Accountability Partner Benefits: How They Can Help Motivate

Craig Primack, MD, FACP, FAAP, FOMA

Reviewed by Craig Primack, MD, FACP, FAAP, FOMA

Written by Hadley Mendelsohn

Published 05/27/2024

Have you ever set out to implement healthier habits but lose momentum partway through? Here’s a little secret: Most people have. 

Making positive change is hard, especially at the beginning. It takes a lot of commitment, time, and effort. That’s where accountability partners can come in and help you stick to your goals — whether you’re trying to eat more protein or get better sleep.

Having an accountability partner, or accountability buddy, is like having a really impactful coach who’s also your biggest cheerleader. 

Keep reading to learn how this kind of relationship can help you live a healthier life, where you can find an accountability buddy of your own, how to be an accountability partner for someone else, and more.

Put simply, accountability is about holding yourself responsible for your actions and decisions. Without it, important things may not get done, goals may not be met, and trust becomes more difficult to build. You could also think of it as having discipline, another essential to sticking to your health goals and achieving real milestones, particularly when it comes to diet and exercise.

As one article points out, accountability is a key ingredient to a healthy life, and it can be broken into two categories based on what motivates you:

  • Controlled accountability. This is when people follow instructions and rules because of the expectations of others. They’re extrinsically motivated to do so.

  • Autonomous accountability. This is when people follow instructions and rules because they want to. They’re intrinsically motivated.

In both cases, authority figures, like healthcare providers, play an important role in defining how to stay accountable. Autonomous accountability seems to lead to better long-term maintenance, but there isn’t enough research to understand definitively how different forms of accountability impact the short-  and long-term maintenance of healthy habits.

All of this to say, if you tend to fall in the first category, then an accountability partner will be especially helpful because they can serve as an external motivator.

Accountability partnership is essentially a form of social support. Accountability partners can be friends, family members, colleagues, coaches or healthcare providers (more on how to find the right one for your own routine and goals in a bit). 

No matter who you choose, having partner or community support can encourage you to follow through on a commitment to health goals.

You can even think of an accountability partner like training wheels: They help you learn the ropes, and eventually, once you’ve got the approach down pat, you might actually become more internally motivated and need the relationship less.

Accountability partnerships can look different depending on how much support someone needs — and needs may vary based on how someone is motivated, with more intrinsically motivated people needing less support. Understanding your motivations can help you tailor the relationship to meet your needs.

Research into team accountability within the context of a business explains that accountability is closely linked to trust, commitment, success, and emotional connection.

This suggests that when you have an accountability partner, or when someone is counting on you, you might be more likely to stay committed to your personal goals, whether that be exercising consistently, eating healthier, or being diligent about a medication routine. Knowing that you’ll need to report your progress to someone creates a sense of responsibility and increases your commitment to achieving your goals.

The best accountability partners also provide encouragement, support, and constructive feedback, which can help people overcome challenges and stay on track, especially during more taxing or busy times.

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One-on-one care and support can significantly boost motivation and adherence to wellness targets. In fact, in a small study of at-risk or diagnosed patients with type 2 diabetes, all eleven participants reported having a positive experience with a health coaching program. 

They felt that one-on-one health coaching was a valuable part of their treatment as it led to greater access to care and resources, a better understanding of complex health issues, and, you guessed it, accountability for healthier habits — all of which are essential for behavioral change.

With this in mind, it makes sense that accountability partners can be especially helpful on a weight loss journey, where implementing new healthy eating and exercise habits (like having enough time to get your steps in!) presents a specific set of challenges.

Another study noted that barriers like a lack of knowledge and clinical skills, as well as time constraints, hinder lifestyle prescription medicine counseling. So having extra guidance as to why a certain habit is important to incorporate will help patients want to stay on track. 

The same was true in weight loss contexts. In an analysis of health coaching for weight loss among people with obesity and excess weight, almost 500 female participants did three months of coaching. The results showed an average weight loss of about six pounds, and there was no significant difference in weight loss between different follow-up methods (physical, virtual, and hybrid). 

Factors linked with losing at least five percent of weight included having more coaching visits, longer follow-up periods, and setting weight management goals. Though there’s a need for more research, the benefits of accountability groups and partners, especially in the context of health, are promising.

Before jumping right into an accountability relationship with someone, talk about doing a trial period with them first, to see how you work together. This can help reduce tough conversations down the line and also allows you to find the best fit for yourself. Like any relationship, the first person who comes along may not be the right person for you.

When you’re ready to start your accountability buddy search, consider what kind of relationship you’re looking for: one-way or two-way.

A two-way accountability partner would likely be a non-professional person who has similar goals to you. Whether you tap someone new or enlist a trusted friend, two-way relationships work best when both people benefit from it. Working within a reciprocal framework creates mutual understanding and support.

Keep in mind: The best accountability partners are trustworthy, kind, and informed. Oh, and while you may work well with a family member in certain respects, complicated dynamics can impact the accountability buddy bond.

A good way to find someone who shares a common goal is by joining a group or organization, centered around your goal. This could be a:

  • Forum

  • Support group

  • Gym

  • Class

  • Volunteer program

You could also consider accountability groups, which are usually easier to find within those communal settings. 

If you’d rather work with a professional, you may prefer a one-way accountability partner like a:

  • Life Coach

  • Personal Trainer

  • Therapist

  • Healthcare provider

As shown in the studies we talked about earlier, healthcare providers can be great accountability partners. Just be sure to consider how long you’ll likely keep working with the provider.. When that relationship isn’t permanent, it can be less effective. 

Of course, your goal can help you pick which kind of professional to work with. If you’re working toward relationship and career accountability, you’ll probably want to work with a therapist or life coach. If you’re aiming to lose weight, then a nutritionist, dietician, or personal trainer would likely be the most effective.

Whether you go for a one-way or two-way relationship, these tips can help keep things running smoothly and show you how to be a good accountability partner yourself. 

Establish respect, empathy, and shared commitment

Setting the right foundation for a shared commitment to your (and their, if this is a two-way accountability relationship) personal goals is key. Choosing a partner you trust and whose opinions you value who also makes you feel valued and respected can help set you up for success here. 

Develop a plan and set goals

Though they should be encouraging, being a good partner is more than just being a cheerleader. Goal-setting is essential to changing a behavior, and understanding what behavior you want to change can help you identify how you should enact that change.

There are two main types of goals: approach goals involve incorporating a new behavior and avoidance goals involve eliminating an old one.

Once you know what kind of goal you want to set, look for ways to make it more appropriate and doable. Following the SMART-EST method can help with that. It involves setting goals that are:

  • Specific

  • Measurable

  • Achievable

  • Relevant

  • Time-bound

  • Evidence-based

  • Strategic

  • Tailored

A study found that when setting SMART goals, the specific, measurable, and time-bound aspects should be clearly written out, while the attainable and relevant parts were best hashed out in a verbal conversation. You can see where having a partner would be helpful here. It’s also a great way to get feedback so that the goal is as strong as it can possibly be.

Setting specific goals can also lead to you giving yourself little “homework” assignments. We know, we know, that sounds like no fun, but having something to work on between meetings or sessions will lead to progress. And checking off progress moments can feel like a celebration or mini reward, which, arguably, is fun. 

Keep lines of communication open

These relationships work best when they emphasize clear, action-oriented expectations that you develop together. When you are actively involved in setting your goals and expectations, there’s a level of ownership that helps with self-motivation. Also, it adds an element of reciprocity to the relationship.

Most of the research shows that it’s wise to have regular check-ins with your accountability buddy. Ongoing conversations allow your goals to evolve and become more challenging so that you continue to grow and improve. Not to mention, continually checking in can help with time management and prevent procrastination.

In exciting news, the research implies that it doesn’t matter too much how you meet or communicate. While accountability often requires the presence of another human being, it doesn’t need to be in person. You can have check-ins over the phone or via email or text messages, too.

Whether your goals are about getting fit, losing weight, or drinking more water, enlisting an accountability partner to check in with can help you stay motivated and, ultimately, reach them. 

Here’s what to know if you’re considering working with one.

  • The more motivated you are by other people’s expectations, the more likely an accountability buddy will make a difference. People who are motivated by their own desires can still benefit from this kind of relationship, but often require less support.

  • You can choose a two-way accountability partner like a friend, family member, or colleague with similar goals or a one-way accountability partner like a life coach, personal trainer, therapist, or healthcare provider. You can also seek out an accountability group, which is like getting a bunch of accountability buddies in one.

  • Choosing someone supportive and honest can help you get the encouragement and constructive feedback you need to stay on track, no matter what happens. When it comes to health goals, try finding someone with a thorough understanding of your goals as well as the time you need from them.

  • Committing with equal care and setting goals together can make accountability relationships more effective, as can agreeing to check in regularly.

If you’re working toward weight loss goals, Hims & Hers programs include both prescription medications and regular check-ins with healthcare professionals.

7 Sources

  1. Oussedik E, et al. (2017). Accountability: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5536091/.
  2. Mohr DC, et al. (2011). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3221353/.
  3. Stewart VR, et al. (2023). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8600914/.
  4. Liddy C, et al. (2015). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4369629/.
  5. Aldhamin RA, et al. (2023). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10411960/.
  6. Bailey RR. (2019). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6796229/.
  7. White ND, et al. (2020). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7232896/.
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