The Accountability Struggle and a Few Ways to Beat It

Do you find yourself struggling with workout accountability? Do you cop out more times than you’d like to admit? Do you tend to start something and then fall off the wagon? I’m certainly not a fitness trainer or professional but if there’s one thing I am and always have been good at over the years, it’s not missing workouts. If I’m in—you can go all in on me showing up. Now, have I missed some? Of course—I’m by no means perfect. If I’m being totally transparent, I actually didn’t go to a workout today I had initially thought I’d attend. So what better person to give you advice than me, right? HA. I don’t usually go today and it wasn’t really planned and it was on a day I rarely workout (more on why this is a formula for failure later). Normally though, I’m there. 

I talk to quite a few people who’ve told me they really struggle with making the workouts, classes or fitness commitments. They feel guilty and get down on themselves and it’s a bummer headspace to be in–I get it. I recently sat down and tried to think of some of the reasons my track record might be good with sticking to my fitness goals. Is it an inherit personality thing? Is it from a lifetime in athletics? Is it because I so desperately look forward to time out of the house to myself? I realized a couple of things (some tiny and some a bit more thought provoking) and wanted to share. These may or may not work for you. Maybe one or two resonate. You may already be doing them. I’m not sure. Just in case you’ve found yourself struggling to get to the gym or your workout class or in keeping that promise to yourself, these may be worth giving a try.

1.) Lay out your clothes the night before. I know. It’s a little wonky and seems insignificant and like a tiny thing to do, but I think it’s big impact. Whether you are working out at the butt crack of dawn, in the afternoon, after work or later in the evening, lay out your workout gear. Whenever you workout and regardless of what it is you’re going to be doing, always get the gym bag packed the night before or lay out the outfit. I would go so far as to say to put the gym bag next to your door so you literally can’t miss it in the morning or throw it in the passenger seat of your car the night before. Here’s the funny thing with this one—the clothes, the bag–they turn into a form of your accountability partner. You wake up and see the clothes sitting there laid out and ready and you see the promise you had made to yourself just a few hours earlier that you were going for that walk. The gym bag by the door is the reminder of the commitment you made last night to hit the treadmill. Somehow, these non-human articles turn into powerful reminders that we made a commitment to ourselves—don’t let those leggings down! 

2.) Speaking of accountability partners—get one. This whole concept could be a single blog post in itself but I’ll try to be brief(fish). It is said that we run on either internal or external motivation. If you are someone like me, you are internally motivated and pretty good at holding yourself accountable. This means if you say you’re going to do it you don’t need anyone enforcing that motivation other than yourself. You’re on it. Then if you add in accountability to someone externaly, the chances of you bailing other than a majorly good reason are slim to none. If you are someone who is externally motivated (which is the highest percentage of people), you’re going to do best with someone holding you accountable. To put it bluntly, you’ll likely let yourself down if you don’t have someone telling you or reminding you or calling you out to get it done.  What the heck does this all mean? It means that literally everyone benefits from an accountability partner—those internally and externally motivated. I want to say a little more on partners instead of making it such a blanket statement.

First, don’t get an accountability partner with the same accountability problem as you. Latch on to someone who will make you better. Reach up in this instance so that you can get to the point that someone else in your life is reaching up to you. If you and a friend are both wanting to do better and you want to support each other, a great option would be to reach up to the instructor in the fitness class or the trainer or someone else in your life who has a better track record. Obviously you still want to support each other but you both might need that extra support from someone in a different head space. The thing I like about holding yourself accountable to the instructor is that now he or she not only depends on you to attend because you said so, but also because you’re helping fill the class. You don’t want to let the instructor or yourself down. I’m internally motivated but I’m friends with my spin instructor—I know she’ll give me crap if I miss and I also know she depends on numbers to fill her classes and I don’t want to let her down and be an empty bike that could’ve been filled by someone else more committed.

Second, accountability can be as simple as speaking your schedule or plans to the people in your life. Tell family and friends or co-workers you’re starting a routine or class. They’ll ask you about it and it may just be enough motivation for you to attend. No one likes answering “oh I am not making it,” Or “I didn’t go,” to people asking how that new routine is going you were jabbering on about. Who wants to deal with veiled sympathy or veiled satisfaction people silently scream at you with their eyes when you fail? No one. No one wants to deal with that. Say what you want, but you know you have those people in your life and they’re who you need to prove wrong. Let them hold you accountable without even realizing it. Sometimes these people are the most powerful partners and motivators.

Finally, find classes with a cancellation policy—money is an accountability partner and a strong one. You’re less likely to skip if they’re charging you for missing class. Who wants to flush money down the toilet? Gym memberships are costly, don’t waste that money per month when you don’t show up. The fitness world is pricy–get your money’s worth.  

3.) Do what you love. If you hate running, don’t decide to be a runner. If you hate weights, don’t do weight training. There are plenty of physical activities out there that give you incredible benefits. Don’t feel like you have to do one just because it’s the new hot thing or everyone is doing it or people say it’s the only way to go. If you love walking then hike and walk your little heart out. If you love sports activities then find somewhere in town offering lessons or leagues. If you love being on a bike then spin and bike trails. If you don’t like strenuous heavy lifting, pick up a yoga class. There’s something for everyone and if I’ve learned anything, it’s to work in your joy. If you don’t, you eventually burn out. If you are working in your power and joy, you will stick with it and actually look forward to what you are doing instead of dreading it. I’m not saying it’s easy or always fun—there will still be hard classes and days you want to skip—but if it’s something you don’t mind doing, you are way more likely to let that moment of weakness pass and stick to your guns.

4.) Routine. I can’t speak generally on this because some people are not into routines, however, if you’ve been struggling with accountability you may have to try this one. It will help. Pick a time you workout and stick to it. Pick a class and stick to it. It doesn’t mean you have to work out the same time every day, it means that each week your routine is the same. Maybe you do a class on Saturdays at 9:00 am and then one on Thursdays at noon—then do it every single week. They are different times but those are the ones you do and don’t deviate. People will get to know your routine. You’ll get on a routine so that it becomes your normal—not a workout but a part of life–a habit. Once you form a habit, you don’t even think about it. So the goal is to get to the point that it’s a habit you’re subconsciously doing. If you are willy-nilly all over the map, oh I’ll workout here and there and maybe today, you aren’t creating a habit. This is exactly what happened to me today. It was so out of routine–out of habit–it almost felt wrong. But if you nail down certain dates and times and put them in your calendar and get the help in to watch the kids and tell friends and family, it will become something you don’t even think about anymore because it’s your way of life.

The other nice thing about routine is you will get to see certain people week in and week out who become silent accountability partners. If someone is missing from a class I attend weekly, I always wonder why or where they are. When I went to the gym and saw the same person next to me on the treadmill, I’d wonder where she was if she wasn’t there running and reading her People magazine. You want that. Why? It means they’ve gotten to know and expect you to be there. Be the person people wonder about when you’re absent.

5.) When all else fails work out with a grateful heart. This is the one that will get me out of bed super early on a Saturday morning after I’ve had too much wine or am so tired I don’t think I can even make it to the chair (where my clothes are laid out). Have a grateful mentality. I look at some of my aging family members who struggle to even walk up and down stairs. I know what they would give to have their healthy, younger bodies back —that could run, spin away on a bike, squat and lunge, chase down a drop shot and go into an all out sprint for kicks—without pain. I think about this often because I think about my own mortality a lot. There’s going to come a time when I can no longer do the things I can do today and I know I’m going to wish I could. I’m going to give anything to be able to get up early, hop out of bed and get ready to go workout at a spin class and absolutely crush it. Work out with a grateful heart. No, I’m not being that annoying friend who is saying “it could be worse,” or “be grateful,” but I guess maybe I am and I’m ok with that. Think of people who are dying and bedridden. Think of people cooped up in a nursing home tied to their wheelchairs. Think of people who’ve lost a limb. I know. I’m being kind of annoying but sometimes it’s annoying because it’s uncomfortable…and the truth. It could all be gone tomorrow and you’d give anything to go for that walk. So on the days it’s especially hard, try thinking with a grateful heart. It will help you overcome that moment of weakness and doubt. 

There are lots of other tips and tricks out there. These are just a few of mine that have worked over the years. They may or may not be for you, but if you’re struggling, they’re worth giving a try. Maybe I missed a few that are your own favorites—be sure to share them in the comments below for everyone reading. If you do give one or all of these a try, let me know how they work for you in the comments as well. Now, get those clothes laid out for tomorrow and be the partner people are reaching up to for accountability. You can do it!