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When making Lifestyle changes, our friends can really become our enemies!


When making any lifestyle change, it is certainly a great idea to have someone around that can give us support. This could be either from family, friends or colleagues or from someone less connected, like a life coach. The natural choice is always the closest ones to us as we trust their opinions and can rely on them to be there for us.

Our closest friends and family can be honest with us and allow us to keep our feet on the ground. By this I mean that when we have those ‘crazy’ grandiose ideas, they are there to bring us back to reality, so we don’t make a fool out of ourselves.

Now, this last point is quite interesting as it is the basis of this week’s post. When we decide to make lifestyle changes, whatever they may be, we are essentially moving ourselves away from others in that same situation. We have decided that we are no longer happy with a certain situation and therefore want to make changes to either remove from or add something to our lives. The very fact that we have to make a conscious decision to make a change suggests that we have been in a situation that has become normal for us and also, often one that is on the whole acceptable to our immediate social circle. This acceptance within our immediate social circle is one of the main issues that we struggle to break free and make the changes we want.

It is often said that most people ‘fear change’. However, I think that it is more accurate to say that we find discomfort in change and this of course leads us to avoid it. We certainly don’t want to add discomfort to our lives. This discomfort can come from fear, actual physical pain but most often from being shunned by our immediate social group. This is such a powerful behavioural motivator that it is also the reason why many of us are doing things that we perhaps are not entirely happy about. Obvious examples here are smoking, drinking, drug abuse, gambling, and excessive spending. It was not initially the requirement to be accepted by our immediate social circle that led us to these activities, but more the avoidance of discomfort from not being accepted, for not doing them. In the same way, when we want to make changes to do something different, it is the avoidance of discomfort from not being accepted anymore by our immediate social circle that hinders our progress towards lifestyle changes.

I mentioned that this ‘social pressure’ is a key factor in our decision making to start of stop a particular behaviour or activity. However it also has a huge influence on whether we make lifestyle changes. Whilst these sort of changes are not perhaps as clearly defined as more traditional changes (for example quitting smoking), there still exists the idea of what is ‘normal’ for our social group. Therefore anything that is perceived as change, is seen as a threat to the group’s status quo as it is likely to add discomfort for them.

This will be indicated by the reactions of others when any suggestion of a change to our lifestyle is made. On the whole this is not a conscious thought process. It is the subconscious mind that processes the information and so the reactions we get, often do not sound in any way offensive or intentionally negative. On the surface they are not, but we must however look at the context and underlying situation to fully understand what is going on.

To illustrate this, let’s look at a very common situation from two different angles. Imagine we are in a restaurant with friends and have just finished a great meal. The waiter offers the desert menu and the obvious best choice is a rich creamy cheesecake.

We say that we would love to have the cheesecake, but really shouldn’t. Our friends immediately reply with things like; ‘oh go on, treat yourself’ and ‘we’re all having one, we’re all together’ etc. We then reply that we shouldn’t because we are cutting back on rich, fatty foods in order to lose some weight. The response here is always the same, with things again like; ‘oh go on, treat yourself’ and ‘we’re all having one’, but also likely to include ‘you don’t need to lose weight, you look great’ or ‘just one little bit won’t hurt’. The pressure to have the cheesecake has now been increased.

Since our decision to not eat the cheesecake is based on making a lifestyle change (to lose weight), it means that we are setting ourselves apart from the rest of the social group. This could obviously give us discomfort as explained earlier, but what isn’t generally considered is the fact that by us making changes, it highlights to our friends that they are not. In the example here, it highlights to them that they are not making changes to lose weight and so are likely to remain unhappy with their situation. The fact that they said about eating the cheesecake anyway, shows that subconsciously they want us to remain the same as them and not lose any weight, even though that is what they would actually like to do. Subconsciously our friends are literally saying ‘we don’t want you to change, stay like us’. Now, if we look at exactly the same situation, but with from a slightly different angle;

We say that we would love to have the cheesecake, but really shouldn’t. Our friends immediately reply with things like; ‘oh go on, treat yourself’ and ‘we’re all having one, we’re all together’ etc. We then reply that we shouldn’t because we are lactose intolerant and eating it would make us quite ill. The response now is quite interesting, with things again like; ‘oh of course, sorry’ and ‘let’s see if there’s anything else you can have’ and the pressure to have the cheesecake is immediately gone.

What we see here is that since our decision to not eat the cheesecake is based on a health issue and not to make a lifestyle change, the reaction is completely different and actually supportive. There is no question that we shouldn’t eat the cheesecake and certainly no suggestion that ‘just one little bit won’t hurt’. Our decision has not challenged the socially acceptable behaviour of eating the cheesecake and so there is no highlight to our friends that they are remaining static in their situation, whilst we change ours.

So in summary, we need to be aware that when we make lifestyle changes, the reactions and comments from our colleagues, friends and family should only be taken lightly and not used as critical feedback on our progress. Whilst the things they say may not consciously be intended as negative towards us, it is most likely that they are coming from a negative place. This doesn’t in any way mean that our colleagues, friends and family are not being supportive; it just means that we need to be aware that what they are saying is coming from a subconscious desire to keep us the same as them and not make the changes we want. This is why when making changes, friends can really be enemies.

When making lifestyle changes, what experiences with comments from close friends have you had?

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