Why Complete Strangers Make the Best Accountability Partners
Think back to a time when you stuck with a habit consistently for a while, but then stopped.
Why did you stop?
If you’re like me, it’s because there was no longer anyone holding me accountable to showing up. I had been working on a project where I had meetings at 9am or earlier each day. That meant I had to exercise, eat breakfast, shower, get dressed, and do everything else in my morning routine prior to the 9am deadline, so I had been consistently waking up around 6am.
Then, the project ended and I no longer had meetings at 9am. And so I started going easy on myself. Each day I was going to bed just a little later, which then made it harder to wake up feeling refreshed. I started sleeping in 15 or 30 minutes later as a result. Before you know it, my entire early morning routine was ruined! I knew that no one was going to make sure I was available at 9, so I didn’t feel the urgency to wake up and show up right on time.
I’m sure a lot of you can relate, especially if you started working from home after being used to a morning commute. If no one’s making sure you’re at your desk exactly at a certain time, it’s harder to find the discipline to wake up as early as you used to.
So much of our behavior is driven by social expectations; if you take those expectations out of the equation, good habits go right out the window for many people (especially those with Obliger tendencies). So how can you add in some social structure to motivate yourself to get those good habits back?
By having an accountability partner.
An accountability partner is someone who holds you to your commitments. Because you don’t want to let your partner down, you’re driven to act in a way that is consistent with your intention.
One of the hardest things about an accountability partner, though, is finding one. While I’ve shared what qualities make an amazing accountability partner in the past, in this article I’m covering the specifics of why complete strangers offer unique benefits to helping you stay accountable to your goals.
First, some background: my company, Supporti, has been on a mission to find out what makes accountability partnerships work most successfully. We’ve made thousands of matches since launching the app at the start of 2020, and during this time, we’ve learned some things about what works. In this article, I’m revealing some of those secrets.
While interviewing people who were looking for accountability partners, we noticed a trend: many partnerships fizzled after a while, and many never got off the ground in the first place.
Why was this?
When seeking accountability, it’s normal to consider the people in our lives: a significant other, a roommate, a best friend, a coworker, etc. After all, they know us well!
But therein lies the problem. The fact that you have an established relationship with someone can make it harder for them to hold you accountable.
An accountability partnership is more similar to a roommate relationship or business partnership than it is to a friendship. That’s because a good accountability partner is reliable and honest, even above congenial and nurturing.
Have you ever tried living with a friend (or starting a business with one) and then quickly realized it wasn’t going to work out? That often happens because the qualities that made someone a good friend were not necessarily the same qualities that contribute to complementary styles of performing household chores or work ethic.
In fact, I’d argue that the qualities that can make a great friendship are sometimes at odds with those qualities that make a great roommate, business partner, or accountability partner. That’s because accountability can be a little uncomfortable and even challenge you.
Using the roommate example, who is easier to nag about a late rent check: a tenant whom you hardly know, or your BFF? Usually, it’s much harder to ask your bestie because unpleasantness (even when warranted) can be a real bummer in a positive relationship.
Here are some specific examples of why it can be challenging to have a friend as an accountability partner as compared to a stranger.
1. Agreeing to be your accountability partner
When looking for an accountability partner, you want someone who’s excited and who will rise to the occasion.
When you ask a friend, they’re likely to say yes...but how do you know they’re actually interested in doing it?
They might not know how to say no and are worried that you might be disappointed if they turn you down. But here’s the truth: not everyone’s a good accountability partner. Some people are already over committed, or flaky, or just don’t feel comfortable holding others accountable. That’s perfectly fine! But wouldn’t you rather have someone who’s excited to be your accountabilibuddy instead of someone who felt obligated to say yes?
A real challenge is if you’ve asked someone to be your accountability partner, but then learn that they aren’t up to the task. Then you have to have that awkward conversation and let them know you’re going to move on to someone else, or let the arrangement fizzle.
When you are partnered up with someone (i.e., a stranger) who has specifically volunteered for the role of being your accountability partner, then you don’t need to ask yourself if they’re doing it as a favor to you. You know that they're game!
Friends know your strengths and weaknesses. They’ll have certain assumptions about you, and those assumptions might impact how much they challenge you.
For example, Alice knows you’re chronically 5 minutes late. So she’s unlikely to expect you to arrive early or on time. That’s just how you are.
A stranger doesn’t have this assumption. They’ll expect that when you say you’ll be there at 9, that you will in fact be there at 9. In fact, they’ll be surprised if you’re late. You’re starting with a fresh commitment, which helps hold you to a higher standard and pushes you to show up for yourself and others...on time.
3. Calling You Out
If your friends aren’t the confrontational type, they’re going to be reluctant to call you out if you don’t meet your goal. One of the most frequent reasons we hear why friends fail at holding others accountable is that “they go easy on me” and let you make excuses.
It’s hard to give tough love to someone you know and like. It’s natural to worry about it hurting your relationship.
The benefit of a stranger is that there is no risk to the relationship by holding you accountable since you don’t know each other. If they say, “Hey, I notice you haven’t checked off your to-do list item today…” well, they’re doing their job!
4. Taking it personally
Let’s say, on the other hand, your friend is great at calling you out as you’ve asked.
You might take it personally.
Sometimes, we make up stories in our minds about people and situations that aren’t necessarily there. When a friend asks if you updated your resume yet, your brain may turn to such ideas as, “There they go, thinking I’m not qualified,” or “They got their job through connections, so they think it should be easy for me to get a job, too.”
A stranger has no motive for inquiring about your resume other than holding you accountable, so you are less likely to take their feedback or questions personally. When asked by an objective stranger, it truly is about whether you worked on your resume. Nothing more!
5. Struggling with Honesty
If you slipped up and missed a commitment, it can be hard to be honest with a close friend.
If you know them well, you’ll know how they’ll react and how they’ll feel, which makes you more likely to avoid telling the truth—or at least, the whole truth.
With a stranger, it can be easier to be honest with them. They don’t really know all the parts of you in the way a friend might. You aren’t as concerned about their reaction or judgement. You still don’t want to let a stranger down, but you have no reason to lie either.
6. Birds of a Feather Flock Together
Humans seek companionship from people who remind us of...us. Research shows that there’s an inherent drive to find people who are similar to oneself because it’s comfortable. Odds are, you have a lot in common with the friends that you’d choose to hold you accountable.
The problem? Well if both you and your friend have the same tendencies (perfectionism, for example), they probably aren’t going to be able to offer you a lot in the way of fresh advice, since they too, struggle with this issue.
A stranger, on the other hand, can bring about a new perspective. You may not have a lot in common, and that can be a very good thing when it comes to approaching your goals and changing behavior.
This quote by Kali Hawk captures the sentiment well:
“I think that's what the most fascinating part of getting to know someone is—to see how they do things, and how their way of doing things is different from your way of doing things, and the fun of trying to do it their way and to see what value there is in looking at things from their perspective.” - Kali Hawk
A word on trust
At this point, you may be thinking, okay, but won’t I have more trust with someone whom I’ve known for a long time?
And my answer to that is this: being vulnerable and asking someone to support you actually BUILDS trust.
Daniel Coyle, author of The Culture Code, explains that although we typically think we need to trust someone before being vulnerable, research has shown that it actually works in the opposite way; when we set our insecurities aside and ask for help, other people do the same, and are more likely to trust and help one another.
That might be why the mutual support model on Supporti is so effective. Everyone signs up on the platform with a goal, an area of improvement, and is matched with someone else who’s looking for support too. It’s a community of people needing accountability, but also willing to give it. And almost everyone’s a stranger to each other!
One of our customers said it best when he said,
“I don't know exactly what it is about having a total stranger as an accountability partner that works so well, but this app has helped me a great deal so far and I'm sure it will continue to do so!”
So, I encourage you to try having someone who is not a friend or family member be your accountability partner and see if it helps you find success with sticking to the small positive actions that add up over time.
And if you’re not sure where to find someone to be your accountability partner, check out Supporti and start your free two-week trial today!