Do you remember using the buddy system? It’s when two people (buddies) pair up as a single unit to help out and monitor each other’s safety, progress, or well being.
I grew up in the 1980s, so that system was an integral part of my development in a number of contexts:
- Kindergarten class
- Fire-drill procedures
- Summer camp activities
- Girl (and Boy) Scout tasks
- Green Up Day road cleaning
- Bus rides to field trips (or the washer)
It’s hard to gauge the extent to which the buddy system benefited me or my growth, but I’m sure it facilitated some meaningful human connection with classmates and cohorts. At the very least, it provided structure and an extra layer of oversight.
The practice has stayed with me decades later, and I now use it in my personal and professional life. Doing so during the last year of a pandemic has helped me remain productive while maintaining remote relationships. It looks a little different than the chain gang of pre-schoolers escorting each other across a footbridge, or a pair of socks accompanying their match into the spin cycle.
I currently have three regular accountability buddies: two former colleagues (and now friends) and my sister.
Every Monday morning, my sister and I text each other our respective goals for the week. We’re both writers and are prioritizing our craft in a way we haven’t done before.
The process is a cinch and takes all of two minutes. It usually looks something like this:
Happy Monday! Here are my goals for this week:
- Journal at least twice
- Practice yoga every morning
- Write and publish one blog post
- Meditate every night before bed
- Read for fun for 30 minutes at night
Sometimes I’ll mix it up and add things like bake lemon poppyseed bread for my neighbor, or send a birthday card to my uncle. My goals have
mellowed evolved over the years, especially during a forced Covid lockdown.
Every Friday, we call to follow up and check the status of each other’s progress. If we reached our goals, fucking hooray! We discuss the process. If not, that’s ok, and we discuss the reasons why.
In a recent conversation, my sister said, “I’m 20 percent practical and 80 percent philosophical, so let’s get the practical stuff out of the way first.”
The best part of our exchanges are the deeper dives, the whys, the implications, motivations, self-sabotage, the sneaky unconscious reasons we get in our own way. That is where the wiggle is in the squiggle.
The system I have with my former journalism colleague, who now works as a freelance writer (mostly solo, from home), is less structured. She texts me a heads up on any given morning that she will need a check in later in the day. Her messages involve simple yet specific instructions like:
“I’m working on a story about city council. My self-imposed deadline is 4pm today. By then I want to have interviewed three key people and written 500 words of the draft. Will you check in at 3:30 to see if I have talked to all three and hit that minimum word count?”
The answer is always yes.
Is her achievement consequential to my life? No. I’d love for her to succeed, but my life remains unaffected if she doesn’t reach that goal.
Is there any punishment if she fails to meet her own expectations? No external ones, at least not from me.
But the confirmation of a follow up from her accountability buddy suffices in motivating her to focus. That expectation applies enough pressure to stay on task. No social media, no distracting cleaning, no solo day drinking. Conduct those interviews and write those 500 words…usually with palpable success.
The process with my former home organizing colleague is similar, but with design and organizing projects. The same concepts apply, even if the goals differ.
Do you have any accountability buddies in your life?
Here are some areas where they come in handy:
- Writing projects
- Exercise programs
- Dietary changes
- Professional assignments
- Any creative endeavors
They are helpful in nearly every process that involves positive change or meeting a concrete goal.
Almost anyone can be your accountability partner, but there are some characteristics that lend themselves more to success. Check this out for more tips. You don’t need perfection (nor will you find it), but if some elements are in place, you maximize your chances of progress.
Here are a few key components:
- Reliability: No flaking out
- Positivity: No Debbie Downers–you both need to keep each other’s spirits lifted
- Consistency: Same Bat Time, same Bat Channel–or whatever agreement you both make
- Cheerleading: No pompoms or clapping necessary, but genuine support and enthusiasm are
- Commitment: You both need to be on board for accountability and goal reaching, even when it gets dull or lackluster
Intentional accountability is a powerful tool. But don’t take my word for it. Try it for yourself and let me know how it goes!