Saturday, September 17, 2016

Why Support Systems are Important and How to Create Your Own

I think it really important to have a good support system when you are making lifestyle changes... that includes all kinds of changes... losing weight, eating healthier, quitting smoking... giving up gluten... to name only a few.  Some things are just easier, not to mention more enjoyable, when you have help and can discuss your situation with others who are on the same wavelength as you are, who are facing the same challenges, and interested in making the same changes.

So how do you create a support system?  What does that even mean?

Creating a support system has been a learning process for me. I have always hated to ask for help.  I think I somehow saw it as a sign of weakness.  I like to think I am tough, and my tendancy is definitely to go-it-alone, especially when attempting something new.   I keep it to myself... I  mean, who wants everyone to know that they are trying something new... just in case they fail at it?   Not me.

For example, when I first started running, many, many years ago, I ran alone.  I built up my mileage over time to where I was running 10 miles every Saturday morning, alone.  My husband used to come with me on the occasional 5 mile run, but hour after hour, week after week, I ran alone, and I rarely even talked about it with anyone because no one else I knew was a runner. It never occurred to me to seek out other runners or a running group.

I did join Weight Watchers and lost the weight with the help of the program, but rarely stayed for meetings in those days. The leader was not very good, in my opinion. She only wanted to talk about her daughter's Highland Dancing and her own love of red wine. I couldn't relate to the other members at all when I did stay to meetings and although I did go regularly for my weigh ins, I lost my weight and maintained it, alone.

Or so I thought... I came to realize that my greatest and constant support is my husband.  He champions me through my athletic endeavors, my nutrition changes, my food experiments, and remains patient and steadfast, and positive.  He is a rock and I am extremely lucky to have him.

But not everyone has someone like that in their lives. So what do you do if you are alone, or if you are solitary in wanting to start a new habit? 

It really depends on what kind of support you want to have.

Do you want real, live companions?  Or do you want more distant, perhaps even virtual relationships?

If it is the former, you might want to test the waters with a local group... find a running shoe store that offers running groups, or try fitness studios, community centres, a local weight loss group.  Sign up for courses at colleges, or even start a group where you work. Check your newspaper or search for community bulletin boards online.

Even though I am a Weight Watchers member and more recently an employee, and do attend occasional meetings, I have found that virtual online groups work really well for me as well. Many years ago I joined a group on the Weight Watchers web site that has now moved to become a private Facebook group.  We have been communicating almonst daily for about 10 years.  And I have found many other groups on Facebook over the past few years.

I  have joined many various challenge groups led by different Facebook friends.  I find reading the daily posts from the different members motivating and often very inspiring.  I can relate to the struggles and offer my own opinions... I can ask questions and even vent if I need to.  These groups are made up of people whom I would never likely meet in real life, who are on the same path as me for a given period of time.  We come together in the forum, we meet and help each other, we disband and go our separate ways. These groups fill a real need for a limited span of time.

I am also currently involved in several ongoing Facebook groups... one for my current workout Metabolic Prime, a couple for Intermittent Fasting, one for a food plan I am interested in.  I am also a member of a few different bloggers groups.

So, even if you have a support system of only one... one workout buddy or the support of a larger group, it can make all of the difference in your success and your commitment.  Whether the other people are flesh and blood members or virtual members... Why is that?

Why is a support system important?
  1. You have someone else who understands what you are trying to accomplish... what you are struggling with, what your temptations are.  They get the jargon.  They get YOU. You have a safe place to share information and your experiences. 
  2. You have someone to pat you on the back, to say 'way to go', or even 'good try, you will do better tomorrow'.  Or they can kick you in the butt. The feedback is rewarding and relevant and very motivating.
  3. You have someone else to be accountable to. This is a very important part of the picture for me. I have stayed a member of Weight Watchers all these years because I know that I am going to have someone else weigh me once a month. 
  4. You have someone who cares if you show up.  If you blow off a solitary run, no one notices and no one cares, but if you are part of a group, you will be disappointing someone by not being there. If it is an online group, they will miss you if you don't post.
  5. You have someone who also needs you.  You become part of someone else's support group and that brings something more to your journey as well.  It is synergy and very positive.
I do think it is a good idea to assess/review occasionally to see if you are getting what you need out of the group. I have joined and quit a few... others I check in with less frequently.  I think group dynamics change, and certainly our needs change.  But there are always new ways to connect with people and find new means of support if we search for them.

So, what do you think about support systems? Do you think they are important?