Building a Healthy Lifestyle with Social Support as the Foundation
Habit building is hard. Just ask anyone who has ever made a New Year’s resolution and given up on it by February!
One of the best ways to be successful at behavior change that fuels long-term, sustainable, healthy habits is to have a support system. Knowing that you have people in your corner who are cheering for your success is extremely motivating.
It’s also important, however, to assess your current situation. Make an honest evaluation about the people you spend your time with and how they influence you. Studies show that having a supportive community when trying to build a healthy lifestyle helps you reach your goals.
Be Mindful of the Company You Keep
The old adage “show me your friends and I’ll tell you who you are” is a good reminder for people working to build a healthy lifestyle.
Whether you are trying to release old habits that aren’t serving you anymore or adopt new, healthier patterns, the company you keep is a huge influence on you.
If you’re used to going out after work with the gang and having a beer (or two) a few nights a week, evaluate if their company is moving you towards your goals. While this social activity is likely good for strengthening workplace friendships and building company morale, it might not suit your personal needs.
You can adjust your behaviors to better align with your healthy lifestyle by politely telling the gang you’re Thursdays-only from now on. Set the expectation that you still want to reap the social benefits of being with them, but politely assert a new boundary.
Similarly, if you have a friend or friend group who likes to go out (and stay out) late, and you find that it disrupts your sleep, make a change. Suggest an earlier activity. Or give yourself an end time to the fun night out. Let your friends know in advance you’re focusing on getting better, more consistent sleep, and staying out late is being phased out of your life.
Advocating for yourself doesn’t make you a bad friend! It just means that you value yourself enough to break from the group mentality and take care of yourself first.
And I hope it goes without saying, but if you have friends who are critical of your health goals or who mock your attempts to build healthy habits, those aren’t good friends! You deserve better.
Your Significant Other is a Significant Factor in Your Success
Having your main squeeze on board with healthy habit building is critical to your success for several reasons. First of all, this is likely the person you spend most of your free time with. As such, their habits become your habits.
If you are with someone who doesn’t understand or value your health goals, it is a challenge sticking to them. While your loved one may not be malicious when s/he suggests grabbing a burger and fries on Friday night, it sabotages your progress all the same. Be clear in your communication with your partner about what your plan is to build healthy habits. Remind them that you need and appreciate their support.
Also, if your healthy lifestyle changes mean you’ve joined a new class or group, ask your significant other how much s/he wants to hear about it. Some people feel jealous tendencies when their partner starts to make new friends alone. Reassure your partner that you are part of the group to help you achieve your health goals only. If your partner has no interest in hearing about your awesome spin class, that’s okay. It just might not be something they can really relate to at this point.
Finally, your significant other may resent the changes you are making. If you’re working on eating healthier or exercising more, your partner may interpret these new behaviors as a criticism of your (and likely your shared) old patterns. As such, s/he may feel that you are going to leave him/her behind when you become “the new you.” Keeping communication open, honest, and inviting can help to smooth out this potential relationship road bump.
If your significant other is on board with you making lifestyle changes, please take the next opportunity to thank him/her for the support. You have one fewer hurdle to leap over than most people do!
Healthy Habit Building Can Strengthen Relationships
Sometimes the work involved in building new habits forges people together. Working toward a common goal is a powerful bonding process. As such, if you can get your friends and significant other to join you in adopting positive changes, you’ll all benefit!
If you don’t have friends or family with similar health goals, don’t give up! You could try to find a local meetup of people with similar interests. Or use a social networking platform like NextDoor that connects neighbors and allows for people to post what they are seeking. Your people are out there and waiting to support you!
Recognize from the outset that making positive health choices isn’t always easy. Rather than pretend that the process will unfold beautifully with no challenges whatsoever, expect the missteps. Know ahead of time that when you are feeling most challenged is exactly when you will want to rely on your support community.
The great news is that everyone moves through behavior change at their own pace. So, a hard day for you may be an easy day for someone else, and they have the extra energy to support you. On another day, you’ll be the one lending support. And as you move through this process, it is impossible not to develop deeper relationships with your fellow health seekers.
Embracing the opportunity to grow in relationship with others is just one more reason that building healthy habits supports you and your overall wellness.