a regular thing. Set a reminder so that you won't forget. And then what you want to do is. Tell them what you're going to do, so I am committing to doing this by this date, and then reporting, accounting, for whether you did it or not. So you can see that there's, you know, what people tend to do from this place if they decide to do this, is they will say, I'm going to try to do this.

I'm going to try to work on my book every day. It's not really a commitment there. There's nothing to hold yourself accountable. Did you try? Well, yeah, you know, like I kind of thought about it, but then I didn't do it because of these things. That's not accountability. Accountability is I will write 250 words of my book every day, 500 words, a thousand words, 2000 words, whatever it is, I will write X number of words a day.

Did you do it or not? Yes. I wrote that many words. No, I only wrote 249 out of the 250. Okay. So I can say, well, but at least I did some. Okay, great. But what caused you to not show up for that to actually hit it? So you commit to something by a certain time and date. So I'm going to do this by 5 p. m.

Friday. And then you hold yourself accountable. Did I do it or not? At the next time that you post, I did do it. And then you might celebrate or see what you have to learn there. You might just pat yourself on the back and feel good about it. Acknowledge yourself. And then if you've fallen short, just like, Oh, here's what got in the way that I can see to take responsibility for.

And then here's what I'm committed to doing going forward. And that is simple accountability. There doesn't have to be entangled in all of that. A bunch of blame and shame and guilt. Which is what we usually do, or beating myself up, or apologizing, or like, why did I do it that way? It's simply, I did it, or I didn't do it.

And then, you know, what got in the way, what can I learn from that, what helped, what can I celebrate, that kind of thing. And from this, we will start to move forward. So the last thing I want to talk about is getting back on track. So let's say you're actually holding yourself accountable. Did I do it or not?

Well, I didn't. And I haven't done it for the last. Three days or a week you've fallen off track and what people tend to do there is they feel discouraged. They kind of get slumped over and they're like I don't want to think about this. And they will just not report is one way to do it. Or just like, Oh, I did, you know, I didn't do it, but I'm going to get back on track.

Don't worry. Or they just won't even think about it. It's like distract myself, distract myself. Don't think about it because that, that really makes me suck. If that's what you're noticing, I've fallen off track and I'm feeling really bad about it and I don't want to talk about it or think about it, then reach out to someone and get some support.

Reach out to me, write to me. I'd love to hear from you. Find a friend, find a group, find a coach. I highly recommend coaching. I do one on one coaching. And by the way, I have at the moment, I have an extra spot open. So if you want to talk to me, reach out Leo at Zen habits. net. I also have a group that I coach called fearless mastery.

It's not open right now, but it's still reach out and let's talk. So in this way, we can get supported when we're feeling really defeated about things. But another thing to do is if you can, if you want to practice this. It's simply choose back in, say, I've fallen off. I feel discouraged and I choose back in.

So I'm just going to commit myself once more, make a commitment that I'm going to do this by this date. And I really suggest really committing yourself to that. And if you notice yourself really struggling with committing, there might be some feelings that you have about what you didn't do, how things went.

And so there's some work you can do to release that. I'll talk about that briefly right now. And what that work is, is simply noticing that there's some feelings like I'm holding, I have a disempowered relationship to that failure. I'm holding myself as crappy for having failed. And then what we have, what we can do is simply.

Let myself express all of the frustration and anger that I might have, express all of the sadness and heartbreak and disappointment that I might feel. It's just feeling that in my body and just letting that out. You might rage out into the jungle or the ocean or the forest. You might scream into a pillow, take it out on a punching bag, let out all of the emotions, cry if you need to let out the heartbreak or sadness, just let yourself feel all of it.

And as you do so, you're going to be Letting that out and then seeing was the gift in that for you as you fell off track or failed, how was it a gift? What could you learn from that? How can you see it as perfect? It went how it had to go and you did the best that you could given, you know, where you were in the process.

And so that's some work you can do to really let yourself Get to a place where it went how it had to, it went perfectly, it was a gift. And then from there, you can choose back in and say, I choose back in. I'm going to commit myself, I'm going to take this on, I'm going to do what needs to be done, learn something from the last time and shift something.

And then choose back in. And then the last thing I'll say about this, but getting back on track is start smaller than you normally would. So if you were writing for 30 minutes a day and everything was going great for two weeks, and then you fell off for five days, start back small, 10 minutes, five minutes, something like that, a 10 minute writing commitment.

And then as soon as you start to. Get back into that, get into the swing of it. You can change that to 15 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes, slowly increase it. But starting small is starting over and starting small is the way to make it easier for you to get back on track. So I highly recommend that. Yeah. So letting go of those emotions, that's really forgiving yourself.

And we really hold that, like, if I just, like, hold myself, hold this against myself and beat myself up and shame myself, somehow that's going to get me to be better at this. I'm going to get back on track. But it doesn't actually work. When we are beating ourselves up about something, trying to shame ourselves and coerce ourselves into action, we actually feel less motivated.

And so I really encourage you to shift your thinking around this, your approach. If you want to beat yourself into being more disciplined, it doesn't work. Look and see if it has been working for you. And I've worked with so many people in my one on one coaching and fearless mastery, where they have this belief that if they beat themselves up, it's going to make them work harder, get better, do something better next time.

And. It always leads to less motivation, to feeling more and more discouraged, like you can't do stuff. Imagine if you could just shift that story by letting out the emotions, forgiving yourself, letting go of what you need to let go of, and being compassionate with yourself. You're actually going to make yourself more open to moving forward.

You're going to let go of all of these bad feelings you had about yourself, and you're going to move forward in a more... open way that's connected to inspiration and possibility. So if that's something you'd like, let go of the old punishing way. And be more encouraging, more friendly to yourself, more compassionate, forgive yourself, and then start to choose forward one step at a time.

Okay. My friends, that's what I've got for you today. I hope that you found something useful in this. I hope you're still moving forward with your project. Mine is moving forward. I have fallen off track. I did forgive myself and I chose back in and I've created some accountability for myself. With my coach and with an accountability partner.

And so I'm actually holding myself accountable as I do this. And I am happy to share my public accountability with you. If you'd like, I'd love for you to also write into me [email protected]. Write in, tell me how things are going. What's your struggle around accountability? How is it hard to get back on track?

What questions do you have? Would you like to get coached live on one of these calls? Share your story with me as well. What are you creating? What's exciting about it for you? What are you struggling with? Sending you all some love. I love doing this podcast. I'm so lit up by it and I'm so happy to hear all of the encouraging responses that you've had.

Thank you all. Thank you for being a part of this.

If you haven't already, please subscribe to this podcast in your favorite podcast app. If you found this episode useful, please share this podcast with someone, you know, who cares deeply, that would be really meaningful to me. And if you'd like to dive deeper with me into this work, please check out the blog at or get in touch at [email protected]. Thanks for listening. And I hope you'll join me every Wednesday for more episodes of the Zen habits podcast.

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Intro music composition: Salem Beladonna & Robrecht Dumarey

Editor: Justin Cruz