Learn how ADHD adults benefit from accountability partnerships in order to follow through on what’s important to them and feel good about it!
- ADHD adults may resist accountability because of their history with this concept.
- The right kind of accountability — curious accountability — can feel affirming, though.
- Accountability partners can help ADHD adults follow through with their intentions.
- Attention to the design of the accountability partnership is important to get the most benefit from it.
Accountability. Just hearing the word might give you the heebie jeebies. I know. But what you may not know is the right accountability could be a game changer in helping you do what is most important to you.
You’ve tuned into Scattered, Focused, Done, Reimagining Productivity With ADHD, a podcast for ADHD adults, like you, who want to learn how to adopt the best strategies, tools, and skills, to be able to get your essential work done in a way that works with the way your brain is wired. I’m Marla Cummins. And I’m glad you decided to join me today on this journey to imagining productivity with ADHD. So you can get what is most important you’ve done without trying to do it like everyone else.
I know when you think about accountability, you might think of it as the result of failing to deliver whether in your personal or professional life. That is, you’re held accountable by others when you, well, screw up. And this of course leaves you filled with shame, making it even harder to follow through. If this is what you envision when you think of accountability, it’s no wonder you may be resistant to even considering using it to help you. Hang with me for a bit to see if I can change your mind about that.
Because I’m not talking about the kind of accountability where you get put in the doghouse for blowing it. I’m talking about the friendly kind. And no, that’s not an oxymoron. Of course, just telling you that is not going to convince you. So let’s see how you can incorporate supportive accountability into your execution plans to help you follow through on what’s important to you.
There are three types of accountability. There is personal accountability, which means you are accountable to yourself. There is public accountability where you publicly declare your intention. I’ll go over why these two may be a challenge to use at least by themselves for ADHD adults.
But first, I want talk to you about how you can develop and use the support of accountability to other people. I’m sure you’ll find lots of definitions. The definition I’ll use is choosing to make a commitment to one or more people to help you follow through on work, whether personal or professional, that will help you be in alignment with your values and reach your goals. Let’s take that a part before moving on. The first critical piece is that it’s your choice to enter into this type of relationship. That is, you have agency while you’re making a commitment to others, you’re also making a commitment to yourself.
The reason you’re choosing to do this is because you want support in following through on what, yes, is important to you. And you’re choosing to follow through on what’s important to you because doing so supports your values and helps you reach your goals, of course. There you have it. Accountability. Maybe soon you’ll be saying that without feeling so fearful.
Before talking more about accountability to others, I want take a little detour and talk about personal and public accountability. I know being only accountable to yourself has not worked so well for you in the past. You can build this muscle though, by using certain tools, processes, and strategies. Though I’m not going to go over these now because, well, that’s not what this podcast is about. In any case, if you upgrade your personal accountability skills, it will still be likely that it’s going to be difficult for you to follow through if you’re relying exclusively on this.
And it’s not because you lack integrity or the goals that were important to you are suddenly not important. It’s your ADHD. At least in part. For example, when you hear the notification that it’s time to work on a particular task, you still might not act because, well, you might give into distractions or impulsiveness. You might have trouble regulating your emotions, or you might encounter challenges with decision making. There are so many of your ADHD symptoms that might get in your way. Again, no doubt, you can work on managing these symptoms for sure. But, again, only being accountable to yourself just may not cut it.
So how about public accountability? After all it seems to work for other people to declare on Facebook, that they’re going to run a half a marathon in six months. So shouldn’t it help you to really put your feet to the fire by telling everyone you’re writing a book, starting a podcast, running a marathon, etc? Sure, it might work for other people. But, if you have a history of not following through on your commitments, public accountability likely will only lead to more stress and overwhelm for you, make it less likely, not more, that you’ll follow through.
Whereas, if you can pick and choose the people to whom you’re accountable to so that it feels supportive and safe, that might do the trick. When you think of being accountable, maybe you envision people hounding you with questions like:
- When are you going finally…?
- Did you finish?
- You’re not done yet?
- Did you forget…?
If that’s what you’re used to, it makes sense that this would be what first comes to mind for you. Makes me stressed just writing those quite questions. I wouldn’t want accountability either if that’s what it looked like. But here’s the deal. You get to design your accountability partnership.
That is, you can choose people with whom you feel safe. And you can create agreements to honor the way you want to interact with them. This means you get to decide how to support each other, including what kind of questions are fair game and which are not. You’re in the driver’s seat now. It’s not your boss, spouse, parent, or teacher who is deciding how you will be accountable. It’s you.
The first step, of course, is choose the right person. And when it comes to an accountability partner, the right person is someone with whom you feel good about yourself when you’re interacting. Because of the nature of this relationship you want your partner to be able to demonstrate compassion for your challenges, including your ADHD, of course. Even if they don’t have ADHD.
Another key to finding the right accountability partner is seeking out someone who has similar values, even if your specific goals differ. For example, if self-care, which might include exercise, sleep, and nutrition are important to you, you might want an accountability partner who also has this value. So you can support each other. Other examples of values you may want to consider as you’re looking for an accountability partner are work-life balance, excelling professionally, making time for family and friends, mindfulness or spiritual foundation. You get the idea.
The more simpatico you are, the easier it will be to support each other. Of course, it’s not possible to be in complete alignment. But you’ll want to decide which of your values are important to share with your partner to work effectively together. And once you’ve found someone you think you can work with the next step is creating an agreement because no matter how in sync you seem, there’s always a certain amount of nitty gritty detail to be worked out. That is, you need to figure out your expectations of each other.
While it, it’s certainly up to you how much structure you want at minimum. I recommend having timed regularly scheduled meetings with an agenda. So you both can get the most out of it. Beyond the minimum here are some other suggestions you might consider when designing your partnership. You might want to use a timer, start each meeting with an update of the previous week’s commitments and share progress and success stories that you have achieved between sessions.
Also, you might take turns asking for help in the session, addressing a challenge you are facing, making a decision, brainstorming ideas, et cetera. You can decide whether you divide up the meeting or give the full time of each session to just one person. You might also want to conclude by asking each other, “what will you do by our next meeting?” And the last suggestion is have one person take notes and share those so that you actually remember what it is you did during the session. Again, remember, however you decide to design your partnership it should be in a way that works with whatever works best for you. These are only suggestions.
And the next thing is you’ll want to be specific when sharing what it is you want to be accountable for. It’s not enough to say I’m going to run next week. Because, for one, without clarity around your intention, you might just re-litigate throughout the week. When am I going to run? How many times should I run? How far should I run? To avoid this you’ll want to share a clearly defined intention. So instead of just saying, I’m going to run next week, tell your partner I’m going to run for a half an hour after work on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Depending on the agreed upon parameters of your partnership, you could also commit to texting each time you run.
Another part of the accountability partnership that could be helpful is discussing potential roadblocks to the following, through and discussing how you can address those in advance. Likewise, you might share what you could do to enhance the chances of following through, like buying enough, workout clothes so you don’t have to worry about laundry. In any case, add as much specificity as you think you’ll need to enhance your chances of following through.
Of course you want your partnership to work so that you follow through on what’s important to you After all, that’s the whole purpose of having an accountability partner. And you may think the power of accountability to achieve this comes from needing to report your success or failure. Sure, this simplistic version of accountability may work for neurotypical folk and may occasionally work for you, but, like other ADHD adults, when you’re struggling to execute because you don’t have the necessary skills and tools, you may become even more stressed and overwhelmed by the thought of needing to report to someone else.
In fact, this simplistic type of, of accountability may even backfire on you. It may even send you into a shame spiral. Think about it. You’ve had parents, teachers, colleagues, bosses, friends, spouses, et cetera, who you’ve been accountable to in some form or another. And you still didn’t follow through even when you really wanted to.
The alternative to just talking about success and failure is for effective accountability partnerships for ADHD adults is creating an environment based on curious accountability. That is, initially you don’t want to be so focused on needing to succeed right out of the gate. Rather, your goal is to collect data, to be curious, to figure out what works and what gets in your way. Then you can apply this learning to craft the next experiment. Until you get the results you want or close enough.
Hopefully, you’ll also apply this information to future contexts. Because fail, F. A. I. L. could also mean first attempt in learning. Really. Isn’t that nice? In addition, this approach of curious accountability will likely leave you feeling less stressed and overwhelmed because you’re not so focused on getting it just right. And definitely aren’t viewing your foil initial attempts as failures. Rather, you’re focused on planting seeds, moving closer to your goal each time you try.
If you’re still hesitant to work with an accountability partner, part of the reason might be because of two common ADHD thinking traps. One is, “I should be able to do this on my own.” And the other is, “This shouldn’t be so hard.” First, everybody needs help. So why shouldn’t you? And, while some tasks may come easy to you, others are just going to be hard. But having an accountability partner will definitely help you follow through.
That’s it for now. I’m really glad you joined me and stayed until the very end. If you’re interested in learning more about my work with adults with ADHD, please do check out my website, marlacummins.com. Of course, if you’ve learned a thing or two from today’s podcast, which I hope you have, please pass along the link to anyone else in your circles you think might also benefit. And, until next time, this has been Scattered, Focused, Done. And I’m Marla, wishing you all the best on your journey to reimagining productivity with ADHD.