Helping a friend

Helping a friend

It’s that time of year when people may find themselves helping a friend who is struggling to keep a new year’s resolution. Whether they’re breaking an old habit or making a new one, what’s the best way to help them?

The first step I’d suggest in helping a friend is to check that they’re in the right frame of mind. By this I mean partly that they are making the change for the right reason. So if you haven’t already discussed it ask them what the future looks like when they’ve successfully made that change. If they can’t tell you, or if what they describe is mainly around other people – for instance that they will stop being nagged or criticised – then perhaps they need to think again about what they’re trying to do, and why.

The second part of checking their frame of mind is to talk about their internal dialogue. If they’re trying to stop a habit check whether they’re telling themselves “I don’t” rather than “I can’t”. Ask how they cope with failure. If they’re trying to break an old habit, ask what they do about lapses – if they abandon their new regime until the next day talk to them about the analogy of a pilot on a jumbo jet, who continually corrects the plane as it’s blown off course. If they’re trying to form a new habit talk to them about “no zero days”, and the power of doing something, no matter how small, every day.

There are some other techniques that you can use when helping a friend to keep a resolution. Targets can be good for some people, and sharing them or making them public is generally shown to increase the likelihood of people succeeding. However, there are some people for whom targets or expectations are something to rebel against, and for whom they will be demotivating. Helping a friend who reacts in this way will mean making sure that the benefits of what they’re doing are as immediate as possible.

Making a new habit as convenient (or an old habit as inconvenient) as possible is another way of helping a friend to establish a new routine. If it’s about eating more healthily make sure that they get time to shop for healthy food, rather than being too busy and eating for convenience. If you are helping a friend to eat more healthily respect their decisions and don’t impose your own ideas or timetable – adding conflict will only make the change harder for most people. And if you’re helping a friend with a change that you’ve successfully made don’t assume that what worked for you will work for them – whether it’s acupuncture, nicotine replacement, or even hypnotherapy, no one thing is the answer for stopping smoking.

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