As of today, it’s mid-way through January, and if you’re still going strong with your health and fitness resolutions, you’re probably feeling unstoppably awesome. Unfortunately, this point in the month is also when you may start to notice some of the folks you love losing their motivation. Suddenly, your gym buddy is mysteriously busy, and your bestie is insisting you share a charcuterie plate, when you’ve both agreed you were going to try veganism. How can you be a great advocate, and offer the support your friends need, without compromising your own goals? What do you say to your friends who are falling off the resolution wagon?
If your friends or family set awesome, realistic health goals, like being active 4 days per week, or eating fewer processed foods, or quitting smoking, you were probably really excited for them, because you wanted to see the people in your life taking care of themselves. But if they begin to slip away, it can be hard to watch–and hard to hang on to your own aspirations, too. These goals are worth helping your friends with–and, from your position as a close friend or relative, you’re at a prime vantage point to offer support and keep them on-track. But how?
I asked three experts–renowned psychiatrist and author Dr. Carole Lieberman, author and wellness expert Peggy Hall, and Dr. Stephanie Somanchi, a life coach in Portland–for advice on the subject, and got some great tips on how you can offer help, without losing sight of your own goals. And the first step, Lieberman says, is to remember your role as a friend.
“Your friends can reassure you that you can do it, whatever it is. That you can, even when you start losing faith in yourself. They can remind you of accomplishments you’ve made in the past, and why they can you can do it.”
But motivation is a complex subject, and according to Hall and Somanchi, navigating this sensitive area may be difficult–and might require a little bit of counterintuitive reasoning.
“If you’ve got a friend who’s not quite as into health and nutrition as you are, the more you encourage her or bring attention to the fact that she might not be as dedicated, there’s a tendency in human nature to pull away.” Hall told me, explaining that there’s a delicate space between enabling…and angering.
When your friend begins to list her excuses for not keeping up with her goals, it may be tempting to lend a sympathetic ear and roll with it. But, says Dr. Somanchi, you’re doing more harm than good. ”Listening to excuses is a method of enabling and validating the unmotivated behavior.”
Instead, says Dr. Somanchi, “redirect the conversation,” by “offering to listen to her come up with solutions.” This way, you’re working toward a goal together, instead of staying mired in the negative.
Hall agrees, and recommends that, instead of going along with behaviors that you know will be tempting or not the best use of time, you suggest a fun, healthy way alternative–without directly telling your friend what she should be doing.
“Get passes for two-for-one Pilates, or try stand-up-paddle, or something you’ve never done. Set up times to do these things together, so, while you’re still getting out and being active, it’s fun. Do it without competition, and without making it about ‘working out.’ Make it your thing.”
And if it gets too difficult, Dr. Lieberman says, or your friend becomes resistant, make sure you’re surrounding yourself with others who can offer a similar support system.
“To meet your goals, you have to choose your friends carefully. Focus on friends with similar goals and you’ll always feel supported.” Dr. Lieberman advises.
Helping your friend or family member reach their goals is one of the best gifts you can offer–especially if you can do it in a respectful, loving way, that helps bring you closer, instead of driving you apart with perceived competitiveness or accusation. Because when it comes down to it, all you really want is to see your friends to be healthy and happy, in whichever way makes them feel best.
“Focus on health. Focus on fun. The other things fall into place.” says Hall. Amen to that.