Holding Yourself Accountable

Keeping a journal was something that I had never considered doing when I was young. I thought journals or what I knew them as, “Diaries” were for girls. A pink book with a lock on it, or maybe some flowers. Something used to write about feelings and who you had a crush on. Writing about my feelings and other emotional stuff didn’t interest me in the slightest.

I never considered the other ways in which a journal could be used. I can’t be too hard on myself about it though. I never had anyone explain to me why I was wrong about writing things down in a journal. I never had anyone teach me how to use a journal in a way that would help optimize my life.

I’m a very competitive person. If I would have learned sooner about the power of keeping a journal I would have been all over it. At least I like to think I would. I didn’t end up using a journal until April of 2000. That was the second semester of my sophomore year of eligibility at Purdue University.

I had just finished a really tough wrestling season and was at the point where I either needed to quit or I needed to double down. What I knew was that I couldn’t keep doing things the same way. It’s hard to stay focussed and do something like wrestling in college. There are lots of distractions and very little to no reward.

“Quit or double down'“

I mean it’s college. There are girls there. And booze. And parties are everywhere. Even at an Engineering school like Purdue, there is still plenty of trouble to get into. Plus the people around you don’t understand. At least none of the non-wrestlers do. People running off to the big party and you have to watch your weight and get up early to lift. It’s easy to understand why so many guys quit in the first few weeks of practice.

I started using a journal in order to hold myself accountable. I found that no one else would. The coaches could only do so much and at the end of the day, the varsity spot would go to the guy who won it. So they weren’t there to hold your hand. They could give guidance but ultimately it was up to the individual to do the work necessary.

Sometimes you can form partnerships of accountability with teammates. This is easy to do when your team has a championship culture. This wasn’t the case for me during my time at college. A championship or winning culture can be hard to come by. Especially in individual sports. I came from one in high school but I was unable to rally the troops to the same level while at Purdue.

I got my first journal from the head coach of Purdue's wrestling team, Jessie Reyes. He gave one to those who would take them. He didn’t give any explanation on how to use them other than to use it to log your training. So that's where I started.

I realized right away that this book would have the power to make me accountable. If I missed a workout or had a bad workout because I was out drinking the night before it would go on the pages and stare back at me. Even if I tried not to write down the negative activities I was involved in, deep down I still knew.

The blank page that should have contained an accurate account of how I was slacking would scream in my face. It was easier to write it down. At least then I wouldn’t lose sleep over it. It became even easier then to not slack at all. If the option came up to do something that was a distraction from my goals I would decline the invitation. Doing things that were meaningful to me became more important than having fun.

The increase in accountability is something that I attribute a great deal of my success to. If I wasn’t able to find a way to make myself accountable I don’t know where I would be right now. Probably blaming someone else for my failures. Never growing or becoming better.

“blaming someone else for my failures”

As I started writing about my workouts I immediately began to push myself harder. I knew that I would be writing about the workout later, so I would feel pressure to work harder and make sure not to miss training. It kept me from bad behaviors like getting drunk every night in smokey bars talking up every hot mess that would listen.

I had always been a disciplined person. At least when it came to sports and training for competitions. I see now that I could have been utilizing the journal much more effectively. Now I have expanded the use of my journal to help me compete in life. And don’t think for a second that life isn’t a competition. It most certainly is. Except you’re not competing with other people. You are competing with yourself.

In order to compete with yourself better, you can not only use the journal to hold yourself accountable but you can use it to set and track goals. You can use it to see what gains you are making. You can use it to reflect on past experiences and behaviors. You will be able to more clearly identify good and bad choices and see where you made mistakes.

As long as you are trying to win at the game of life you will make mistakes. Make bad choices. You will fail. And fail you must. This is the key to learning and growing. If you aren’t failing then you really aren’t trying. Journaling is maybe best at helping you work through and learning from the failures.

So take a chance and start writing things down. Start putting in the effort to make yourself the best version of you possible. Start holding yourself accountable. No one else is going to do it for you. And why should they? It’s your life. Make something of it.  

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Leah Lee