If you want to start your own accountability group (or goal squad, as I like to say) but aren’t sure what to do first, try taking a page from Henriette Anne Klauser, author of the books Writing On Both Sides Of The Brain and Write It Down, Make It Happen.
Klauser first became interested in accountability while teaching medieval English at the University of Washington. She noticed that some of her most brilliant students weren’t turning in their work on time and sometimes even failed out of her class. Often the doctoral candidates she thought of as the brightest in their groups never wrote their dissertations, even though they had completed all other coursework.
After researching the best ways to overcome writing anxiety and procrastination, she began giving workshops on the topic, only to discover that the students were taking her tips and applying them to all aspects of their life, not just their work.
"People would tell me this isn’t about writing, it’s about life,” said Klauser, who has started at least three accountability groups for herself in her lifetime, all of them lasting for several years. Klauser's groups met about once a month and discussed their progress over coffee. My accountability group is long-distance, so we start off each year by emailing each other a list of goals. Then we check in with each other every three months to give updates and encouragement. The working of your group can be tailored to its members, but Klauser has a few tips on how to make your goal squad as productive as possible:
1. Name your group.
In Write It Down, Make It Happen, Klauser describes how she and a close friend decided to start meeting about their goals and named their club “The Seymour Group.” It was a completely made up name, she admits, but they liked that it sounded important and vaguely financial, like an investment group.
"But of course, it is an investment meeting," said Klauser. "It’s just that the stock is in ourselves and the dividends are high."
On a practical level, it was also useful to be able to scrawl “Seymour Group” on their calendar to differentiate it from the other times they hung out as friends. And Klauser remembers putting off a needy spouse or child because she absolutely needed to “meet with the Seymour group” for a weekend morning.
2. Make no judgements.
The only questions your accountability partner or group should ask are "What will you do?" and “By when will you do it?” says Klauser.
“I’m here so you can be accountable to me, but I’m not here to judge you and say, ‘Well, you should have done this by now,” she explained. “I’m not even here to say, ‘Are you really serious about this goal?'"
3. Don't give advice (unless asked).
Closely related to the “no judgements” guideline, this rule helps keep the group focused on goals that they’ve set for themselves without the burden of interference from other people’s expectations and experiences.
It makes sense in many ways -- after all, only you know the steps you can take in your personal life to lose 30 pounds, exercise more, or gun for that big project at work. Your goal group is there as a sounding board, because most of the time you already know what to do. You just have to do it.
4. No personal stuff.
Goals are often so personal that it’s hard to imagine trying to keep goal talk and life talk separate. But Klauser has such a hardline on this rule that if an accountability partner over the phone starts veering into personal issues unrelated to the goals, she’ll often tell them to hang up and then call her back so that they can mentally switch tracks.
“If you keep it like a business meeting, it can go for years,” said Klauser. "But if you start making it a personal meeting, one or two of you are going to start finding other reasons not to show up.”
5. Focus on the outcome (of the outcome, of the outcome).
So you want to apply for that dream job, hike Machu Picchu or save more money. Be sure to jot down why you want to accomplish this goal, and why this reason is so important to you, says Klauser. Not only does it give you more insight about yourself, but it has the potential to make your goals more specific.
Most importantly, at the end of the year, it may also help you realize that even though you didn't accomplish this specific goal, you may still have arrive at your desired outcome another way.
"Keep on writing and keep on believing," Klauser advised. "If not this year, then when?
To learn how a goal squad works, check out this true story on what two years of goal-sharing helped a group of friends accomplish.
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