Self help gurus, psychologists, doctors, and religious counselors all work to help us to change out of our old unhealthy ways and into a new and improved version of ourselves, myself included! It’s a worthy cause because most of us want to live a happier healthier life. But starting a new habit is like stretching out a rubber band and expecting it to stay there. It keeps bouncing back! And so do we. We struggle and strain to eat right and then go right back to our chips and soda.
Change is hard.
But there’s another problem rarely spoken of that can make change almost impossible. Knowing it, however, will allow change to come easier.
They may not like the new you.
We’re social creators and our actions have a dramatic impact on one another. We like to think the reason we have an IPhone is the nifty operating system and one button simplicity, but the bigger reason is that IPhones are cool. Admit it, we do some things to be accepted by those around us.
And we also don’t do things to be accepted by those around us.
This is one of the reasons change can be so hard. It’s like we’re holding hands playing a giant game of Red Rover. The new habit you're trying out puts you on the other team. You run to the line and try to break through, but they hold you back and you're forced to join their team again. It’s easier to keep things the same. Our friends want us to stay in line.
We form social ties where the unwritten rules dictate how we should behave. Most of us surround ourselves with friends who like the same activities, live according to a similar moral code, and are in the same stage of life. It’s a powerful force and to a large extent, determines our behavior.
When we try to make a change, the people around us hold on tighter, look down their noses, and wonder what the heck is going on. That's because each of us is forced to see our own bad habits when those around get rid of theirs. This communal nature can be either a blessing or a curse when it comes to change.
Although those around you may not be ready for change, that doesn’t mean you can’t start it in your own life. Here are a few ways to keep in mind the power of our relationships and still make healthy changes.
Join a New Group
This doesn’t mean you have to leave your friends, it’s just that you need to find others who will support your new behavior. Join a club, find a group on social media, follow a blog, or participate with others using one of many apps on your phone. Finding a group to support your new habit will make it easier.
Finding a friend to change with you is always a good idea. We work best when we're accountable and trying something new is always better with someone trying to do it too. As they say, misery loves company.
Ignore Comments from Those Who Don't Want You to Change
As I've pointed out, people around you will see their bad habits when you try to get rid of yours. So often that causes them to rebel against your change to justify their own lack of change. Subtle comments may sneak into conversations to short-circuit your efforts.
Barb (not her real name)
My husband and I had won a trip and were planning to go to Europe. I was afraid to leave our children and be overseas so, I was dragging my feet on the planning.
I had a friend at the time named, Barb who was fun and energetic. She was a force and I often felt compelled to listen to her advice. She weighed in on our travel plans and told me flat out, 'I'd never fly over the ocean and leave my children here!'
Fortunately, I ignored Barb's comments and went on a trip that changed our lives for the better. Barb was just speaking from her own fear, not as a response to our plans. Beware of who you listen to and their motives.
Pay Attention to the Healthy People in Your Life
One day I asked my friend, Kari, how often she exercised. She told me about an hour at a time, usually 5 days a week. That sounded crazy to me! She couldn't possibly have a balanced life spending so much time exercising! My mind began to justify my own routine as 'right'.
I was comparing my activity level to hers and wanted to knock hers down so she'd be like me. Fortunately for our friendship, I didn't open my big mouth but began to observe her as I tried to detect signs of imbalance in her life. There were none.
Soon I was taking a whole hour to go for a bike ride or swim. It felt good and I had more energy than ever before. Many years later, I can still say Kari has a balanced life as she cares both for herself and others. In fact, I know she cares well for others because she cares for herself.
Notice the Unwritten Rules (and break them if necessary)
We all follow unwritten rules. Those are the ones that no one speaks but everyone understands. Take your family Christmas. The unwritten rules will dictate how you dress, how extravagant a gift you’ll give, and how much to help with the clean-up. Our friend’s unwritten rules will determine what is ‘fun’, how late to stay out, and whether it’s OK to tease one another.
To start a new habit, go ahead and write your own rules, follow your own path, and start your journey towards a better life.