Cheer like Hell: How to Encourage Others as They Make Change

In the last 6 months I started doing something a little unconventional in practice.  I began telling my patients I would prefer that if they had a partner, they would bring them in for their initial consultation.  I did this for a few different reasons: I wanted to have a chance to educate their partner on the primary prevention focus of my practice and how my structure differed from most doctors visits.  I also knew that if patients moved forward with an integrative health plan, their progress would be so much smoother if their partner was prepared to support their decision. 

Because here’s the thing:

in the world of lifestyle changes and healthy choices, social support is a key indicator of success.

If the people that live most intimately with you are not interested in cheering you on, or worse, are opposed to incorporating healthier behaviors (it happens), then this emotional part of the picture can blunt protocol effectiveness. Lifestyle changes can be uncomfortable, especially when your meals, social habits, exercise regimen, and task distribution are intertwined with another person.  So, through the entire process, part of the education is for the partner, who has potential to contribute to their success.  Whether you are someone’s partner, best friend, or work mate, your role as a support system may be integral to their ability to make change.  Here are some tips on how to best support someone that is making dramatic changes in their life.

1) Remind them of the next best step: When a person starts to make changes in their life, they may be incredibly vulnerable.  This can come as a direct result of illness itself, but also because they are being shifted out of their comfort zone.  It’s a natural human response to get overwhelmed by the potential enormity of it all.  When people get anxious or overwhelmed, they typically suffer from paralysis by analysis.  What they usually need to hear in that moment, is how to focus on the next best step.  Truly we have no control over anything but the immediate decisions we make anyway, but this is something we all need consistent reminding of.   

2) Encourage consistency. Be a congruent factor in their life, even if you aren’t taking the full plunge with them. For example, if you live with them and they are trying to break a sugar addiction, don’t bring sugar into the house.  While you as an individual are not obligated to follow anyone else’s path, be cognizant and acknowledge that our community does influence our individual health and decision-making process.  Solidarity in your actions can be the greatest encouragement to someone to continue on with what they are doing.

3) Don’t tell. Invite:  When you care about someone deeply, it can be frustrating to watch them flounder or fail. It can be really easy to over-criticize or continually make suggestions that may be unwanted at that time.  This is where you may need to get a bit more interactive. Instead of reminding them to go on a walk, or to eat their greens, invite them to join you in doing the same.

Inviting someone back to healthier behaviors is a way of making them feel like they still belong on that path, even when they struggle.

It doesn’t always work, but I find it’s a more successful approach to encouraging progress without rushing.

4) Ask about victories; big or small.  We are our own worst critics, and sometimes when we have big health goals, we gloss over the little gains we make, and are sad when we don’t see the bigger ones immediately.  If you notice little positive changes in your partner or friend, tell them.  Encourage them to write out some of the little things they have noticed themselves.

The bottom line is, we must encourage the investments our dear ones make in themselves. We need each other so very much. Be the cheerleader you want in your circle. Cheer like hell for them. For each other.

Cheer like the health of the world revolves around it.

Because it does.

Wellness Said with Love,

Dr. Potvin