One of the most frustrating aspects of my work is to have a client who works so hard on their fitness and nutrition,only to have it all blown apart by their negative social circle of influence. I’ve watched clients struggle to maintain lost weight (and even regain all of it) because their spouse sabotaged them at every opportunity.
Now wait a minute.
Shouldn’t your spouse be your main source of support in times of need? Unfortunately for many people, spouses take the role of the “enabler” or “saboteur”. This is why many couples pack on the pounds together as the relationship matures. And it’s not limited to just your spouse either; not by a long shot. If you don’t know how to channel the nearly irresistible influence of your spouse, friends, co-workers and family to work for you, instead of against you, you stand little chance of changing anything in your life.
It’s time for you to open your eyes to the role others play in the health goals you want to achieve. In this week’s installment of Habit Change I will help you find ways to engage your social circle to become “helpers” in your pursuit of change, so you don’t have to fight an uphill battle against the overwhelming influence of peer pressure.
Create a Network of Friends
It should come as no surprise that your peers have a massive influence on how you think, act and ultimately on what you become. Just look at the five people you spend the most time around. Chances are, they are a reflection of your own economic, social and health status.
Humans are social creatures and are easily influenced by others, whether they’re consciously aware of it not. So to create a massive health change in your life, you’re going to need to take an inventory of your key influencers and determine whether they are friends (helping you reach your goals) or saboteurs (who distract you from or intentionally undermine your change efforts).
One of the main strengths in weight loss programs like Weight Watcher’s and transformation television shows like the Biggest Loser is the social influence component. Weight Watcher’s employs weekly group meetings to reinforce accountability and helps instill a belief in what their “losers” can achieve. The Biggest Loser provides each participant with a plethora of support and influence that all but guarantees their weight loss success – at least as long as the support system is in place. Just imagine what you could achieve if your main source of influence were personal trainers and nutrition specialist whose job is to make you succeed. Of course this is the real world but you still have the ability to stack the odds in your favor. I’ll break it down for you in 3 easy steps.
Get the crowd behind you, and you can change just about anything!
1. Take an Inventory
Make a detailed list of the social influences in your life. Look at family, friends, co-workers, partners, anyone exerting an influence in your lifestyle. From there, draw two separate columns, one for your “friends” and one for your “saboteurs” . Your ‘friends” are those who teach, coach and get you closer to your health goals. They raise your health consciousness and provide timely motivation and cheer your every success along the way.
“Saboteurs” on the other hand are those who enable your unhealthy behavior. Some obvious examples are those who stand to make money if you fail or lose an excuse for their own bad habits if you succeed.
It’s also possible that you have people around you who actively hold you accountable to a bad habit. It’s hard to ignore their powerful influence because you worry about disappointing or receiving criticism from them if you don’t indulge in their bad behavior. I can certainly relate to this one. Some of my friends, who haven’t moved past their old drinking habits, STILL expect me to drink with them, and at the same level I did 20 years ago.
Others can also exert their influence on you by more subtle means. They can shape your view of what you consider average, acceptable and reasonable is in terms of fitness and personal body image – and without you even realizing it. How many married couples do you know that get fat together? It’s likely they’re not even aware it’s happening to them because they’ve redefined what is “normal” to them.
Like it or not, your peers will not only determine your view on what is normal but also help define what you believe is possible to achieve by lowering your aspirations. This why obesity is considered to be at least partially an infectious disease.
Now that you’ve taken inventory of your peers, hopefully you have more friends than saboteurs influencing you. If not, there’s more work to be done.
2. Redefine Yourself
The negative influencers in your life have no doubt negatively shaped your views and beliefs about yourself. If you continue to measure yourself against unhealthy, unwise or even dangerous standards, your change plan is at risk. Rise above the shared sense of what is common or acceptable amongst your peers. Ask yourself two questions: How do you want to live and feel? And who do you want to be? Then go out and do it!
3. Turn Saboteurs Into Friends
Now that you’ve refined your “normal” and have a clear picture of who you want to become, you need transform the accomplices, saboteurs and role models supporting your bad behavior into helpful friends. You can accomplish this by simply asking for their help. Explain to them the role they play in making your health change more difficult and share how you’d like them to help you succeed. Many of them will actually be unaware of their behavior, much less how it affects you.
It’s not that they have bad intentions, rather that they exert a bad influence. In the end, most of your saboteurs will be more than willing to play the new role you’ve presented to them. If you can do that, you’ve not only removed the influence of someone pulling against you, you’ve gained the help of someone who’s now pulling for you.
Of course there will be some who are unwilling to or are simply unable to support your change efforts. Some of these people might be your family, bosses or co-workers, so cutting them out of your life isn’t a viable option. You will, at least occasionally, have to deliberately separate yourself from those who stand in the way of your goals.
Once your inventory of peers is stacked in your favor (more friends than saboteurs), it’s time to bolster the odds even further by enlisting some new friends. Find people who share your goals or are interested in supporting you. Joining an existing group or social network can be a great start. Leverage technology to enlist supporters from all over the world. Social media has been shown to be quite an effective tool for managing weight loss. Of course you can also hire a personal trainer (wink wink) to coach you through your change process.
As you now realize, while saboteurs frequently drag people into bad their habits, having more friends in your life can have an astounding impact. Don’t be blind to the influence others have on your health and lifestyle. When you enlist more supporters, coaches and fans into your circle of influence you stand a far greater chance of succeeding. The result is a sustainable healthy lifestyle – for life!
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