If you want to get healthy you exercise. You may go for a run three or four times a week, lift some weights at home, play Just Dance, or workout in some other way. You may do this on your own or have a running buddy to keep you company. If you want to get even healthier, add some strength and get in really good shape you’ll join a gym. You may do this with a couple of others who will be accountability partners, or you may work with a personal trainer if you are really ambitious. If you are really, really determined to get in shape and train for an Iron Man competition, you’ll get yourself a personal trainer who will drive you to the edge. They will work with you every day pushing you further and harder than you think your body can go. Regardless of your commitment and desired outcome, research shows that you will do better if you have friends to support you. Really, there’s a citation to a study showing it at the bottom of the article (Wing & Jeffery, 1999).
Why would mental health and strength be different? If you are around someone who will discourage you and point out the things you are doing wrong will this make you stronger? Of course not. You can grow and get mentally stronger on your own, just as you can get physically stronger on your own, but the real boost and recipe for continued success is finding people who will challenge you, believe in you, and encourage you to believe in yourself. When adversity hits will you be better served by people who hold you up and encourage you to keep pushing, or by people who let go and encourage you to do the same?
I recently had an opportunity to observe this in live action. I watched a youth soccer game where the players had a 2-3 year age gap between the two teams. During warm-ups the younger team was disciplined and focused, the other was not. Comments prior to the game demonstrated the younger team were focused on their performance, the older team focused on the other team, conditions, and anything but their own game. During the game the younger team was focused on teamwork, communicating with each other, and supporting each other when mistakes were made. The older team were focused on the ref, the other team, the opposition coaches, and when they went behind were not supportive of each other with negativity becoming a theme.
The younger team won the game. The result was never in doubt. In truth, they won the game before a ball was even kicked. They were mentally prepared, focused on the game ahead, supportive and encouraging of each other, and not once said anything negative to each other, the ref, or the coaches. They have been disciplined by their coach to be a mental toughness accountability group and the belief and team spirit in that group of kids is amazing.
This pattern can be seen everywhere in life. People are often afraid of investing in their future because there is risk. People are fearful of applying for jobs a step up from their current position. They are afraid of career change. They are afraid of commitments in relationships. They are afraid to stand up for themselves.
I have found one thing to be common in every single person who has made it through a tough time or had a rough start in life and came good. One person. Every person I have ever met who has fought through adversity has had one person who believed in them, supported them, and encouraged them. One person helped them run that first mile, lift their first weights, and achieve the first step. Then they found others. If you are struggling today be on the look at the people you take counsel from, and be on the lookout for the one person who encourages you and won’t let you fail. If you are in a position where you can be the one person, find someone who needs help and do it.
Wing, R. R., & Jeffery, R. W. (1999). Benefits of recruiting participants with friends and increasing social support for weight loss and maintenance. Journal of consulting and clinical psychology, 67(1), 132.
Picture credit: https://pixabay.com/en/brain-mind-presence-mindset-744207/