There’s no doubt about it: Setting specific goals is far easier than the process of working toward them and, eventually, seeing them come to fruition. That’s true no matter the goal you set, whether it’s to drop some pounds, clean up your diet, spend less money, or get on a consistent workout routine.
“Making changes — even changes from which we will benefit — takes hard work, skills, and continuous motivation,” says Monica Vermani, Psy.D, a clinical psychologist, author, and podcast host. “Many of us start out with little more than a desire and good intentions and rely on willpower alone to carry the day.”
But here’s the thing. If good intentions and willpower were the recipe for achieving goals, we’d all be running around in the best shape of our lives with balanced bank accounts, a perfect social circle, and relishing in our highly enlightened full potential.
The reality is that setting a goal only takes us so far, and that willpower is finite. That’s where human accountability can come into play. In fact, we argue it’s the missing piece to behavior change that lasts.
How Do People Change Behaviors?
Our habits and behaviors become quickly ingrained in us, making it pretty tricky to wander down new (and often thorny) pathways. Even if we really, truly mean it this time. That said, change is impossible. Scientific research has even helped us pinpoint a few key ways humans can create lasting change.
Social Learning Theory
Also known as Social Cognitive Theory, this concept says that we don’t simply learn from our own experiences. Rather, we learn by modeling the behavior of others in our environment, explains Ben Reale, a certified personal trainer. So basically, by surrounding yourself with people who share similar goals and model them well, you’ll remain better motivated and inspired.
Tapping into our “why” and feeling an internal, intrinsic desire to reach a goal is imperative in achieving it. This is true for anything we set our sights on, including fitness-related resolutions, improving our relationships, getting on top of our finances, or losing weight. When we have a deep desire to create lasting change that originates within us — versus being influenced solely by outside forces — we’re far more likely to reach our goals.
In a nutshell, the transtheoretical model (TTM) is a fancy way of saying that change is not a straight path. The sooner we realize and embrace that — making sure to account for dips in our motivation — the quicker we’ll find ourselves on the road toward long-lasting change. The TTM stages of change include pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, and maintenance.
“The big takeaway here is that people do not typically progress linearly from precontemplation to maintenance,” explains Reale. “Instead, people may reach the action phase for a month, only to have a hectic exam schedule, increased workload, or a family issue that brings them back to the contemplation stage.”
Anyone unaware of these natural waves may feel like they’ve failed when they reach a tough spot. The key here isn’t to consider yourself a failure and give up, but to acknowledge that this is part of the path toward change.
Along with intrinsic motivation, it’s important to rely on external sources and tools to reach our goals. After all, our own personal willpower is a finite resource that comes and goes. When our own motivation wanes, it’s important to have a social infrastructure of accountability in place that we can lean on.
“Accountability resources can help us prioritize our time and keep us focused and committed in the face of the many demands of our personal and working lives,” explains Dr. Vermani. “Going beyond ourselves, relying on others, and supporting one another is a part of our life's journey.”
Why Human Accountability Is So Effective
Take another look at the four methods of creating lasting change that we outlined above. As different as they all are, each is still connected to the others. And when combined? Well, you essentially become a force to be reckoned with.
Human accountability is arguably the biggest connection between them all — apparent in social learning, vital in the transtheoretical model, and necessary when our own intrinsic motivation inevitably wanes.
“Proper use of accountability can help people better understand their strengths and limitations,” notes Reale. “It can also help them begin and continue the behavior change process, knowing that they will be responsible to another person for their actions.”
Also, having another set of eyes on your progress can help bring to light snagging points that you might otherwise be blind to. Another person, ideally someone who cares about your progress as much as you do, can help you confront those setbacks, understand why they’re recurring, and use that information to help you achieve your goals.
6 Ways Personal Trainers Provide Accountability
When we think about fitness, a personal trainer is a no-brainer resource for human accountability. Here are some ways they can help.
Assist in goal setting: When our goals are unclear, it’s virtually impossible to work toward them. A certified personal trainer is an expert at helping you identify and set clear, realistic, measurable goals.
Create a personalized plan: Along with simply setting goals, fitness trainers can fine-tune your plan to your specific needs, abilities, and limitations. They can also adjust it as necessary as they watch you make progress.
Keep you on schedule: “When your personal trainer is on the clock and waiting for you, you are much more likely to honor your commitment to yourself,” notes Dr. Vermani. “Such external motivators and commitments help support change by keeping you on track.” This is especially important in the early stages of embarking on a fitness routine before the benefits of your efforts begin to show.
Challenge you: When working out on your own, you may not understand the degree of effort required to produce noticeable results. A trainer knows when to tell you to pick up a heavier weight, can motivate you to push harder, and can bring your goals back into focus when your motivation wanes.
Keep you safe: While in some cases we don’t push hard enough, other times we push too hard. A personal trainer knows how to challenge you safely and effectively, and can ensure your form is on point.
Cheer you on: Celebrating small and big wins throughout your fitness journey can help foster motivation. “A personal trainer can help you recognize your progress, celebrate your successes, and know when to take your workout to the next level,” says Dr. Vermani. As you can see, a personal trainer can help you reach your fitness and health goals, perhaps faster and with more motivation than you’ve experienced in the past. Learn how Kickoff can match you with the right personal trainer for you. In the same way, you can lean on other accountability resources — such as friends, family, therapists, and financial experts — to help you work toward other personal goals.