Other People CAN Help You Change Your Habits: Here’s How!
Want to change your habits for better health? Maybe you’d like to drink more water? Start meditating? Or exercise more? Spending time with like-minded people is a short cut to getting started and a surefire way to stick with your plan. Even if you’re 40+ and you think you’ll never change you can do it.
It’s common knowledge that you can’t change other people, you can only change yourself and that’s true. But if you’re serious about changing a habit, hanging out with like-minded people can get you motivated, keep you motivated and help you forge a healthy habit that lasts or create life changes.
How can other people help change your habits so you can enjoy better health?
Let’s take giving up smoking as an example. Smoking is a bad habit which I’ve given up many times over the years. Like most people who stop bad habits I didn’t quit one day and never smoke again.
It take practice, both to give up bad habits and to take up good ones. There are no short cuts when it comes to changing your habits so don’t expect to make a smooth switch overnight. Most people who succeed in changing a habit will have tried and failed before in the past. That’s certainly true for me.
25 years ago in France smokers were everywhere. Giving up smoking is easier now because smoking is so marginalized it’s hard to find places where smoking’s allowed, let alone anyone else who smokes. But back then in France, if you wanted to stop smoking you had to stop seeing your smoking friends, stop going to places where people smoked (bars, cafes and nightclubs) and find something else to do with someone else. In other words you had to change your whole life.
Most importantly, you had to find like-minded (non-smoking) people to be with because, if you didn’t, you’d lose your social support. Social support is crucial when you’re trying to change a habit which is how other people can help you change your habits.
Why social support is so important when you want to change your habits for health reasons
Studies show what social support is important for people who want to eat healthier or start exercising, especially for women.
Cute video clip #1 showing why it’s better to join a group when you want to change your habits for better health.
There may be a few advantages of spending time with like-minded people. For example:
- Like-minded people support you emotionally to make the right choices;
- Like-minded people model the desired behaviour and are less likely to lead you astray;
- Other people who are experienced healthy eaters/exercisers/meditators can act as advisors or motivators when you’re getting stuck or have questions.
One of the reasons the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) program is so effective is that it instantly gives people who want to change a habit a set of like-minded people to hang out with. Some alcoholics may never have met someone who has given up drinking alcohol for a day before, let alone successfully given up for 20 years. For struggling alcoholics that association through AA with other people who’ve experienced what they’ve been through and made lasting habits changes despite the odds can be life-changing.
So alcoholics who want to change their habits instantly get a role model. In addition, regular AA meetings offer the on-going connections and support needed to help them change their habits in the long term. Long-term change is key here because, whatever habit we want to change, making that change once or for one day is relatively easy.
Making change stick in the long-term is what we struggle with. That’s the part of habit change that other people can help you with.
Cute video clip #2 showing why it’s better to join a group when you want to change your habits for better health.
How to find like-minded people to help you change your habits and get healthier
Giving up bad habits
Giving up bad habits is hard. So you might want to start by taking up a good habit first.
Having said that, if you’ve got a serious problem like alcohol or drug abuse, chronic over-eating or constant mental health problems then you need to be serious about addressing it. Fortunately for many cases there are groups like AA or Weight Watchers that can help you shake up your life.
You may not like the official meetings and rules and regulations that go with some of these groups but they will help you get started. If you stick with them long enough to make changes you will not only meet like-minded people but you will make friends with other people who can help you make your new habit stick.
Taking up a new habit
If you want to start a habit like exercise or meditation then joining an exercise class or a meditation course is a good way to find like-minded people. I tried 52 exercises in one year so you’ve got no excuse for not being able to find an exercise you like and a group of people to do it with.
Be wary of picking one exercise buddy, especially if they are also new to the exercise habit. If you only connect with one like-minded person then your motivation to maintain your habit will only be as strong as theirs. So if they don’t come for a walk one morning you can both fall out of the habit very quickly. That’s why groups that are already established work best.
Ideally, if you can find a friend to join a group with you, do so. Otherwise join a group alone and watch what the others do to keep their habit in place. You’ll probably find that making the time to exercise is hard for everyone. But people who’ve formed the habit do it anyway, even when they’re busy, their kids are sick or when it’s dark in the morning.
Rain, hail or shine some people go for a walk, hit the gym or do some yoga anyway. Those are the like-minded people you want to spend time with because the habit is so deeply ingrained in them.
Some like-minded people I hang out with in the blogosphere
I like to spend time with women, both in the real world and online, who are courageous, active and always seeking to improve themselves. These are some of the stellar bloggers who inspire me to keep pursuing healthy habits:
- Fellow travel blogger Seana Smith in Sydney loves ocean swimming with the Bold and Beautiful group.
- Sandra Paluma in Hawaii practices meditation and mindfulness and joins her husband in healthy eating.
- Johanna Castro in Perth goes for daily walks.
- Monique van Tulder in Sydney sticks to a morning exercise routine.
- Marcy in Connecticut got in the walking habit by setting a step goal.
- Barbara Hammond in Cape May keeps active walking her rescue dogs.
Groups I hang out with who keep me on track with good habits
I’m part of a running group that meets three times a week. I also challenge myself running a 5km parkrun every Saturday where I have instant friends to walk or run with. And I’m part of a writer’s group that meets monthly and I have several study buddies in the university course I’m studying to help keep me on track. When I can I try to walk or bike with my family too. It can be hard to get them moving but I love it when I do!
When I was learning to meditate and practice mindfulness I joined a group for that. The group ended naturally but it helped us all get started with meditation and mindfulness and I still keep in touch base with some members when I need a boost in that direction or want to see how they’re getting on.
It works both ways with groups as you motivate and inspire each other to ditch bad habits and take up new ones.
But there’s no instant fix. It takes time to create new habits and stick with them so be kind with yourself if you fail. Remember it’s perfectly normal and nothing to be ashamed of to fail again and again when you starting a new habit or dropping a bad habit. Keep trying!
Give yourself the best possible chance of changing your habits to get healthier by finding some like-minded people to hang out with. If you’re serious about change your habits and getting healthier then it’s the only way.
Cute video clip #3 showing why it’s better to join a group when you want to change your habits for better health.
Has connecting with a group helped you change your habits and get healthier?
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I love this post and how you recognize the role of social support in behavior change.
Out of curiosity, have you ever read “Influencer: The Power to Change Anything”? In that book the authors talk about their research into the role of six specific dimensions of behavior change (Ability & Motivation across three levels: Personal, Social, & Structural.) – I have no connection to their work, just a fan.
Your focus here is on the social level specifically, and you might be interested to write further about the personal and structural levels at some point.
Anyway, just thought you might be interested. Thanks for the great writing :).