Everyone knows how difficult it can be to maintain a long-term change in behavior, whether it’s eating a healthier diet, exercising regularly, quitting smoking, or one of the countless 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 is essential to have strategies to keep you on track when “life happens” and obstacles appear.
It’s not about willpower
People often think that behavior change is simply a matter of willpower and therefore blame themselves when overdoing sweets or skipping certain workouts. The truth is that relying on willpower is a frequent recipe for failure, as it is a limited resource and is easily overcome by stress, fatigue, or even the enjoyment of things we know are not necessarily “good for us.” So-called failures are actually short-term mistakes and an inevitable part of the behavior change process. Blaming yourself for these cases can lead to mental health problems if you constantly criticize yourself for lack of discipline or willpower.
Social support from friends, family, colleagues, and other important players in your life can be a strong predictor of how successful you will be in adhering to long-term behavioral change. Friends and loved ones can influence your perceptions of health and health behaviors, as well as increase your self-efficacy and motivation.
A supportive social network can also help you cope with problems and provide emotional support when feelings of stress or other negative factors threaten to interfere with your quest to make behavioral changes. Another benefit of social support is that it’s a two-way street, which means you’re providing that support as well as receiving it.
Social support strategies
You can use the following strategies to build a mutually beneficial social support network. The examples given here are for developing an exercise routine, but these strategies can be used for any type of healthy behavior change.
- Add a social element to your exercise program, such as arriving a little early to chat with friends before starting a workout.
- Ask friends and family to be encouraging and positive about your exercise program.
- Ask friends and family for reminders about your physical activity goals or appointments.
- Find a fun activity based on being physically active with a group or club, such as dancing, hiking, or playing pickleball.
- Find a fun and reliable exercise partner.
- Organize 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 (for example, a weight loss goal). Meeting at the high school platform for a scheduled walk 10 times without an absence is an example of a process goal.
Support starts at home
Social support within the home, whether it comes 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 while you are at home.
The flip side of the importance of social support in successful behavior change is the recognition that you may not always have the support you need or want at home. In some cases, this lack of social support can even manifest itself as an unintended form of sabotage. For example, a spouse might take your favorite sweets home in an attempt to cheer you up when you’re struggling, or roommates might piss you off for skipping happy hour to hit the gym out of a genuine desire to socialize with you. In these cases, it is important to remember that these people love you and are probably not aware that you need something other than them as you change your lifestyle.
Consider the following strategies for engaging the people you live with while making a behavior change:
- Be a role model: Those after-dinner walks may have gone solo 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). “I’m going for a quick walk. Anyone want to join me? “Is much cozier than” Our after dinner walk is 5 minutes, so everyone gets ready and puts on their shoes. “
- To communicate: Explain how and why you want to change your lifestyle, making sure to emphasize its importance and explicitly ask for their support. It is important that reluctant family members or friends understand that there is a difference between support behavior changes e joining you on that journey You’re not asking your spouse to change their behaviors, for example, but instead to support you as 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 aren’t your best choices. Having that social support will likely be more important in the long run than choosing each workout or meal.
Make small incremental changes: Just because you’re ready 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 these changes over time and get those around you to see that you are committed for the long term. Patience is the key here.
Not everyone will find the support they need in every environment, be it at home, in the office or in social life. Everyone’s path to behavior change is unique, but that doesn’t mean the destination of better happiness, health, and overall well-being isn’t close at hand. Use the strategies presented here to build the social support network you need to drive your personal success.