Before and After: Two Obligers Act as Accountability Partners for Each Other.

I’m writing my next book, Before and After, about how we make and break habits–an issue  very relevant to happiness. Each week, I’ll post a before-and-after story submitted by a reader, about how he or she successfully changed a habit. We can all learn from each other. If you’d like to share your story, contact me here.

This week’s before-and-after story comes from Kay Walker.

One of my adult sons shared your video on the four types of people with regards to habits. I immediately recognized myself as an Obliger. My other grown son also watched the video and saw himself as an Obliger as well.


During a conversation, we both lamented the fact that we can never make ourselves get up and accomplish our morning goals for ourselves. It was riding my stationary bike for me, and some breathing exercises and elliptical training for my son. We somehow thought of the idea of becoming that external accountability for each other. We decided to email each other each morning with our morning status, stating what we did to work toward our goals. It has been truly amazing for both of us.


I am now able to get up immediately when my alarm goes off (or before!), and get on my bike and meet my goal each day. The first couple of weeks I intentionally skipped a morning for a day when I had an early appointment or was going out of town. But this past week, I rode my bike five days straight, over 5 miles each day and had my first ever 25 plus mile week. My son is also accomplishing his goals every day. It has been so helpful to finally understand what we both needed to be successful with our goals and habits. And to find such an easy way to make this positive change become a habit…priceless!

The unexpected bonus for me has been the way I feel about myself the rest of the day. That positive habit carries over into other positive behaviors and higher self esteem, more energy, and an uplifted mood as I start my day!

This is a great example of using the Rubin Tendencies to figure out how to set yourself up for success with a new habit. Obligers need external accountability–that is crucial for Obligersand Kay and her son decided to be accountability partners for each other. Excellent.

Also, Kay notes that mastering this one good habit makes her day better. Exercise generally lifts people’s spirits and gives them more energy; also, research shows, that people who foster one healthy habit–especially the habit of exercise, for some reason–tend to see a boost in their ability to stick to other unrelated healthy habits.

How about you? have you tried to shape a habit according to your Rubin Tendency? Have you ever made progress with an “accountability partner”?

I write about the Strategy of Self-Knowledge and the Strategy of Accountability in Before and After. If you’d like to know when the book is available for pre-order (not for a while, I must confess!), sign up here.

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  • peninith1

    I am so thrilled for these people who have employed their own personalities to help themselves be who they want to be! And grateful for your research, thoughtfulness and inspiration.

    About the wonderfulness of exercise: I started walking in September out of a desire to do just SOMETHING that was good for me. I began VERY short walks because of my back condition and extended them gradually, extremely gradually. For a whole six weeks or so, all I did was that walk, even though I knew I needed to lose more than 50 pounds. Eventually, I got to the point where I could take your 21 day ‘know myself better’ trip, and realized there was ONE thing that would make my life better and healthier: finally getting to work on the weight. That was at the end of September. I have now lost about 15 pounds and feel so much better about myself. And I’m still walking–an hour a day now.

    The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step–exercise really does matter.

    • Birdwatchr

      Thanks for your comment. I, too, am working on the ONE thing that would make my life better and healthier: my weight. The exercise is important too, but losing weight is the single most important thing for me to do. Congratulations on your progress and thanks for inspiring me to stay focused!

      • peninith1

        Best wishes for your journey!

    • gretchenrubin

      Fantastic! What a terrific example of small steps leading to big changes.

  • Aleisha

    Gretchen, I think this external accountability may be key. Just this morning I had this big “a-ha” moment. I had a goal to walk a certain amount each day in November, but the past couple of days have been a bust with the holiday and such. So, I thought, “I may as well just give up and start something new in December.” Then I thought how that’s so something an Obliger would do (I am 100% Obliger). Now, if this were a work or family-related goal, of course I’d just pick myself up and get back on track; but as it’s internal, I feel like I’ve failed already. The feeling of failure is not one we obligers are comfortable with, but with an external motivator, perhaps we could push past that. Can’t wait for your new book – interesting stuff.

  • Liz

    I, too, am an Obliger and have recently had great success with external accountability. I’ve always struggled with weight loss, so a few months ago I reached out to two friends who also wanted to lose weight. We set up a secret Facebook group where we share our challenges and successes, but most importantly, we have official weigh-ins once a week. Knowing that I have to share my weight with two other people (even non-judgmental, supportive friends) every week has made an unbelievable difference in my ability to stick to my diet. It’s worked for my friends, too, and I think they’re likely both Obligers as well. I’ve lost 20 lbs and it’s all because of the external accountability!

    I’m so excited for your new book! I’ve shared the gospel of the Happiness Project with many people in my life and absolutely love your blog. Thanks for everything you do, Gretchen!

    • gretchenrubin

      Thanks so much for your kind words. I’m so happy that my work has been useful to you. Congrats on your new habit!

  • Goldberry

    And what if one is an obliger but does not like it?… I know that external accountability works, but it feels as if I couldn’t do things for myself on my own, without a prop… As if something important was missing in me. I’d much prefer to be more self-directed. Any solutions for that?…

    • Ann

      Maybe you could look at the things you do for “yourself” as feeding you so you can carry on with your responsibilities at work and towards family and friends.

      • gretchenrubin
      • Goldberry

        Thank you. It reminds me of another thought, about oxygen masks on airplanes: the instructions always say to put the mask on yourself first, and only then on your children/dependants (if you run out of oxygen, there will be nobody to help them…). These comparisons are all true and helpful, but they still do not address my underlying problem that I’d much rather be an upholder or a questioner… 🙂

    • Birdwatchr

      I also resent the fact that I need “help” in attaining my goals, but after a month of being accountability partners with my son, I am beginning to feel like I could do it on my own. Maybe I will at some point, but the bottom line is I feel so great about meeting my goals using this accountability system, that the feeling of something being missing in me doesn’t bother me. I am just thrilled to be accomplishing my goals.

      • Goldberry

        I guess a work-around (this is what an external accountability is to me 🙂 is much better than nothing. And, through the encouragement of accomplishing goals, it can move us forward to new territories, where we may find more inner strength and maybe even more self-direction. That’s a great thought! Thank you so much for sharing.

  • Amita Patel

    Hi Gretchen,

    Thanks for sharing this! With my clients who have challenges with productivity. I find that the underlying root is poor self-care. The first way we address productivity is getting their self-care up to par. We do this is through nutrition, exercise, and a daily meditation practice. Then comes the accountability piece! For those who struggle with this, I recommend an accountability buddy. That means emailing a friend in the morning with 3 realistic things you will get done that day. In the evening, a follow up email with what actually got done. Not only is this motivating, it helps my clients to plan their time and be accountable to someone. Productivity that isn’t rooted in happiness won’t be sustainable because it is coming from a place of “pushing” rather than guided action. Thanks for sharing this!

  • Rachel Maize

    Can a Rebel even employ accountability? I find myself balking at even the thought of it. I can’t seem to orchestrate a way to mesh anyone’s expectations, even my own, with achieving something. Any other PITA rebels out there? How do you trick yourself into believing your own goal is your own idea?