When you set a new goal for yourself, do you keep it to yourself just in case it doesn’t work out?
If so, then you may be among those who equate being accountable to others for your progress with disappointment—or worse—if you falter.
But being accountable isn’t about being caught when you don’t reach your goals. It’s about having support every step along the way.
The American Psychological Association (APA) offers five tips for making new habits stick and effecting lasting change. While you’ve probably heard the first three tips...
- Focus on one goal at a time
- Break it down into measurable steps
- Write out specific plans detailing how you will reach it
...the other two tips may be new because they're not actually about you. They're about the people around you:
- Involve a buddy
- Ask for support
So who can hold you accountable, and how do they do it?
Friends and family.
They don’t have to have the same wellness goals to join you on hikes and learn new ways of preparing healthy foods together.
According to the APA, “Accepting help from those who care about you and will listen strengthens your resilience and commitment.” And shared activities are a lot more fun than solo workouts and separate meals—meaning you’ll be more likely to repeat them.
Smartphone apps such as Strava, MyFitnessPal, MapMyRun allow you to set goals, measure your progress, compare with others who use the same app and create teams and competitions to stay on track.
Carilion Clinic develops regular “healthy competition” challenges for the 60 percent of employees who use the Virgin Pulse app; participants form teams to encourage each other and celebrate their successes together.
Therapeutic communities such as peer-led support groups are effective in removing stigmas associated with mental health issues and addiction, and giving participants a safe place to learn from each other as they discuss their struggles and successes. Peer groups can be found online or through local health care organizations, such as Carilion Clinic’s #ALLIN peer recovery program.
People often resist enlisting the help of a personal trainer, licensed counselor or registered dietitian because they think they “should” be able to reach their goals on their own. But seeking support is less an admission of failure than a show of commitment.
According to the APA, “Just a few sessions can help you examine and set attainable goals or address the emotional issues that may be getting in your way.”
Carilion Clinic’s Bert Herald, R.D.-N., became a registered dietitian after losing 115 pounds through lifestyle changes that included breaking decades-long diet and exercise habits and developing new ones. As a health care professional, he has access to a wealth of evidence-based information that helps him select appropriate meal plans that are customized to each individual's medical situation and personal preferences, providing nutrition for a healthy weight loss.
Bert sees value in weight-loss apps but advocates for professional support for people who are trying to make significant changes.
"Apps are an important tool to enable the patient to achieve some of their goals," he said, "but I provide the counseling and expertise to help develop them. I also investigate underlying causes for weight gain, which usually requires many lifestyle changes."
That counseling is a conversation that both he and the patient contribute to.
"I can act as a filter to a lot of the information that people see on the internet or hear about from friends, much of which can be confusing or even incorrect," he said. "It is also important for patients to have follow-ups as a motivational tool, knowing that they have a goal in front of them and wanting to show progress at our next meeting. We can then discuss what worked and what didn’t and develop new goals accordingly, working with the patient as a partner to their success."
According to Clinical Nutrition director Susan Carter, R.D.N., someone like Bert is the right person to help people stay accountable to the goals they set for themselves.
“I see him helping patients make a plan so they can work on those goals and not make it seem so overwhelming,” she said. “Because he has lived that, he knows exactly how to do it.”
“If I’ve done it, you can do it,” he says.
For more inspiration, watch Bert's story and then call a friend, download an app and get started on your goals!