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Thank You for Being A Friend?

Updated: Oct 30, 2019

We're social creatures, and our social networks exert powerful influence over us. This really hit home when our family lived in England for a couple of years. Before we knew it, we were adapting Britishisms and looking right before crossing the street, without even trying. I remember meeting another American, and asking her how her kids were adjusting. She told me that her older son said that he "didn't look smart" when they were going out because he wasn't wearing a tie. She also shared that her younger son said his teacher wanted him to bring in a "rubber" to school. One look at my confused face and she explained that it was what Brit's called an eraser. (Then we nearly wet ourselves because, yes, we ARE that immature.) What does this have to do with fitness and good nutrition, you ask? Well, besides providing amusing anecdotes, social influence creates momentum to adopt & maintain healthier habits if you're surrounded by like-minded individuals.


That momentum propels you to practice and reinforce those habits until they become your new normal, making it easier to stay on track over the long haul.


On the other hand, if you're surrounded by people who don't have similar goals, it can really put the kibosh on your progress and maintenance.


Let's say you're out with a group of friends and you decide to skip dessert. Someone in your group says, "Oh come on, live a little!" Or maybe you're really working to add veg to your family meals in the most delicious ways you can come up with, and your son says, "Do we all have to get healthy?" while the rest of the family roll their eyes. Swimming against the tide is hard enough, and experiencing friction over healthy habits makes it even harder.


Change doesn't happen in isolation, so surround yourself with positive social support. If you're finding that difficult, here are some strategies you can try:


Awareness

Recognize the roles of your friends and acquaintances in your life.


Know thine friends

Take some time to think about the people who surround you.

The role model

This can be someone who's really rockin' a healthy, fit lifestyle, just a bit better at the healthy habits you're working on, or somewhere in-between.

The coach

This can range from an informal mentor to professional coach.

The fan

That person who's ready to give you a high five or thumbs up (live or virtual), as needed.

The accomplice

They vary from:

  • the easy to spot - your local grocery store's checkout aisle, with all of the tempting treats positioned to make impulse buying easier; the friends who actively discourage you from changing because they don't care about healthy choices or they want you to be their partner in crime

  • the less obvious - people around you whom you don't know well, but make consistent choices that don't align with your values

  • those with good intentions (but don't know how to help or don't want to overstep) - you might've heard that you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with, (If not, and you're curious, you can read about that here); beyond those 5, your extended social network has a far reaching effect too, which you can learn about here.

  • the oblivious influencers - people, often close to you, who don't "get" what you're doing because they don't have the same goals; they're good at setting norms for your circle, and aren't aware that these norms may be hurting you


Clearly define what & who's "normal"

Think about the health & fitness norms you're working towards, whether that's eating well, getting regular movement, and/or getting appropriate rest & recovery. Who around you is living those norms?


Action

Now that you're aware of what's happening and clear on what's best for you, use that information to be proactive about who you're spending time with.


Increase the number of coaches & fans in your life

Ask for help from those you trust. Fitness and weight are touchy subjects, so tread lightly to avoid triggering your friends' defenses. Use language focused on yourself and simply ask them for their support. (Knowing your deep "why" is really helpful here. For more on that, see this.) What kind of support? You know your loved ones best. Trust your gut on whether to ask them to be more of a coach (more of an active mentor) or a fan (an encourager). Be specific on what you want from a fan. Do you prefer they actively remind you of your goals when needed, encourage you when you're struggling, or cheer on your success?


Decrease your accomplices' influence

You don't have to ditch your loved ones who aren't living the norms you're working towards. Instead, you can:

  • Add new coaches & fans: think about how you can grow your tribe of positive influence; if you're looking to get more active, you can find a local class or club or you can hire a coach

  • Lead the way: social support is a two way street, so take the lead and invite someone to do something with you, whether it's a taking a walk or challenging one another to eat more vegetables

  • Distance yourself from those unwilling/unable to support your progress: this will naturally and gradually happen as you spend more time around positive influences

  • Avoid TIPing (taking it personally): try to take negative comments about your healthier choices in stride, rather than personally; people often have their own reasons for doing that, which don't have anything to do with you; realize that just as change is hard for us, it's also hard for those around us

  • Keep calm and carry on: gently and compassionately persist, rather than trying to force your efforts on those around you, and you'll get less push back (some ideas for healthier eating with flexibility can be found here); avoid conflicts by letting go of "what's right" and respecting your loved one's right to make their own choices


Healthy change is not an all-or-nothing game. Keep paying attention and asking yourself what small steps you can take to tip the scales in support of your health & fitness. Those small changes add up to a healthier lifestyle that you can maintain!


The ideas in this article are inspired by the book, Change Anything: The New Science of Personal Success by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron, McMillan, and Al Switzer, the same team who wrote Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High, which are interesting social science reads with lots of practical tips.


If you want to expand your circle of positive influence and get a taste of nutrition coaching without a big commitment, sign up for my 6 week taster of small group nutrition coaching program, coming early 2020. It's a great way to start off the New Year!
If you found this article helpful or think it could help others, share, share away!


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