Social Circles Part 2: Coping Strategies

In Social Circles Part 1: Habits are Contagious, I shared some hard and fast research on how the lifestyle habits of those around us can affect how we eat, what we eat, and how we move. Now what? Here are three crucial strategies for getting friends and family to support your healthy lifestyle.

ONE: Accept and Recognize What is “Right”

Accept that your lifestyle may be “right” for you, but may not be “right” for your friend or family member. And recognize that there are probably very good reasons why those in your social circles have adopted their current lifestyle habits.

Quick story… I remember my first week on the job at a local brokerage firm. In a meeting that included a group of senior leaders, I listened closely as a colleague berated the intranet that was currently in place and acted as the primary communication vehicle for corporate to push out important to over 50 branches. The meeting ended and I remember one of the executives in the room looking rather “unimpressed” with said colleague. I later found out that executive had been responsible for the build out of the intranet some 10 years before- when budgets were extremely limited and resources lean. I learned a VERY important lesson that day: you’d better understand why things are done the way they are before you make recommendations for change. (I am also extremely lucky I wasn’t the one to open my big mouth because that is generally my MO.)

In summary: If your loved ones feel more understood, and less judged, they may begin to practice more flexibility and less judgement toward your new habits and beliefs too.

TWO: Be Persistent but NOT Pushy

Change is scary! It can bring up issues of control, security, and identity, and it can also bring up painful emotions like anxiety, panic, or loss. When our loved ones resist change (in all the creative ways they can come up with — consciously and unconsciously, kindly and unkindly), what they might actually be feeling underneath it all is fear. Their fear can be the result of thoughts like:

  • What if you become a different person?
  • What if this new food tastes gross?
  • What if your healthy habits make me confront my unhealthy habits?
  • What if you judge me or don’t love me anymore?
  • What if I can’t keep up with you?

Those who may be fearful will not respond well to pushiness. That is why it is important to be persistent and not pushy. Persistence means you won’t force your loved ones to adopt your new healthy habits. It means continuously offering opportunities for your friends and family to join you on your quest for a healthier life, and yet remaining open to a wide range of responses to any given invitation.

As much as you can, take the drama and emotional charge out of these conversations. Validate your loved ones’ reasons for staying the way they are, and don’t push back.

THREE: Turn Your Focus Inward

In order to overcome the many obstacles that accompany significant lifestyle changes, we need to be anchored to a deep, internal, personalized “why” that will pull us through. You can’t manufacture this type of motivation for someone else. No matter how hard you try to coerce your kids, spouse, parents, and friends to change, they may have none of it.

This connection to one’s own internal reasons for doing something is called “intrinsic motivation.” Research shows that intrinsic motivation leads to change that’s longer-lasting and more self-sustaining than extrinsic motivation, which is based on the desire to obtain external outcomes such as approval of others.

So respect that it may take some time for your loved ones to connect to their own reasons for eating and moving better. Without ignoring your natural love and concern for them during this time, let your attention turn inward. Spend more energy on your own growth and development.

By working toward and achieving a healthier, happier, more confident and fit version of yourself, you become the inspiration, the positive influence to your family and friends. Remember: influence works both ways. Lead the way!

Excerpts shared with permission from Precision Nutrition.