There’s no doubt about it: long term success at changing your habits and your lifestyle is a lot easier when you have the support of the important people in your life. And a lot harder when you have to swim against the tide.
There’s no great mystery here. A “lifestyle” isn’t something we can or do create all by ourselves, unless we’re hermits—it’s more of a joint project that includes our families, our friends, our workmates, and our whole social environment. It’s fair to say that your lifestyle at any given time is really a negotiated, give-and-take arrangement between you, as an individual with personal needs, desires, and interests, and all the “significant others” in your life, who also have their own agendas and needs. Given the fact that we tend to create our voluntary personal relationships with people who share interests, habits, and behaviors similar to our own, it’s not surprising that changing habits and behaviors is a lot easier when it’s a collective project and not just something you’ve decided to do on your own. Otherwise, change—even obviously healthy, productive change--can mean rocking a lot of boats, and that can be pretty difficult to handle, not only for you but for everyone else involved.
And that's just the situation many of us find ourselves in. What do we do about this?
The reality for many of us is that the decision to change our lifestyle—how and what we eat and the role of physical activity, especially—starts out, at least, as an individual decision, motivated by any number of personal concerns: health, fitness, appearance, feeling more comfortable in our own skin, etc. And that inevitably puts us in the position of having to re-negotiate the existing (and usually unspoken) “lifestyle agreement” we have with our various partners, some of whom may not share our new concerns or priorities.
So, what do you do when making the changes you need to make brings you into conflict with important people in your life? Here are some things to think about…
Can you successfully make the lifestyle changes you want to make, even if it means going it alone, without the support of your family, friends, or social network? Does it all boil down to individual determination and will power? Is it just too hard to swim against the tide? Or does it depend on whether you’re a conformist or a “rugged individualist”?
Does anyone owe it to you to change their behavior so it’s easier for you to change yours? We all like to think that, when we set out to make changes that are good for us, anyone who cares about us will jump on the bandwagon and do whatever they can to help out. And when that doesn’t happen, it can be pretty upsetting and disappointing. But remember...there are at least two sides to every story. When you change behaviors and habits that you’ve shared with the people around you for quite a while, they’ve got to figure out what’s going on. Does this mean you don’t approve of their behavior any more? Are you breaking your “deal” with them by changing the rules? If they don’t change too, can you still be friends/spouses, or will you move on to people who do things the way you want to do them? Is there any way you can still spend time together and enjoy it, without feeling like something has come between you? (These may be questions you need to ask yourself, too). Unfortunately, many people find it hard to deal with these kinds of questions directly and in the open–instead, they "act out" in strange ways to find out what the new rules are, see what the limits are and how you react, or non-verbally communicate their own unhappiness with the new situation. To you this may feel like lack of support or even attempted sabotage, but how do you know if that’s what it really is for the other person? And just how much do people who care about you owe it to you to make your changes easier for you to accomplish by making the same changes themselves?
Whose job is it to take the initiative to talk about what’s going on? Fears, insecurities, and wrong assumptions about why people do what they do all flourish in the dark, and tend to evaporate when exposed to the light of honest and open communication. But someone has to start that ball rolling. Is that up to you, as the person who wants to make changes, or to the person who is feeling uncomfortable about what you’re doing?
Can you get enough of the support you need from outside your existing relationships to make up for what you’re not getting there? These days, there are lots of both face-to-face and on-line opportunities to get support for all kinds of personal goals. Do you think participating in groups of this sort can be enough? What do you look for when you’re looking for a support group?
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