Step 9B: Use Your Team
Remember: Strong helping relationships do not predict or favor who succeeds early in behavior change. You read that right: most of us can survive for a few weeks even in the most hostile of environments absent social support. We suspect that the initial inspiration and motivation gets people through.
But after a few weeks of change, the quality and quantity of your helping relationships do count, and powerfully so. Scores of research studies have demonstrated the impressive contributions of social support to your health and happiness. Simply stated, helping relationships improve health and buffer us from the ravages of life.
That change team you assembled will now be called upon for support, assistance, and an occasional challenge. Here is some guidance on how to tailor your change team, make any necessary adjustments, and secure the services of an expert coach.
♦ Listen and support. Any experienced psychotherapist will tell you that active listening and real support form the backbone of successful treatment. But your change team need not be composed of professionals; you can receive empathy and affirmation from all sorts of folks. Listening and being heard are extraordinarily powerful and tragically rare events in life. Cultivate and celebrate relationships that offer those.
♦Frequently. Keep regular contact with your change team. Once a week, at a minimum, for a quick check-in and healthy dose of support. More often if you are experiencing temptations to regress and for any slips. Those recovering from addictions attend 90 self-help meetings in the first 90 days for a good reason.
♦ What you need. Your change team, however, cannot read your mind. Do you need more listening with fewer interruptions? Do you prefer more praise and acknowledgment? Or perhaps some concrete tips on how to navigate slips? More tangible help on that day? Tell them directly what you need at this juncture.
♦ Keep it positive. What virtually everyone needs is positivity. Ask your friends to stay positive, avoid doom and gloom predictions, and focus on your progress instead of the occasional slips. In particular, firmly but graciously remind them that sarcasm, guilt, and embarrassment are not helpful forms of support!
♦ Put me in Coach. Assuming that you wisely selected members of your change team, at least one of them will have experienced considerable success in their own behavior change and thus able to offer some practical skills. That person (or persons) effectively serves as your coach. Ask for tips or skills of the week. You need not endorse or implement every idea you receive, but you are collecting an assortment of skills.
♦ Peer pressure. That term usually carries unsavory connotations to “bad influences” who lead you wayward into alcohol, drugs, and smokes. But here I refer to the peer pressure to keep on track and moving toward your goal. Online communities, faith communities, work groups.
♦ Return the favor. When struggling and perspiring, your self-change efforts can preoccupy you and assume priority over your mental life. Understandably so. But when dealing with friends, your self-change efforts are probably not the central topic of their day. So, give as well as receive supportive listening. Ask about their feelings, focus on their experiences, and balance the conversation.
♦ Buddy up. Perhaps one or more of your change team will be undertaking a major change at the same time as you. But sometimes other friends and family will surprise you by unexpectedly announcing that they join you. The buddy system works; accept as many co-changers and training partners as your schedule can accommodate.
♦ Invite challenge. “Say what?! You actually want me to invite a member of my change team to confront or criticize me!” Well, yes and no. Yes, you will probably profit from the occasional loving correction, the caring confrontation from a trusted relationship. Decide on the rules of engagement so that you can hear the challenge and use it productively. But, no, you don’t need anyone to scream or belittle you. You already do plenty of that to yourself.
How specifically will you use your help/change team?