What does it take to build a habit? Some people say it’s all about time - it’s widely quoted that it takes 21 days to form a habit, though this number is largely debunked.
Having solid social support can also facilitate the habit-building process. Often the first piece of advice people are given when building a habit is to find an accountability buddy. If you have someone to be accountable to, they can keep you more committed than if you were go to it alone.
Whether you want an accountability buddy or not, all of your relationships can have an effect on your ability to build habits, both for better and for worse.
You Versus Your Brain
It can be frustrating trying to create new habits. Sometimes it seems like there’s more incentive to give up than to push through, or that the effort it takes to build new habits will be far greater than the benefit.
If exercising (or meditating, or a lot of things that are apparently good for you) is so good, why is it so hard? Essentially, these questions and doubts are your brain’s way of protecting you from the suffering it thinks you might incur.
Humans are fundamentally creatures of habit. We cultivate and stick to routines because they feel safe, and because routines take less brain power than constantly having to make on-the-fly decisions. New habits challenge these routines, which can make you feel anywhere from a little bit thrown off to totally overwhelmed. This protection effort is well intentioned, but unnecessary.
To thwart it, your brain needs to see that the end result truly is possible and better. Seeing other people pushing themselves to attain their goals allows your brain to see that change is worth the trouble.
As an added bonus, it makes it harder to come up with excuses for not doing something if people you actually know and relate to are out doing the thing you’re avoiding.
Success is Sweeter When Shared
When you’re working toward building new habits, any success should be celebrated. Sharing and celebrating your successes with other people reinforces the fact that you accomplished something.
Whether you ate clean for a certain number of days, read those books you’d had on your bookshelf for months, or finally nailed that one yoga pose, you deserve to bask in that glory for a little while.
Sharing your successes can also be a great reminder to check in with yourself, to make sure that you’re taking the time to properly acknowledge the positives, and that you’re giving yourself the time to relax when you need to.
Whether you're working with a friend on the same goal or you're leaning on your family during the tough days, the people in your life can have a big impact on your ability to stick with a new habit.
Cushioning the Blow
While our friends can be great motivators for our success, they can also act as support during times when we miss the mark. No matter how good we are about sticking to a new habit, it’s inevitable that we’ll make mistakes, or fall off the wagon once in a while.
Having good social supports can make it easier to deal with these obstacles. Venting to a friend (or a ventee!) can help you better deal with your feelings and frustrations as well as help you problem solve and work out your plans for the future.
Who You Walk With
If you surround yourselves with people who are pushing themselves to achieve their goals, it’s more likely that you’ll do the same. LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman says, “The fastest way to change yourself is to hang out with people who are already the way you want to be.”
If your friends are pursuing similar lifestyles and habits to yours, great! But you don’t need to have the exact same goals for it to work. You can motivate and push each other toward totally separate goals, and still support each other.
However, if you find that the people you’re leaning on are more dismissive than supportive, consider finding different ways to spend time with those people, and look to others for habit-forming advice and support.
It can be encouraging to take inspiration and advice from other people, especially those who you’re close to. Still, the important thing is that you’re seeking support from the right people. Friends, family, and partners are all great resources to go to for support, but not every friend needs to be part of your habit-building process.
Sometimes they can help and sometimes they can hinder, but ultimately, having social support can make the difficulties of building new habits much more bearable. If nothing else, it can serve as a reminder that we aren’t alone.
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