Why Most People Fail At Accountability
If it’s so important, and such a critical ingredient to success, why do so many of us fail at accountability? The simple answer is, it’s not that simple.
Consider accountability in the context of the following two perspectives: theater performance and the practice of yoga. In the theater, there’s tremendous emphasis on and care for words, the intention or motivation behind them, and their delivery as part of a convincing conversation. In yoga there is a great emphasis on breath, muscle memory, flexibility, and focus. The depth of your stretch and the integrity of your pose are not always the same every day. Yoga just asks that you be present and make your best effort with your intentions. The same is true for accountability.
Both disciplines—theater and yoga—require a regular effort; rehearsing and practicing daily is what brings mastery and ease. Mastering accountability conversations relies on the same effort— disciplined attempts, followed by learning, correcting, and trying again. And both disciplines require that we move from intellectualizing the process to actually attempting it—a move that’s assisted by having good models, directors, teachers, and coaches. It’s super helpful to work with someone who can show you how it’s done and give you real-time feedback and immediate understanding of how you’re actually doing. This is why there are mirrors in a yoga studio and why directors give notes during rehearsals.
My standing bow pose, for example, would be very different if I’d just read about it as opposed to taking a class with an instructor who could both show me and offer me real-time feedback and adjustments to improve my form. Similarly, theater rehearsals create space for experimentation guided by a director; they allow all involved to see and hear what works and what doesn’t. Until you can walk across the stage with your lines in your mind, clear intentions, and some rehearsal time clocked, your ability to perform in the moment is limited—especially when it comes to being effective and believable.
The same is true for accountability; it’s not just a textbook topic to read about and internalize. Most people fail at mastering accountability because they want to intellectualize the steps and skip the practice, as if any one of us could just walk onto a stage and deliver an admirable performance or teach a yoga class from having looked at a series of images. Most want to approach those conversations as if they could just say the lines and move the story forward (get through the conversation) and get on to the next scene (get to a result or change).
But when you recognize that accountability is not a monologue where you deliver all the lines—“and cut; that’s a wrap”—when you realize that you’re participating in a dialogue that’s not fully scripted and that requires responsiveness and play back and forth, that’s when training and practice start to seem absolutely necessary for success. We must experience and embody the real-time action of the conversation to gain true mastery. And that involves repeated practice and role-play. Learning provides content and context. It may inspire action. But without real-time feedback, without rehearsal or regular practice, the brain cannot connect the information with the experience and create new, repeatable behaviors with any confidence or consistency. Muscle memory is real, and mastering accountability depends upon it.