Add Accountability, Enjoy Results
Improve Health by Tapping into the Cooperation Instinct
Some respected experts believe homo sapiens to be a “hive” species. Because many of us highly value fierce independence, we may vaguely resist this idea. But think about this. The theory leans on the idea that our ancient ancestors HAD to collaborate closely within groups simply to survive. Over time, human cooperation trumped competition in the effort to keep us from disappearing from the planet. And according to some academics, including social psychologist and NYU professor Jonathan Haidt, in our current day & age, the cooperation instinct persists, albeit not always obviously.
In other words, humans NEED one another to survive. Consider the reality that almost none of us produce all of the things we need just to live from day to day. Or the fact that social isolation leads to many mental and physical health problems such as depression and alcohol use disorder. In essence, we are MEANT to rely on one another.
Unfortunately, we often shy away from seeking support. We might feel we “should be stronger” or worry about “bothering” others. The truth is we’re healthier when we build a support network. AND how often have you seen another person’s face light up when you ask if they’ll help you out? The “helper” benefits, too! Research has shown that “altruistic (other-regarding) emotions and behaviors are associated with greater well-being, health, and longevity.” So as funny as it sounds, you can tell your supporters that you’re actually doing THEM a favor, too! So symbiotic are we humans!
One of the MOST EFFECTIVE behaviors you can adopt when you’re working to better your health & fitness is ACCOUNTABILITY. It’s always tempting to pursue goals in private, and nowadays, it’s really easy, too. Since the appearance of the corona virus, large numbers of us have made it routine to exercise and to eat away from groups. While this can increase safety (especially for at-risk populations), it also—as we all know—potentially heightens social isolation. However, whether or not you see your supporters in the flesh, it’s crucial to connect with them.
Once you share a goal, say, exercising for 30 minutes five days a week, and ask someone to check in with you, the likelihood that you’ll achieve your goal will rise exponentially. Without accountability, it’s extremely easy to say, ah, I’ll do it another day (or week) because who really cares anyway? Of course, YOU care, but chasing goals solo can feel hard and lonely.
If you’re biting the bullet and about to adopt some accountability, you might think about the following.
Choose someone you truly trust.
This might be a close friend or a professional such as a health coach. Some of the most effective accountability partners live in our own homes. In fact, a spouse is often considered the “gold standard” of support.
Avoid those who leave you feeling judged.
Unconditional acceptance is key, or your success can be dampened. This also includes judgment that you may feel coming from within your own home. (Did that sound like an old movie thriller or is it just me, LOL?) Choose a supporter who helps you dust off and forge ahead, every single time you flub your goals.
Compete or don’t.
Some people are naturally more competitive than others. If you thrive in competition, pick a supporter who will seriously “play along,” but select someone whose ability and goals parallel yours. If you don’t want the added pressure of competition, then seek someone who is not constantly comparing their own efforts & achievements to yours.
Use technology but keep some human interaction.
Social media groups and apps can be awesome, but it can also be kind of easy to drop out unnoticed. Form links with actual people and set a regular routine for checking in. Currently, I train and coach clients virtually, and we’ve all noted how cool (and convenient) it is to see each other, sometimes to the point where we feel we’re in the room together! (I kid you not—I occasionally reach out to the screen to help a client adjust their form. It’s made me much better at giving verbal cues!)
Finally, propose a two-way collaboration.
Offer to support your supporter in their health goals as well. This truly taps into human “hive mind,” a state in which we want those around us to thrive just as much we personally want to, a mindset that benefits us ALL.