I remember well my first days of running. I was entering my freshman year of high school and my neighbor Molly, who was two years older than me and a cross-country runner, convinced me to join her on her summer morning runs. This meant waking up before everyone else in my family and pushing my body in new ways. Some days I dreaded those runs. I remember vividly praying for thunderstorms a few of those first mornings just so I wouldn’t have to go. But early morning after early morning and run after run, I still got up and went. Why did I do this? I wasn’t a cross-country runner, and I had no real need to force my sore and exhausted body out of bed every morning, but I still did. It really came down to two things: I began to love those runs – the quiet of the morning, the camaraderie with a veteran high schooler, the sense of accomplishment those runs gave me, and I even came to love waking up to sore muscles the next day. But just as importantly as all of that, I did it because I didn’t want to let Molly down and because my runs with her were far more enjoyable and more successful than my solo runs. She became the support system I hadn’t known I needed.
Support systems are vital for staying on track and achieving goals. They create accountability and healthy competition. The more people you surround yourself with who understand and support your goals and your healthy lifestyle changes, the more likely you are to be successful. I look at support systems in two different ways. There is your general support system: those in your life who are there to emotionally support you, to encourage you and to help keep you on track and then there are those who engage in the process with you. Both groups are vital to success and both groups provide different, but equally necessary support.
Your general support system can really be anyone; your parents, sibling, friends, co-workers, neighbors. Anyone who is aware of your goal and able to encourage you along the way. Take for example an individual who is trying to eat more nutritiously and lose weight. How successful is this person going to be if the people he lives with constantly order greasy takeout and eat in front of him, mock his goal or pressure him to return to his old habits? Chances of success are fairly slim. However, if that same person is surrounded by people who support his healthy eating and weight loss goal, who encourage him to keep going, who are willing to eat more nutritiously with him or at least not parade unhealthy options around him, his chances of success are far greater. Not everyone you know has to be working towards the same goal as you or even believe in what you are trying to accomplish. But it is important that you have a group of people you can rely on and turn to who will encourage and support your journey towards a healthier version of yourself.
It is important to evaluate and be aware of who makes up your support system; you are allowed to be picky.
Are they people with similar beliefs and goals as you?
Do they believe in the goal you are trying to achieve?
Are they positive reinforcements in your life?
Is your support system lacking?
Is someone compromising your system?
Who could be added to your support system to make it stronger?
These are all important questions that you must ask yourself and use as a guide to create the best support system for yourself.
The second part of your support system is those people who will engage in the process with you. This can be a workout partner or group or any friend, relative or acquaintance who is working towards a similar goal as you. These people are going to keep you accountable. They are going to push you and keep you going even when you want to give up and in return you will be doing the same for them. When I was training for one of my half marathons, a friend (who was also running the race) and I agreed to do our long distance runs together. It was the first time I had ever trained with someone for a race and it truly made such a difference. Many of our runs were in the dead of winter and before the sun came up. Had I been doing those runs alone, I am positive I would have hit the snooze button on more than one occasion or justified a slower pace when the miles got hard. But with someone else engaging in the process with me I felt accountable to her to not only show up, but to try harder. I didn’t want to hold her back so I pushed myself when I probably wouldn’t have if I was running alone. And the truth of the matter is those runs were mentally easier for me because I wasn’t doing it alone. Simply having her engage in the process with me, helped my end goal became more achievable.
Can you achieve success alone? Sure. Plenty of people have. But a support system makes your success much more likely. The people in your system have the ability to keep you going even on the toughest of days. They keep you accountable, they push you, encourage you and equally as important, they celebrate your successes with you.