Growing up, we have coaches, teachers and parents who hold us accountable. They make sure we come to practice, do our homework and complete our tasks. As adults, we become the coaches, teachers and parents. However, that need for encouragement and support never goes away.
This is particularly important when it comes to meeting health and fitness goals. Going solo may work for some people. But, most of us benefit from a pack. A tribe. A coach. This is why we hire personal trainers, join organizations like Weight Watchers® or meet a buddy for early morning workouts.
People who don’t want to pay for a professional, or rely on a single accountability partner, can join or start an accountability group.
Why accountability groups work
“Being accountable to someone gives you a protective layer of commitment,” says Terri Kallem, a Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield member from central Iowa. “You have someone who is on your side, working in your best interests."
Kallem is a personal trainer, nutrition coach, and owner of S.H.E. Fitness and Nutrition. She started her own wellness journey 13 years ago, when she was in her early 40s. “I was continually exhausted, getting through my day with diet sodas and pricey lattes. I desperately wanted to be lean, fit and healthy. I was never an athlete, but I started working out, building muscle and taking nutrition seriously.”
Noticing her transformation, people started asking her how she did it. She learned that many of them gave up on healthy habits because they lacked a supportive community, family or work environment.
“A fire went off in me when I heard them resign themselves to poor health,” she says. “I would say, ‘What’s stopping you? I’m not special. If I can do it, so can you.’”
Today, Kallem's “S.H.E. tribe” includes a variety of women who she guides and holds accountable. “In ancient times, women were a source of strength and comfort to one another.,” says Kallem. “Today, we are isolated in our homes and our lives. But, we still need each other.”
She brings people together through an online community, outdoor boot camps, 10-week courses and quarterly health events.
"All of these women are busy, with families, jobs, school and other commitments. But even then, they can jump on our online community and see what other people in the tribe are doing to stay motivated,” she adds. One busy mom reported that after work, the community would help her choose the apple and not the cookie, or the gym and not the couch.
How to start an accountability group of your own
Accountability groups keep you focused and on track to meet goals, according to Brendalyn Shird. The central Iowa woman was part of an accountability group before starting her own two years ago.
Known as the 8-week challenge, everyone in Shird’s group contributes $20 to join, and it becomes the prize money for the top point earner. Every day, the members of the group earn points by doing healthy habits, like keeping a food journal, eating two fruits and three vegetables per day, drinking 64 ounces of water and exercising 30 to 45 minutes per day. At the end of each week, they turn in their totals.
Shird hosts the group 4 to 5 times per year. In between the challenge, she might veer a little off course, but overall her habits have changed for the better. Since she started the group, she has dropped 30 pounds total.
“Accountability is extremely important to me,” says Shird. “I am more likely to meet other people’s expectations than my own,” she adds. “That’s why I sign up to walk half marathons and other events. If I pay the money and sign up, I feel an obligation to do it.”
Shird’s group sometimes has as little as four people, but has been as large as 20. They support one another via group e-mail. “My advice is to create firm ground rules and keep the group to a reasonable size, with people you can rely on to be supportive and positive,” she says. She offers this advice to get started:
- Find your people. Invite people who have the same struggles and goals, and are equally as invested.
- Get organized. Decide how your group will be run. Will you meet weekly? Use social media? Send group e-mails or texts? You’ll need a way to share successes, struggles, support and encouragement.
- Set goals. You can come up with your own or use technology such as MyFitnessPal or fitness trackers to log meals and set measurable goals.
- Build camaraderie. As the organizer of the group, your role is to keep up the momentum. Ask questions, encourage participation and set up meetings and events. For example, Shird sends weekly updates with recipes, tips or inspirational quotes.
If you don’t want the responsibility of starting your own accountability group, you can split the responsibilities among team members.
Accountability goes beyond health and fitness. You can find groups for just about anything like-minded people want to explore: spirituality, writing, personal growth or learning a new skill. To learn more about accountability groups, check out this article on how strength can come in numbers, especially for seniors.