I like this definition of accountability: "Responsibility for the fulfillment of obligations." In other words, accountability is being on the hook for (responsibility) getting done (fulfillment) the things agreed upon to do (obligations).
When it comes to goal setting, good habits and running, there's a requirement to be accountable for my actions (or inaction). If I don't run today or if I make poor food choices, who is responsible and what are the consequences?
Accountable to Me
Personal accountability is the only accountability that matters. I'm accountable to myself when I skip my run or have McDonald's for the fourth straight day. It's me that tells myself that I failed and that I need to do better.
The reason that personal accountability is preferred is that I can't keep secrets from myself. I can't lie to myself. I can't tell myself I ran every day if I didn't. I can't lie about my food choices because I know if they were bad choices or not since I was there.
Leaving it solely to others to hold me accountable never works because I can avoid being held accountable through avoiding them. If a buddy asks me how my run was and I didn't run, then I can just ignore him. If a friend asks what I had for lunch and it was McDonald's yet again, I can just lie and tell her I made a healthy salad.
Don't misunderstand – there is a real value in the contribution of others. I appreciate that others care enough to ask or challenge me to do better. In fact, my own morals and ethics lead me to be truthful and admit when I've failed and that leads me right back to personal accountability. Additionally, others can often challenge me and motivate me to do things I might not think to attempt myself (for example, the GVRAT race in the summer of 2020).
By making my goals public and by sharing them with those around me, I am asking them to help me be accountable to myself when I need that help. "Did you run today?" a friend will ask. And I will answer, "Not yet, but you are right...I need to get out there. Thanks."
Being Accountable For Others
Services like Strava are a great aid in this by making runs and other fitness efforts public. My friends know whether I ran today and yesterday and the day before that. Similarly, I can see that they ran or worked out.
The fact that they ran or they worked out acts as the question to me posed above – "Did you run today?". When they run first, their posting on Strava says to me, "I ran, will you?" and then my posting on Strava says back, "Yes!". If I run first, my posting says to them, "I ran, will you?" and their posting says back, "Yes!".
Our individual efforts lead to shared personal accountability where not only do I hold myself personally accountable for my actions, but I also hold myself personally accountable for their actions. My friends do likewise for themselves and for me which contributes to the camaraderie of a good group of running buddies. We all succeed together and reap the satisfaction of a job well done for more than just ourselves.
I'll write more on the topic later, but this is why many runners feel such powerful personal satisfaction in seeing others run a marathon, or seeing others achieve a personal best. They are personally invested in, and accountable for the other person's success.
Shared Personal Accountability
To sum up: I am accountable only to myself but I rely on those around me who are willing and able to help me in achieving that accountability when I need it. I 'm also accountable to myself for what others in my group do and as a result I'm personally invested in their success. My friends do likewise for me, taking personal accountability for my success, in addition to their own.