Establish New Habits Using 5 Forms Of Layered Accountability

Many of us have the knowledge we need to change our habits.  We often know what types of food to eat, how much sleep we should be getting, and what types of exercise we should be performing.  However, we aren’t applying our knowledge in a way that generates a lasting lifestyle change.  This discrepancy between knowledge and behavior suggests that many of us struggle with applying our knowledge to form habits. 

The most common reason behind why we aren’t applying our knowledge is a lack of intrinsic motivation.  A lack of intrinsic or self-motivation can be remedied by discovering what is truly motivating you to make a lifestyle change; the steps to finding your “true why” are described in the  article 3 Keys to Weight Loss Success That Having Nothing To Do With Diet or Exercise.  In addition to uncovering why it is truly important to you to make a lifestyle change, accountability structures can also be used to turn your knowledge into action.  

The number of accountability structures you need to implore to generate and sustain a habit change depends on your level of intrinsic motivation, which will vary from habit to habit.  Sometimes, one accountability structure will be all that it takes to get a new habit established.  Other times, you’ll need to use several different accountability structures to gain and sustain momentum; this approach is called “layered accountability.”  

This article will help you understand several different types of accountability and provide you with ideas on how to layer accountability techniques to change your habits.   The types of accountability structures that will be explored in this article are: 

  1. Intentional self-accountability 
  2. Check-in partners 
  3. Action partners 
  4. Group support 
  5. Professional support 

By the end of this article, you’ll be able to understand which type of accountability structure is right for you and how to layer multiple forms of accountability in order to achieve your desired lifestyle change. 

Intentional Self-Accountability 

We all practice some form of self-accountability each day.  Do you shower on a regular basis without someone reminding you?  If so, you are practicing self-accountability.  Chances are you’ve been showering for many years, so it’s safe to say that this behavior is a habit for you. Still, when establishing a new habit, you may need to be more intentional about your self-accountability structures. 

Neuroscience research indicates that stating your goals aloud or, better yet, writing your goals down enhances your brain’s encoding process and helps you remember your goals better.  Therefore, for some of your easier-to-achieve goals, taking the time to speak them out loud to yourself or write them down on a routine basis will be all of the accountability you need to establish a new habit.  You may also want to take the idea of intentional self-accountability a step further by using reminders. 

Leveraging reminders is a great way to establish new habits.  You can use technology like apps or a digital calendar to get reminders to appear on your phone.  You can also use old-fashioned sticky notes as a reminder as well.  Here are three important things to consider when creating reminders for yourself:

  1. Timing is everything– set your reminder to appear at a time when you are able to take action.  For instance, if you are trying to establish a habit of eating breakfast, the best thing might be for you to have a reminder to ping your phone at 7 AM. Still, if you are usually rushing in the morning, it might actually be best for you to set a reminder for 7 PM for you to put a grab-and-go breakfast on the counter. 
  2. Location matters– placing a sticky note reminder to meditate on your bathroom mirror probably won’t be useful.  However, putting it on your desk so that you remember to meditate before starting your workday may work perfectly. 
  3. Make your reminders clear and specific– I’ve had clients who put “before” weight loss pictures of themselves on their refrigerator as an attempt to hold themselves accountable to eat healthy foods.  This reminder sounds good in theory, but it is not specific enough in practice, and because it is so vague, you will eventually start ignoring it completely.  On the other hand, a reminder note on your fridge to eat five fruits and vegetables a day can be an effective way to change your food choices. 

Check-In Partners       

                                                                                                           

Think about all of the habits you perform, probably without thinking about them or needing anyone to remind you to do them each day.  Well, at one point in your life, before these behaviors had become a habit, you needed someone to check-in with you to remind you to perform these behaviors until you started doing them regularly on your own.  The most obvious example of this might be brushing your teeth. 

When you were little, probably under two years old, an adult in your life needed to remind you and help you with brushing your teeth.  You didn’t know it at the time, but this adult was your check-in partner for many years until you adopted brushing your teeth as a habit.  

The check-in partner accountability structure is a powerful tool, especially when you select the best partner for you.  I recommend that when considering a check-in partner, you avoid your spouse or parent.  Picking one of these people to ask you about your habits can end up leaving you feeling annoyed with them and can create riffs in your relationships.  Therefore, try to select someone you admire but who is not your husband, wife, or parent.  

Friends, siblings, or other relatives make for excellent check-in partners.  These people can provide you with honest feedback without feeling as though you will be mad at them for telling you how it is.  When asking someone to be your check-in partner, make sure to request that they provide you with feedback on your actions rather than your outcomes.  With this in mind, set up a scheduled text, call, or meeting with your check-in partner at a frequency that works to hold you accountable but doesn’t feel bothersome.  

Action Partners 

Using check-in partners can be a wonderful way to get new habits up and running.  But in some instances, you might literally want a partner to go running with you.  This form of accountability is defined as an action partner.  

Finding an action partner is a fun way to hold yourself accountable for those of you who are social butterflies.  Action partners can be found in your inner circle or through online interest groups.  Whether you’d like to start hiking, want to learn to cook, or are interested in trying snowshoeing, finding someone to try these new experiences with can be reassuring and provide an important layer of support and accountability.  

Facebook and other social media platforms are excellent ways to find people who have similar interests.  Also, sending an email to your friend group might net you some surprising results.  Often other people are interested in establishing the same new habits as you are but are hesitant to put themselves out there.  

Group Support 

Group support is a tested and effective way to form new habits and create lifestyle changes.  Notable forms of group support include Weight Watchers, Alcoholics Anonymous, and mental health group forums. These groups include people interested in making a similar change and leveraging this commonality to support each other.  

Traditional support groups meet in person, but there are numerous ways to access group support virtually.  Many support groups now meet live over Zoom or FaceTime, while other groups connect asynchronously through Facebook, online forums, and group texts.  In addition to joining support groups to help provide you with accountability, you can also utilize activity-based group support. 

Activity-based support groups are groups of people who get together to practice the habit/skill they want to develop together.  For instance, a hiking group might plan to meet at a new location every Saturday, and interested members attend when they can.  Another example would be a group of people who want to be held accountable for finishing a knitting project.  These groups may meet weekly on Zoom to knit together for an hour. 

Both forms of group support can provide you with helpful accountability structures; you just need to decide which would be the best fit for you.  If you decide group support isn’t your cup of tea, perhaps seeking a professional’s support makes sense. 

Professional Support

The most targeted form of accountability is acquiring professional support.  Depending on the habit/lifestyle change you intend to make, you may seek a therapist, counselor, or health coach’s professional support.  Gaining support from a professional trained in behavior change can be an excellent form of accountability.  Accountability coaches may also be able to provide you with the support you need to establish a new habit. 

An accountability coach is someone you hire to help you set goals, follow through on your intentions and provide you with strategies for improvement.  If you know the habit you’d like to change and want to hire someone to keep you on task, an accountability coach should be considered.  However, it is important to keep in mind that these types of coaches do not necessarily hold the same licenses and certifications as a health professional and therefore have limitations on the type of guidance they can provide. 

Professional support can be a very effective way to hold yourself accountable when attempting to establish new habits all on their own.  However, some habit changes may require several forms of accountability that work harmoniously; this is called layered accountability. 

Layered Accountability


Layered accountability is when you employ two or more forms of accountability to establish a new habit.  The number of forms of accountability you decide to use depends on how difficult you think it will be to establish the new habit.  

For example, if you’d like to get into the habit of taking a 30-minute walk five days a week, you may decide to use three forms of accountability.  First, you use intentional accountability by setting a reminder in your work calendar to take a walk during lunch on Tuesday and Thursday.  Second, you recruit your neighbor to be your action partner by making plans to walk before work on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  Finally, you ask your sister to be your check-in partner by talking to her every Saturday to see if you reached your goal.  

“It’s always better to be over-prepared than not have what you need”

Often, you’ll decide to add or remove layers of accountability once you determine how difficult it feels to establish your new habit.  This is similar to dressing in a coat, sweater, and t-shirt on an April morning.  You start the day by needing three layers of clothing, and by mid-afternoon, you’ve discarded the coat and sweater and are feeling quite comfortable in your t-shirt.  Like, this clothing example, I recommend starting with more layers than you think you might need, as you can always peel them back once you no longer need them.  As they say, it’s always better to be over-prepared than not have what you need.  

Summary 

It typically takes more than knowing that a behavior is beneficial to perform in order to establish a new habit.  Understanding what is motivating you to establish a new habit is a critical step in making a sustainable change.  Adding accountability, especially in layers, is also a very effective way to make a lasting lifestyle change.  

The five most popular forms of accountability are:

  1. Intentional self-accountability 
  2. Check-in partners 
  3. Action partners 
  4. Group support 
  5. Professional support 

Layered accountability is perhaps the most effective way to establish a new habit.  This occurs when you simultaneously use multiple forms of accountability in an effort to make one habit change.  This approach can be used when trying to establish any type of habit. Still, if you like to explore how you can use accountability to lose weight detail, you can do so by reading WeightLost: 5 Steps to Achieving Your Ideal Weight and Gaining the Life You’ve Always Wanted.  

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