Do you find you sometimes struggle with being accountable to yourself? Have you noticed whether you only accomplish tasks or goals because of other people’s expectations? Struggling with internal accountability is something people often experience and identify as a major roadblock toward reaching their goals and creating the kind of life they imagine for themselves. Today, I want to offer a few ideas for how you can build an intrinsic sense of motivation and accountability toward yourself, in order to begin living a life that feels aligned with your values and aligned with your visions and dreams for your life.
Do one thing differently: It can be difficult to build motivation sometimes. Especially when experiencing depression, it may feel overwhelming to consider taking any action whatsoever. One way to counter this sense of overwhelm is by challenging yourself to do one thing, any one thing, no matter how small, differently than you did the day before. If you’ve struggled to get out of bed for days on end, you can challenge yourself to get up and brush your teeth. If you’ve procrastinated on making doctors’ appointments, start by making one appointment for the least scary procedure or doctor’s visit. If you want to clean out your house, but feel the task is insurmountable, urge yourself to clean out one drawer in your kitchen. You may feel inspired and find the momentum to keep going once you push yourself to do one thing differently. And even if you don’t feel the urge to keep going after doing one thing differently, you can acknowledge the change and progress you made, however small you may perceive it to be, as a building block toward increased change in the future.
Distinguish between the short-term and long-term: Sometimes our long-term goals get clouded by what we want in the short-term. You may have the long-term goal of getting into grad school, but in the short-term it feels more enjoyable to scroll the internet or veg out on the couch. It can help to look at how behaviors in the short term either contribute to or hinder your ability to reach your goals. A former colleague of mine once posed the question to a client, “Do you want to have a good day or do you want to have a good life?” This can be a helpful question to ask yourself to increase accountability toward yourself. In order to reach our goals, we sometimes have to sacrifice short-term pleasure for the long-term benefit of reaching a goal that is important to us.
Identify limiting beliefs getting in the way of increasing accountability: It can help to reflect on and identify potential limiting beliefs that may be impacting your ability to hold yourself accountable. For example, do you believe that if you try you will fail, and therefore it feels safer not to try at all and avoid the possibility of failure? Do you believe you are undeserving of happiness or of good things happening to you? Do you believe other people are responsible for doing things for you or are responsible for ensuring your happiness? Where do these beliefs originate from? What may be protective or reinforcing about these beliefs while simultaneously holding you back? When we’re able to hone in on our limiting beliefs, we can begin challenging and dismantling them as a means toward eventual change and holding ourselves more accountable.
Identify whether your values and behaviors align: It can help to identify your values and to what degree your choices and behaviors align with your values. Often, when there is a disconnect between our values and our behaviors, this manifests in negative judgments of ourselves or feelings of inadequacy, which can then fuel our limiting beliefs, which can then lead to inaction and lack of accountability, all creating a vicious cycle that is hurtful to our ability to live our lives joyfully. It can help, for example, to identify that you value working hard and to also identify that you often spend time engaging in activities where you don’t feel productive. This can set you on the path to identifying actions you can take to be more productive in order to feel that you are living your values, thus reinforcing the benefits of being accountable to yourself and disproving some of the limiting beliefs you may hold about yourself.
Pay attention to what your emotions are telling you: It is also helpful to notice what information your emotions and behaviors are trying to relay to you. If you struggle to feel accountable toward a relationship, your job, or a certain goal, and the lack of accountability persists, it may be helpful to explore whether there’s a larger frustration you may have with your partner, job, or attempt to reach a goal. You may find that your lack of motivation is justified and that this may signal a need for an external change, such as a job change or working on certain issues with your partner. It can be particularly helpful to notice when certain emotions persist when you tend to be accountable and find motivation in other aspects of your life on a regular basis. The persistence of an emotion could be meant to draw attention to a change that needs to be made in order to find relief in certain aspects of your life.
When we’re able to build an internal sense of accountability toward ourselves, we can begin taking responsibility for our part in how we improve our lives. Building an internal locus of control is integral to achieving a life worth living and to identifying how we contribute to the outcomes of situations in our lives. Ultimately, our control is limited to our thoughts, feelings, behaviors, decisions, and reactions, and taking accountability for these areas can lead us to make the changes we need to make to lead lives that align with what we’ve always wanted for ourselves.
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