Support or Sabotage?

By Teresa Amaral Beshwate, MPH

How many times have you set a new goal only to give up within a few weeks? If you can’t count the times, you’ll be glad to know that you’re not alone. It is estimated that 80% of New Year resolutions fail, and for good reason.

We often try to power our way through to achieving a goal, relying only on will power or deprivation and often going it alone. Yet research tells us that our environment is a critical factor in helping us achieve success.  

 In one study, 43% of participants surveyed said that family and friends have the most impact on personal health lifestyle. About two-thirds reported trying to change a negative behavior, but half did not sustain the change, due in part to lack of social support.

Family members are a key part of our environment and yet sometimes they won’t understand our goals. It’s tough to be alone in your pursuits- to lack the support of those around you, or even worse, combat efforts at sabotage. You can’t speak butterfly language with caterpillars. That’s not judgmental – they’re just not there yet. Sometimes you’ve simply got to have your own back, know why you started, and you do you.

Friends have been shown to dramatically impact health, for better or worse. One large scale study that spanned over 30 years showed that a person’s chances of becoming obese increased by 57% if a friend became obese. The probability of obesity increased by 71% if the friend was the same gender. On the bright side, those attempting to lose weight were more successful when paired with a like-minded pal, and exercisers are more motivated with partnered with a friend.

Your physical environment can also support or sabotage your efforts. Are your gym clothes ready to go the night before? Is your pantry stocked with healthy fare or overflowing with temptation? Are you running on the fast-moving treadmill of busy, or have you carved out time to set yourself up for success?

While it is certainly ideal to have supportive family and friends and a perfect environment to help us achieve our biggest goals, at the end of the day, our results are always a product of our own actions. Our actions are fueled by our feelings, and our feelings are produced from our thinking. And luckily, we get to choose our thoughts.

Imagine if you received messages throughout your day, either cheering you on and encouraging your goals or suggesting that you’re wasting your time, you’re bound to fail, again. Well you do receive those messages from your own brain.

Your brain may have no evidence that you can achieve your goals based on past experiences. Before you learned to walk, you had no evidence of your ability to walk, but that didn’t stop you from trying. In fact, the only way anyone learns to walk is to fall and get up again. We create the ability to walk through falling down- and that’s the only way to do it.  

If we choose our thoughts carefully, we can decide that small failures add up to big wins. We can remember that our past experiences don’t determine where we can go, only where we start. With our own brain as our biggest supporter, we can achieve big goals, no matter what.

Teresa Beshwate