Very rarely do people accomplish meaningful lifestyle or habit changes without some sort of help or support. Changing any habit can be difficult, and the bigger the change, the more challenging people often find it. It shouldn’t come as any surprise then, that lifestyle changes like establishing a new exercise routine or sticking with a new eating plan can be some of the most challenging of the bunch.
The science behind behavior change – and there is a thriving one – tells us that the people who are the most successful in creating new habits are the people with a good network of social support. So what, then, does social support actually mean? And more importantly, how do you get it?
Social support is actually exactly what it sounds like: having the support of one (or hopefully more) of your family, friends, co-workers, and the like, in making your desired change to a new behavior. These are the people that are in your corner, providing encouragement, keeping you accountable, and reminding you why you want to make that change in the first place. This support can take so many forms – from text messaging to cooking dinner – but the crux is that the behavior of the support network should promote the new behavior you want.
Unfortunately, many people don’t have a whole network of support that they can count on. In fact, many people who are seeking to make a positive lifestyle change – be it diet or exercise, or even things like not drinking as much or kicking a smoking habit – may feel that they don’t have even a single person on whom they can depend to help motivate, inspire, and keep them moving. Considering that people tend to subconsciously think and act like the handful of people they spend the most time with, what happens then? Are they doomed to struggle with the process of change, succeeding after a long time and a lot of work – if at all? Well, actually, no.
Though our face-to-face social network has a tremendous impact on our activities and behaviors, that doesn’t automatically mean that if they won’t change, we can’t either. It’s always worth asking if people want to make the change with you – you may find that your group of friends and family would themselves like to be more fit and healthy. Even if they don’t, you can still ask them to help you work on making your desired changes. You can ask them if they mind if you “report to them” with your progress and daily efforts, and ask if they will help support you by not suggesting or doing things that will make your new habits more difficult to stick to. If you’re trying to eat less ice cream, asking your spouse to stop offering it to you after dinner might be a big help.
Since your “in-person” social network is an important aspect of social support, it might make more sense to seek out other people with the same goals and habits, if your current network isn’t giving you the support you need. There is a reason that businesses like Weight Watchers work so well – becoming involved with a group with similar interests can help keep you on track, and becoming a part of a support system for others working on the same changes can be energizing and motivating in itself. While Weight Watchers might not be the best option, it’s certainly not the only choice. Meetup.com is full of groups meeting to support each other (and have fun with!) their diet and exercise – among many other things – and joining a gym can work as well, if you find one that you like and whose members you feel comfortable with. There are easily a half dozen social exercise and fitness Meetup groups in Alexandria, VA alone – not counting the groups started by specific gyms in the area. And don’t forget – you can also have a club of two. Your own personal trainer or coach can fulfill this role almost as well as everybody else altogether – they should be providing that support as much as they provide exercise guidance or a stretch at the end of a session.
If you are struggling to find support from an in-person network, you can go also virtual. While I normally don’t suggest that people spend more time at the computer, the Internet can actually be very useful in finding and providing social support. There are numerous forums available that focus on diet and exercise topics – everything from their impact on general health to specific areas like bodybuilding or a gluten free diet. Regardless of what change you are pursuing, there’s a good chance that there is a very large group of people who are all interested in the same behavior and achieving the same results, all right at your fingertips.
What’s the take-home message? Support is out there! You may need to search for it sometimes, but there are always people who will be in your corner. Once you find them, positive change is inevitable.