Ep. #39: Living Your Dream Part III: The Accountability Myth

How often have you heard that if you want to achieve a dream, you need to tell other people about it. The idea that we need external accountability if we want to achieve anything is a myth, and it’s keeping many of us from achieving our dreams. Listen to this episode to find out why, and to learn what works so much better than external accountability.


Welcome to Rich & Thin™ Radio, the only podcast that helps you get more bank with less bulk. Today’s episode is the third in our series on living your dream in 2019. I’m Kelly Hollingsworth, and I’m very happy you’re here. Last week we talked about why it’s so important to define your dream in a way that gets your brain excited about what you’re doing, and I recommended a book, Maybe It’s You, as a resource to help with this. It has some excellent exercises for evaluating your life and writing a description of your dream life in a way that gets your brain excited about helping you make your dreams come true.

But I also said I had a quibble with that book. Once you’ve written your dream description, the book instructs that you must read it to three people. Why? The rationale is: “If… you tell no one, what’s the likelihood you are going to win the battle?”

What is the accountability myth?

This, my friends, is a very succinct summary of the accountability myth. The accountability myth is the notion that you must take your dream public to make it happen, and questioning this notion is the subject of today’s episode. Before we dive in, I want to be clear that I’m not slamming this particular book. It’s the idea that’s the problem, and the idea is everywhere. When we’re trying to get somewhere, we enlist friends as “accountability partners.” We even hire “accountability coaches” to take us to task if we’re not doing what we said we were going to do. But I am going to discuss this problem in reference to this particular book, for two reasons. One, I recommended that you buy the book, and more importantly, it contains a very concise description of the accountability myth and the underlying rationale for it. These are the assumptions that I want us to question and evaluate today.

I also want to say that there’s nothing wrong with external accountability if it’s actually working for you and you enjoy using it. But I’m recording this episode, because what I’d like to offer today is that for many of us, we think it’s working, and probably it’s not. Because consider this: how many times have you told people what you were going to do, how many times have you roped people in to being your accountability partners, and then you didn’t follow through?

This happens because third-party accountability is, in my mind, a lot like dieting. We’re told it’s the only thing that works, so we keep doing it, and then when we don’t achieve the dream, we don’t reach the promised land, in terms of weight loss or our earnings or anything else, we just beat ourselves up. As with dieting, never do we consider that the third-party accountability we inserted into achieving our dream may actually be a big part of the problem. Today that’s what I want for us all to consider. In other words, in my mind external accountability is often counterproductive to us achieving our goals.

So today I want to discuss the problems with the accountability myth, and why it rests on faulty assumptions that keep us from achieving our goals. I’m also going to share why third-party accountability is antithetical to wealth, and what works so much better.

The Problems of Buying into the Accountability Myth

The big problem with the accountability myth is readily illustrated in the book Maybe It’s You. Before you read your dreams to three of your peeps, you are instructed to sit them down and tell them to “behave.”

What is meant by this? The book notes that your near and dear might be “sarcastic and pessimistic” so they must be instructed to remain silent if they are feeling that way, and to applaud you when you’re finished reciting your dreams.

The rationale for this procedure is that “[g]oing public with your dream has you accountable for realizing it and ends your right to stay quiet about what matters most to you.”

The accountability myth rests on many questionable assumptions

Embedded in here are many underlying assumptions. One is that to accomplish your dream, you need other people to behave. Two, you also need applause from them. Three, you must be accountable to others to realize your dream. And four, you must “end your right to be quiet about what matters most to you.” And I’d like to offer today that these assumptions rest a foundation of flaws, so let’s look at each of these in turn.

Questionable Assumption #1: Others must “behave” for you to achieve your dream.

To this, all I can say is, Oh. My. Word. Anyone who has this thought in their head, and sadly, it’s most of us, is going to have a very tough time achieving our dreams because guess what? If our dreams aren’t yet happening, it’s because we’re having a hard time controlling ourselves, and we are 100% within our own control. Everyone else? We don’t have a hope of controlling them, because they are 100% outside of our control.

Do you really want to put all that weight on your dream? My loved ones must “behave” (in other words, remain mute regarding their thoughts about my dream) in order for my dream to happen? I doubt it.

If you buy into the idea that this is necessary—they have to know about my dream but can’t express their worries or concerns—it’s no wonder that you’re not achieving your dream, because who would want to put that on their loved ones? I certainly wouldn’t, and I doubt you would, either.

So it’s critical to notice that this thinking isn’t accurate. You don’t have to worry your loved ones and then stuff a gag in their mouths for you to achieve your dream. To see why, imagine saying nothing about your dream. It’s a secret. You can totally achieve a secret dream. We do this all the time, by the way. I have a dream of dying with my own teeth, or at least  most of them, still in my head. Do I inform other people of my dream? No. I just brush and floss and visit the dentist. I don’t mention this dream to anyone, but every day I take action to make it happen.

What are the dreams we feel the need to mention? We tend to seek external accountability for the dreams we are worried about. Either we’re worried that someone else is going to have thoughts, negative thoughts, about the dream, or we’re worried that we can’t achieve the dream for some reason.

In this instance, is it reasonable to expect for others to remain silent about their own concerns? Of course not. If you’re worried, they’re going to worry, too. So the admonishment for them to listen but not speak is hardly fair, nor is it necessary.

Here’s an example. If I tell certain relatives about my dream to achieve my permanent weight of 105 pounds in 2019, they are going to have thoughts about that. These days we’re very accustomed to overweight being the norm, so they are going to wonder if I’m being too hard on myself. They’re likely going to think, “That’s no fun,” because we won’t be overeating together anymore. They may also think, “Great. Now you’ll be looking at me like I need to lose weight, too.”

What if I say nothing? I relieve them from thinking any of these thoughts, which reveals something important. I can keep my dream entirely secret, and no one else has to be affected. They probably won’t even notice, because the truth is that everyone else is fixated on themselves. I know a woman who went on a 12-day water fast, and her husband didn’t even notice. This is not something I’m recommending, by the way. I mention it to illustrate that often, under the guise of seeking accountability, what we’re really looking for is permission. We’re looking for other people to be okay with something that we’re worried about on some level. And when we stop seeking those things, when we realize we can keep our dream private, it becomes very clear that achieving our dream requires no permission whatsoever, and no major thought shifts by your loved ones, because truly, in most instances, no one else is affected by you achieving your dream. They won’t even know it’s happening if you don’t take it upon yourself to inform them of it, and then they’ll simply have no thoughts about it whatsoever. You can’t think about something you don’t even know is happening.

So here’s what I’d like to suggest: It’s a lot easier to achieve your dream once you learn that no one else is harmed by it and that no one else has to change and that no permission is required. Keeping your dream private is a great way to reach this realization, because it helps you see the disconnect between their thoughts and your dreams. There truly is no connection, so don’t invent one that you then have to worry about and manage your mind around.

Questionable Assumption #2: Applause is necessary to achieve a dream.

Of course, some dreams require a bit of an announcement. Going to law school or starting a business might be an example. In cases like these, you may need to have a discussion about that with your spouse, if you have one, before you head down the path. But notice that a discussion is not applause. You don’t need their applause to make your dream happen. It’s totally okay if they have unsupportive thoughts about your dream.

Why is this okay? Because the emotional support “requirement” that underpins the accountability myth is also a myth. When someone else thinks supportive thoughts and is on the sidelines rooting you on, that can be nice. It can provide an easy environment in which to manage your own mind. But is this always the case? No. Why not? Because support, like everything else, is neutral. How I receive it, whether it’s helpful or not for me, depends on my thoughts about it.

If I tell my peeps about my 105-pound destiny, what could happen? Under the guise of being “supportive” they might start offering “help” about what I should be eating or not eating. And what might I think about this? The place my brain naturally wants to go to is that I’m living with the food police. And when I think this thought, my emotional response is rebellion, and from that emotional place, I eat when I’m not even hungry, just to prove to the food police that they are not the boss of me.

Similarly, if they’re not supportive, I can think thoughts that will fuel the achievement of my dream. If I tell my friends about my goal and they say, “Oh, why bother? You’re not twenty-five. Just let it go and enjoy yourself,” I can think, “I can be an example to my friends that it is possible to enjoy food AND weight 105 pounds.” The lack of support fuels me depending on my thoughts about it.

So third-party support by itself isn’t the holy grail. It can hurt or help your dream depending on what you’re thinking about it.

Plus, it’s critical to see this, to see the flaws in the myth that we need support and the idea that we need applause, because the truth is that most people do not support our dreams. They are terrified of their own dreams, and they feel the same about yours. Because watch what happens when you share a nascent dream with your near-and-dear: you’re very likely to get blowback, even if you ask them for applause.

Yesterday I told my mom that I have a dream of cutting my working hours in half, but doubling my income. I studied her face as I said this. I could see her trying to be supportive, but her mouth was indicating otherwise. She was trying not to laugh, and it’s easy to see why. My mom’s paradigm, like so many of ours, is that money comes from working yourself into a fine dusty powder. She’s proved this to herself over and over again. Every time she’s worked really, really hard, she made money. So she thinks this is the only way you earn money, and as her daughter, I’ve unconsciously adopted this paradigm to some degree, and to some degree this is something I’ve proved to myself over and over again.

But this is contrary to what I teach my clients. I teach them that money is easy to earn, and I teach them to prove this to themselves by building businesses that scale. So professionally, as a coach and a business adviser, I’m firmly in one camp (this is easy to do), but personally, I’m a little bit in two camps. I have my feet in two canoes, so to speak. One canoe is that earning money is easy, but the other is that earning money requires a whole lot of work and a whole lot of long hours. And in 2019, that latter canoe I’m going to kick away from me and just let it float away, and I’m going to just sail along in the one where earning money isn’t difficult. Where things scale and more money comes in through something other than more hours.

How to do this is a topic for another episode. The important thing to notice here is that it’s entirely possible to do this, but my mom doesn’t need to know or believe that for me to make it happen. And the same works for you, too. When you’re trying to break out of your own limiting beliefs, you don’t need for someone else to break out of theirs. They can keep all of the beliefs they want, no applause for you necessary, and you can step into an entirely new paradigm.

When you do this, you get true wealth. You don’t become one of those angst-filled, guilt-ridden people who’s erroneously thinking, I have to distance myself from my mom and all of her limiting beliefs if I’m going to succeed. That’s just nonsense. What works way better is to become the example. Show, don’t tell. It’s so much easier to lead the way than to demand that others cut the path for you.

Questionable Assumption #3: External accountability is necessary to realize a dream.

This is actually the crux of the myth. Accountability means responsibility, and it comes in two flavors: You can be accountable to yourself, in other words, responsible to yourself, for achieving your dream, or you can be accountable to someone else, in other words, responsible to someone else, for achieving your dream.

Which makes more sense? If I try to rope you in to being responsible for my dream, how long is that going to last? How well is that going to work?

We think it will work, because in certain areas of our lives, we have no trouble doing what other people want us to do. We go to work. We file our tax return. We pay the mortgage every month.

The accountability myth looks at how easy it is for us to do these things (unless something is really going awry in our lives), it’s a certainty that we will do them, and then concludes (erroneously, I might add) that since we readily meet others’ expectations in certain areas, we can extrapolate that out to all areas of our lives. The idea is that if your readily pay your mortgage, you’ll also be able to stick to a diet, if you can make yourself accountable to a third party, as you are to the bank that loaned you money to buy your house.

Is this true? Does this actually work? No. The only reason we go to work, file our tax returns, and pay our mortgages is because there are negative consequences to not doing these things.

Why are there negative consequences? Because the employer, the IRS, and the bank can be counted on to come down on you and impose the consequence for your inaction as part of their own self-interest. Their self-interest is the key to these consequences having real teeth in them. We can count on these third parties to impose the negative consequence for us not following through because our follow-through is part of them achieving their dream.

But it’s completely different if you are using a third person for accountability to achieve our own dreams. Why? Because our brains aren’t stupid. Our brains know that the moment we say, “Forget it. I don’t want to do this anymore,” the accountability partner has absolutely no power over you. What are they going to do? They’ll shrug and say, “Okay.” They do this because ultimately, they, like everyone one else on the plant, are concerned with their own dreams, not yours.

This is why external accountability as a “must have ingredient” to achieve your dream is a myth. It doesn’t work. Just look back on your life. You’ll probably see a veritable boatload of instances where you did enlist third-party accountability to achieve something you were dreaming about, and still, the dream slipped through your hands.

What’s not optional in achieving your dream? Accountability to yourself. You can achieve a secret dream. It’s 100% possible to achieve something great and let people find out about it on their own, or tell them after the fact. You do not need a cheerleading squad, and if you have one, that may or may not help, depending on what you’re thinking about the cheerleading squad.

What’s more likely to happen, when you seek external accountability, is that you lose sight of your dream in the noise other people bring to it. They’re not going to remain silent. They’re not going to “behave” and they’re not going to applaud you. You’re going to see them trying not to laugh. You’re going to know what they’re really thinking. And you can manage your mind around this, but do you want to? In the early stages of achieving a dream, when you’re trying to learn something totally new, it’s typically easier to just manage your mind around things that actually get you to your goal, and keep third-party interference to a minimum.

Questionable Assumption #4: You must forfeit “your right to be quiet” to achieve your dream.

Getting to your dream in a sustainable manner necessarily includes getting there in the manner that feels good to you. In the case of my dream, it’s not enough to merely get to 105 pounds. I also want to get there in a way that feels amazing. Why? For one thing, if it’s a miserable slog, what’s the point? And for another, If I don’t do find the journey amazing, then the result won’t be sustainable.

And in my mind, one part of an amazing journey is that I don’t have other people hammering at me about what I’m eating or not eating. Part of the reason I don’t weigh what I want to weigh, the reason I’m currently carrying more weight than my body is built to carry, is because I have a whole lot of neurological nonsense in my brain about eating when I don’t actually want food. I think it’s polite to overeat. It’s fun to overeat. Overeating is how you connect with people.

My dream involves letting go of all this neurological nonsense, and it will be a lot easier to do that if I don’t have it coming at me from all sides. In modern-day America, no one will ever ask you why you’re overeating. They will demand, however, to know why you aren’t overeating. They may even accuse you of having an eating disorder if you don’t overeat.

So the important thing to notice here is that I didn’t invent my neurological nonsense from whole cloth. I absorbed it from the cultural narrative around me, and now I have to expunge it from my brain to achieve my dream. As I take steps to do that, inviting more of it to come at me like a firehose is probably not going to help my efforts.

I realize here I’m telling you about my dream, but in my day-to-day life, I want to be quiet about this dream. I don’t see any need to “forfeit my right to be quiet.” IN fact, I see every reason not to. And I see the same thing for you as well. If you don’t want to talk about your dream, if talking about it won’t help you bring it into reality, feel completely free not to do it.

So those are some of the reasons that the “need” for external accountability rests on faulty assumptions. You don’t need for others to behave for you to achieve your dream. You don’t need their applause. You don’t even need for them to know. And you certainly don’t have to forfeit any of your rights to achieve your dream, including your right to be quiet about it. You can keep your dream to yourself, and achieve it, no question. And you might want to consider doing this, because how fun would it be, instead of announcing that you’re going to do something and then demanding that your loved ones remain silent about it, to applaud you about it, to simply surprise them with the amazing news that it’s already done?

This brings me to my final point about external vs. internal accountability, and it’s this: one feels like garbage, and the other feels amazing.

External accountability is antithetical to wealth because it feels terrible. Personal accountability feels amazing.

The definition of wealth that we’re working from in this show is freedom. Why do people want to be wealthy? Because they are tired of answering to other people, and that’s what external accountability is—it’s answering to other people. External accountability is the alarm clock. It’s the punishing deadline assigned to you by your boss. It’s the crazy homework schedule your kid brings home from school. External accountability is when you feel like you’re being dragged around by a truck that someone else is driving.

What feels better? Being responsible to ourselves. This is when we’re driving the truck of our lives. It’s when we’re doing what we want, instead of what other people expect. That’s a critical ingredient in the definition of wealth, and it’s always going to feel better. Doing what other people expect is the thing we’re all trying to escape. It’s why we all want to get wealthy.

The interesting thing about the book Maybe it’s You is that there’s a lengthy and compelling discussion of personal integrity, which is the ability to make and keep promises to yourself. This, the book very accurately explains, is key to achieving your dreams, and it’s also where happiness, self-esteem and pride come from. Personal integrity is knowing you can count on you. And let’s pause to just imagine that for a second. Knowing you can count on you. Wouldn’t that be the most amazing feeling in the world? Of course it would. When I’m in the place of knowing I can count on myself, I feel amazing. Nothing is scary when you know you can count on you.

What feels terrible, and sometimes even terrifying, is when you can’t count on you, because you’re unreliable, and what makes it even worse is compounding that terrible feeling by counting on someone else who’s also not reliable. We can never control another person. We can never count on them to do something we’re not willing to do for ourselves. So whether the unreliable person you’re counting on is you or someone else, that is the exact formula for feeling disempowered. You’re thinking about your dream: Maybe it will happen, maybe it won’t, because who knows what these unreliable people are going to do?

So again I’d like you to consider: when are we most likely to go out into the world and seek accountability from someone else? When we’re not sure. We’re not sure we can do the thing we’re seeking accountability for, and we’re not sure it’s even appropriate. When we’re feeling the unreliability that comes from these thoughts, this is when we go to some third party, people who are 100% outside our control, and try to cure our own lack of control by enlisting them. We can never get more in control by relying on people who are outside of our control. This is not the recipe for counting on yourself. Rather, it’s a recipe for putting your power outside yourself, and for feeling dragged around by a truck in one more area of your life.

If you’re seeking external accountability, look inward.

So what I’d like to offer you today is that when you’re seeking external accountability, what’s really going on is that you need some coaching, and it’s not accountability coaching. You need causal coaching. Causal coaching is when someone helps you look at what’s happening in your head, the thoughts that are making the realization of your dream feel unlikely or inappropriate, and you get some assistance in not just identifying those thoughts, but in releasing those thoughts, so they don’t continue to push your dreams under a bus.

Here’s an example from my own life on what I mean. During my entire adult life, I’ve asked myself, why do I desire to overeat when I’m not even hungry. Actually, it’s not desire. Why do I feel compelled to overeat when I’m not even hungry? And I didn’t know the answer. But as I’m working with my coach, Adriane, I’m learning that there are reasons I eat so much, I feel compelled to do this, and all of the reasons are the sentences swirling around in my head. One recent discovery is that I’ve been using food and overeating to ingratiate myself to other people. In my head, I’m thinking, “They’re not going to like you if your life is too terrific. So create a little bit of a weight problem for yourself and then you’ll be safe. You’ll have more friends and they won’t talk about you behind your back or think snide thoughts about you if you have this problem.”

Now that’s a broke and bulky thought, isn’t it? I have to overeat to get people to like me and never say or think bad things about me? No wonder I’m not at goal weight. And Adriane is learning similar thoughts about money, as we’re progressing through our work together. For example, the holidays are coming up, and a very common thought is, “If I don’t buy a certain type of Christmas present for every relative I have, no matter how distant, I’m going to hurt their feelings and ruin their holiday.”

The interesting thing to notice here though, is that Adriane would never overeat to please others. It wouldn’t even occur to her. And I would never overspend to please others. It wouldn’t even occur to me. Why not? Because with Adriane’s eating and my spending, we know the truth: that what she spends, and what I eat, have nothing to do with what other people are feeling. Just as our feelings are determined by the thoughts we are thinking, their feelings are determined by the thoughts they are thinking, and what they think is something we can never control, regardless of how much I eat or how much Adriane spends.

She’s learning to recognize the truth that we can’t control others’ emotions with spending, and I’m learning to recognize that I can’t control their emotions with my eating. Once we truly get this, we’ll both be Rich & Thin in the ultimate sense of that concept. This is one of the reasons I think the work we’re doing in our Rich & Thin™ Workshop is pretty amazing, and if it keeps going this well, at some point it will expand beyond our little group of two, so I’ll keep you posted on how that’s progressing. For now, what I’d like to do is invite you, if you’re thinking you need some external accountability, to look inward. That’s where the trouble is, and so that’s where the solution lies as well.

The other thing I’d like to do is say, the day before Thanksgiving 2018, is that I am so happy to have you as a listener. Thank you so much for joining me today. Thanks for hanging in to the end of this episode, I know it was a long one. And I look forward to talking with you next week when we’ll continue our discussion of living your dream in 2019!

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