Everyone knows how difficult it can be to stick with long-term behavior change, whether it’s eating a healthier diet, exercising regularly, quitting smoking or any of the myriad ways people work to improve their health and well-being.
It may seem easy at first when your motivation is at its peak, but it’s essential that you have strategies to stay on track when “life happens” and obstacles appear.
It’s not a matter of will
People often think that behavior change is simply a matter of willpower and therefore blame themselves when they overindulge in sweets or miss a few workouts. The truth is that relying on willpower is a frequent recipe for failure, as it is a finite resource and is easily overwhelmed by stress, fatigue, or even the enjoyment of things we know are not. necessarily “good for us”. So-called failures are actually short-term failures and an inevitable part of the behavior change process. Blaming yourself for these instances can lead to mental health issues if you constantly criticize yourself for a lack of discipline or willpower.
Social support from friends, family, co-workers, and other important players in your life can be a good predictor of your ability to adhere to long-term behavior change. Friends and loved ones can influence your perceptions of health and health-related behaviors, as well as increase your self-efficacy and motivation.
A supportive social network can also help you solve problems and provide emotional support when feelings of stress or other negative factors threaten to interfere with your quest for behavior change. Another advantage of social support is that it is a two-way street, which means that you are providing this support in addition to receiving it.
Social support strategies
You can use the following strategies to create a mutually beneficial social support network. The examples given here are aimed at developing an exercise routine, but these strategies can be used for any type of healthy behavior change.
- Add a social element to the exercise program, such as arriving a little early to chat with friends before starting a workout.
- Ask your friends and family members to be supportive and positive about your exercise program.
- Ask friends and family members to remind you of your physical activity goals or appointments.
- Find an enjoyable activity-based activity with a group or club, such as dancing, hiking, or pickleball.
- Find a pleasant and reliable exercise partner.
- Host fun “contests” with a friend that base the rewards on achieving process goals, which are goals that are achieved simply by doing something rather than reaching a measurable goal (e.g., a weight loss goal). weight). Meeting at the high school track for a scheduled walk 10 times with no absences is an example of a process goal.
Support begins at home
Social support inside the home, whether from a spouse, children, parents, or roommates, can be particularly impactful. Most of your decisions about what to eat and how to use your free time are made at home.
The flip side of the importance of social support in successful behavior change is recognizing that you may not always have the support you need or desire at home. In some cases, this lack of social support may even manifest itself as an involuntary form of sabotage. For example, a spouse may bring home your favorite sweets in an effort to cheer you up when you’re struggling, or roommates may nag you for skipping happy hour to go to the gym out of sincere desire. to socialize with you. In such cases, it is important to remember that these people love you and are probably unaware that you need something different from them when changing your lifestyle.
Consider the following strategies for bringing the people you live with on board when you bring about behavior change:
- be a role model: These after-dinner walks may be solo outings at first, but your family members will likely choose to join you eventually. Being a role model involves being consistent in your behaviors while inviting others to join you (rather than telling them to). “I’m going for a little walk. Anyone want to join me? is much more welcoming than “Our after-dinner walk is in 5 minutes, so everyone get ready and put their shoes on.”
- Communicate: Explain how and why you want to change your lifestyle, making sure to emphasize its importance and explicitly asking for their support. It is important that reluctant family members or friends understand that there is a difference between proof behavior change and join you on this journey. You are not asking your spouse to change their own behaviors, for example, but rather to support you when you change yours.
- Include them in the process: Discuss activities or foods that you both enjoy and then incorporate them into your behavior change plan, even if they are not your best choices. Having that social support will likely be more important in the long run than choosing every workout or every meal.
Make small incremental changes: Just because you’re willing to drink less soda, throw out all the cookies in the cupboard, or take a short walk every day after dinner doesn’t mean others are on the same page. So start making those changes over time and show those around you that you’re in it for the long haul. Patience is the key here.
Not everyone will find the support they need in all settings, whether at home, in the office or in their social life. Everyone’s behavior change journey is unique, but that doesn’t mean the destination of improved happiness, health, and overall well-being isn’t close at hand. Use the strategies presented here to create the social support network you need to foster your personal success.