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TWM 49 – Habits are Contagious: Find Some Wellness Friends to Spur You On


Habits are Contagious: Find Some Wellness Friends to Spur You On

Today's Will Power Moment - 49

with Dr. James Meschino

Our topic for today addresses the fact that good and bad habits spread from one person to another.  When it comes to wellness, it’s much easier to succeed if you can find a circle of friends or workmates who value regular exercise and healthier eating behaviors. Humans are hardwired to connect with others. Our brains naturally keep track of what other people are thinking, feeling, and doing.  The same way that you don’t want your kids to run with the wrong crowd and get hooked on drugs and neglect school work and turn their back on personal growth and ambition, we become more susceptible to allowing bad health habits to creep into our lives when we only associate with people who don’t value principles of wellness.

It becomes much easier to give ourselves more permission to skip workouts, and indulge in some fattening and sugary foods if we are exclusively in the company of people who don’t work out and pay little attention to eating in a manner that helps defend against cancer, heart disease, dementia, weight gain, osteoporosis etc.  By the same token, your friends and associates who are into wellness can serve as a powerful motivating force to keep you moving forward with your wellness goals and help improve adherence to your game plan each day if you can just make sure you have sufficient contact with them.

The truth is that there are a lot more people in the world who are not into the whole wellness way of living.  This doesn’t mean you can’t socialize with them, work with them, love them and enjoy their company and their unique talents and personalities, but it does mean that you should also seek out friends and associates who are wellness-minded.  Keeping the whole wellness initiative going on your own, without any social support or positive encouragement and affirmation, is a difficult task.

It’s one of the reasons I have worked out at the gym for most of my adult life. You look around and see other people working towards their goals of weight loss, endurance fitness, strength gains and so on. You can’t help but want to compare yourself to the progress of others and push yourself a little to keep making progress with your own body. Dance classes, fitness classes work the same way. They help give you the social reinforcement that tells us that we are doing something that many others find beneficial and rewarding, and that helps keep us going.

Studies show that seeing someone else engage in a willpower challenge can put you in the mood to join them. This can involve weight loss, or walking a specific number of steps per day, or training for a 10-km run etc. When we see what other people want, their wants trigger our wants, and we start pursuing the same or similar goals. This applies to giving up fattening foods, losing excess weight, exercising, selecting healthier foods etc. This is called goal contagion – because it means that goal behaviors are contagious

Goal contagion can really help us. Here’s how: Willpower challenges always involve conflict between two competing goals.  Regarding wellness – “You want pleasure now, but you want to be healthier and more fit later”. Seeing another person pursue one of these competing goals can tip the balance of power in your mind. Goal contagion works in both directions – you can catch self-control as well as self-indulgence – but we seem to be especially susceptible to the contagion of temptation. If your lunch companion orders dessert, it may result in you doing the same. You see how it works. We have all lived this experience.  It’s easy to catch willpower weakness if we only surround ourselves with people who provide cues that go against wellness principles.

The good news is that just thinking about someone who we respect and admire who has good self-control can increase our own willpower. So, it’s important t to have friends and people around you who can provide positive cues, but it’s also helpful to have a role model that you can conjure up in times of temptation, to help keep your willpower intact. This would be someone who exemplifies the kind of self-control you would like to have and is someone you respect, like and admire. So, when you need a bit of extra willpower bring your role model to mind.  As well, it’s also not a bad idea to be the role model for others, yourself. The likable wellness coach that inspires others to follow. Remember that by your own example and gentle encouragement you can help others improve their health and achieve their body shape and fitness goals. I think that’s quite inspiring, as well.

Okay, make sure you include some health-conscious people in your social circle, think about a role model you can conjure up in key moments and be a role model yourself, to others.  All these social strategies are proven ways to propel you towards wellness success.

Eat Smart, Live Well, Look Great,

Dr. James Meschino

Dr. James Meschino


Dr. James Meschino, DC, MS, ROHP, is an educator, author, and researcher having lectured to thousands of healthcare professionals across North America. He holds a Master’s Degree in Science with specialties in human nutrition and biology and is recognized as an expert in the field of nutrition, anti-aging, fitness, and wellness as well as the author of numerous books.

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