In a recent post we spoke about the different categories of barriers that hold your lifestyle change back. If you missed it you should catch it here!! (It’s very useful for finding out why you aren’t getting your new behaviours in regularly).
One of these barriers was social influence, which will, without doubt, have a huge impact on your journey. So today, we’re going to take a look at what it is, and how to stop it knocking you off track!
Often when you aren’t following your new diet or exercise plan, you probably blame yourself. You probably assume you just don’t have self-control, and lack willpower.
But although these are important to have if you’re going to be successful, they aren’t the biggest influences on your behaviour. Those crowns instead belong to two external factors, environment (i.e. what’s going on around you) and social context (i.e. what are people around you doing).
So today we’ll break down the social side of the coin. But stick around (as in make sure to Like the Facebook page), as next week we’ll be checking out the environment barrier and how to beat it down!
Essentially though, social influence is the unconscious or conscious nudging people around you give to act in a certain way, which they may do intentionally or unintentionally. When it comes to nutrition it influences all kinds of stuff, from what bad choices you make (such as the “Go on! Have the cake! We haven’t eaten out all week!) to when those bad choices stop (e.g. “I mean…I’ll finish this cake tonight if you will?”).
This influence is created by people, obviously, but it will also be created by the wider environment. For instance, if everyone around you is eating from the buffet, then you’e more likely to be ordering from it too! Even on a societal level, we are influenced, such as the eating speed in France being slow and only at a dinner table, whereas in the UK inhaling a sandwich at our desk whilst we work isn’t considered that strange…
Now you know how powerful social influence is, you may be panicking, thinking “Well dam! Nearly everyone around me is bad for my goals!!”. But don’t fret! As we only get influenced by other people in a few set ways. And when we know what they are, we can overcome them!
So first up, let’s check out the different categories of social influence, and work out what each is!
This type of influence is common, and one I’d imagine you’ve all heard of before. It occurs when we get “pressured” into making a choice that we probably don’t want to make, but we do so anyway to “not bring attention to ourselves”.
Basically, this happens because we care about what others think of us. We assume that be “breaking the mould” people will develop an opinion about us that we would prefer they didn’t have. So we do what they do, what we think they do and what they want us to do!! Some people are influenced more than others, but no-one is immune to it!
Previous Social Influence
The norms (aka beliefs) we have around food and are created over time. For instance, in the USA there is a norm of having very large portion sizes, which is the complete opposite of countries like France.
Lots of these come from childhood, but they can and are modified as you grow up and your experiences, friendship groups and location changes. But wherever they are sitting right now, they have a HUGE control over what you do! They dictate your beliefs, which control your intentions, which has a direct line through to your behaviours!
Catching From Others
When we’re in the moment we tend to mimic others. Be that in the restaurant, in the car on the way past the gym after work or sitting on the sofa in the evening. What the people around us do, we tend to do as well.
This isn’t to say you have no free will, or that it has to be this way. You can probably think of a few times you’ve gone “against the grain”. But on the whole, you’ll usually find you do the same as the people around you.
We don’t even just catch behaviours from others! Emotions are easily picked up, especially from people we feel close too. And if these emotions are negative, then this can easily lead to comfort eating or a loss of motivation for exercise. Even goals can be picked up over time, although this isn’t a fast process.
I know reading these you’ll be thinking “Dam! Do I have ANY control over my own actions?”. But keep in mind we influence as well as get influenced! So if you start to recognise where others are nudging you towards behaviour that hurt your goals, and you resist them, you’re encouraging others to as well! It is 100% a two-way street!
I didn’t even notice!
The final category of influence is social distraction. What does this mean? Well we like our family and friends! And we like to listen to them, tell them interesting stories and make jokes! And when we do this, we become less likely to pay attention to how much we’ve eaten or drank! So the calories quickly flow in, because we’re completely focused on having fun!!
Okay! So now you know what types of influence to look out for! So the next stage is to work out how to beat them! So let’s go!!
To overcome others pushing you to make the choices they want, you need to develop self-assertiveness. This can take some time if you’re a very agreeable person (aka you go with what others say a lot to avoid “rocking the boat”).
A great way to start this though, is honesty! Be straight up about Why you want to walk a different path. Often other people can’t understand why you don’t want to do it their way simply because they have a different viewpoint (e.g. ” Why wouldn’t they want to eat some cake? It’s a great cake!!”). Being honest helps them to see the situation from your side.
If you can’t or don’t want to be honest, then sometimes small white lies are the way forward (e.g. “I can’t have a dessert as I’ve got a bit of a stomach ache from the main”). Although these don’t help others to see your point of view, they can get others to move on, which helps!!
In any case, it’s worth keeping in mind that even though we think other people are paying a lot of attention to what we do, they rarely are! Humans are WAY too self-involved. So don’t worry about following the behaviours of others to avoid bringing attention to yourself, as people are usually too wrapped up in their own world to really consider what you’re doing anyway!!
Previous Social Influence
To beat the beliefs created from your past you need to focus on persistent nudges in a new direction. So keep focusing on why your current norms aren’t in line with your goals!!
These beliefs you currently hold around food and exercise are the fastest way you get pulled back into your old habits. So stay vigilant! Identify where the destructive norms are, educate yourself as to how these don’t help with your goals, and keep repeating new behaviours until they break down!!
Catching From Others
Obviously the easiest way to overcome this is to change who you hang around with. But in reality, this advice isn’t usually useful. You might be influenced by work colleagues, your friends or people in your family.
So instead, just watch who you’re modelling yourself on. You can like and spend time with people and not have them influence who you are as a person! So when they are doing things that would hurt your goals if you did the same, be aware! Considering beforehand what behaviours those around you have, and so which to avoid following, can be a great way to approach it!
I didn’t even notice
There are a couple of ways to keep your attention on what you’re doing when you get distracted by the fun of socialising. The first two encourages you to pay attention to how hungry you actually are. This is called being mindful. To do it, you need to consider how much you’re enjoying each bite of your food. As in – do you really need to keep eating, or actually are you only doing so because there is food in front of you and you aren’t thinking about it?
This approach does work really well, but it can be difficult to always use when you’re in a social situation. So another way to go at it is to leave evidence in front of yourself of how much you’ve already eaten (i.e. plates, sweet wrappers etc). Doing this works subconsciously, so you will lower how much you eat without even needing to consider it! Magic!!
Being social is essential for our mental well-being. But it can also be hella destructive to our goals!! But it doesn’t have to be!
To overcome social influence on your behaviours, use the outlines above of the types that exist to work out where others are hurting your progress. Doing so will already have a HUGE impact on their ability to change your behaviours. But where needed, work out tactics to overcome their influence, and then just practise, practise, practise!! And in no time, you’ll become a much more self-assertive individual, who chooses your own path and reaches your goals!!
For anyone looking for a positive social influence in their lives, I now have free fitness classes available! These run at 6pm everyday GMT, so just follow this link then to get involved!! I do also upload them to the Body Development Centre Facebook too, so you can catch up anytime!
This weeks schedule is as follows:
And you can check out the latest fitness class here to see how much fun we have!!
Until next time, take care and have a good one!