Getting support when cultivating a new habit increases the chances of long-term success
Have you ever tried to quit smoking or give up alcohol, when your partner, family or friends continued the habit? Or tried to make healthier food choices, when everyone else is tucking into takeaways and soft drink? And what does it feel like to leave work on time, when all your colleagues are working back?
While some people are super-disciplined about making healthy choices it’s pretty damned hard for the average person to continually go against the norm and say ‘no’, time after time. Especially when you are in the early stages of forming a new habit.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that your struggle isn’t just a sign of weakness. It’s human nature to want to fit in and be part of a group. Neuroscience tells us we are hard wired to be social animals. From a survival perspective, we are safer being an insider rather than an outsider.
So if you want to make choices that set you apart from your social and professional groups, you need support to do so. And lots of it. Even if you are a do-it-yourself type. In many areas of health, including weight loss, smoking and cancer recovery, ongoing support is a proven strong predictor of “success.”
In 1989 Dr David Spiegel of Stanford University School of Medicine looked at the effect of group support meetings on women with metastatic breast cancer. He found that five years later, the women who had met once a week for 90 minutes over 12 months, had twice the survival rate of the control group who received the usual medical care.
In 2007 he published another study demonstrating that women with breast cancer who attended a support group experienced improved mood, and reduced pain, depression and anxiety than women who did not. And a subgroup of women with a particularly aggressive type of cancer who attended the support groups, outlived their counterparts by nine months.
Why is support so powerful? Well, it has a many effects, but in broad terms, our support network or person can boost our motivation and point us towards valuable information and resources. It also holds us accountable so we are more likely to do what we say we will do, such as meet a friend for a morning walk or a game of golf.
When we share an experience with someone who can relate to what we are currently experiencing, we realize we are not alone. This seems to resonate deep within and heals.
So why not do a quick check now to see if there are any areas of your health that would benefit from some support? Where have you been struggling, or faltering? Then consider what type of support would work best for you. Check out the list below for some ideas.
- Self Help: (good for Do-it-Yourself types): sign a contract with yourself and have it witnessed, sign up to inspiring, informative e-letters (and read them!), watch an educational video or You Tube clip, sign up to self-paced health programs online. Self-monitoring charts or apps can also be supportive.
- One-to-One: Line up a health buddy at work or from your personal life who will commit to the same health goal as you, or at least hold you accountable for your intentions. See a Health Professional or Health Coach, or ask your ‘significant other’ for support, such as babysitting or food preparation or transport.
- Group Support: Attend classes, courses or a support group. Create your own team of co-workers who want to practice healthier workplace norms. Join Facebook pages focusing on specific health behaviours, undertake online challenges or create your own health challenge amongst your virtual friends.
What else? I’d love to hear your ideas and experiences about what has supported you to make healthy changes over time. So do drop me a line.