Reading Time: 3 minutes
This New Year’s post isn’t about you. It’s about a loved one.
How do you help someone you care about get healthier? Anyone in a relationship (of any kind) knows that you can only push so much before things backfire. While there’s no simple solution here, I’ve got a framework that may help.
Before we can get to the action steps, we have to lay the ground rules. Actually, there’s only one:
Don’t force it.
You can’t be the one creating the change because you won’t be the one living the change. Coercion is a push. It’s a bit of motivation that comes from without instead of within. Think of it like tackling someone in the street to save them from getting hit by a truck. That’s a great example of a push. It’s the only tool for the job. Make your move at the right time and you emerge a hero.
You may be thinking, “Well, that’s what I’m doing; I’m saving my loved one from themselves.” But daily pokes do not add up to a push. That metaphor is for a sudden and dramatic act. If you are shoving someone out of oncoming traffic multiple times a week, something is wrong. You need to teach them to use a pedestrian crossing. Or perhaps you’re just the kind of person who shoves random pedestrians. You can get arrested for that stuff.
While a push is intended to move someone in a specific direction, you can often achieve the same result in a different way. You can reduce friction. While this is similar, it’s not the same. You don’t get to choose when (or even if) movement happens. Instead, you invest a bit of time and energy into eliminating the barriers to success. When the other person decides to take a step forward, they may find it easy to travel just a little faster or a little farther.
If this framework seems less satisfying than a push, then you may have to become more comfortable with giving up control. First of all, unless you’re in a relationship with a marionette, pulling the strings on fundamental decisions is kind of an uncomfortable dynamic. Second of all, you have to go beyond what the very next action step will be and ask, “What will stick?”
A cursory look at Self-Determination Theory will reveal some major themes that lay beneath the surface and drive intrinsic motivation.
– Competence: it feels good to be good at stuff.
– Connection or relatedness: it feels good to belong and to build bonds with others.
– Autonomy: it feels good to be in control of one’s own behaviours and goals.
Meet these criteria and continued progress will be far stickier.
Think about something you’re good at and intrinsically motivated to achieve. Now imagine that someone removed one of these components. Perhaps they do this by micromanaging your performance or taking away your decision-making. Would that change your desire to keep moving forward in this area? Most likely. So let’s go the other way. We can take the same concepts and amplify them to help someone succeed. This is what it means to reduce friction.
Let’s say you have a loved one who has less than healthy eating habits. Zero cooking, lots of eating out and plenty of poor choices.
– Competence: while it might be tempting to buy this person a cookbook or lecture them on the subtleties of decorative radish carving, there are more effective ideas.
Ask questions. Explore what they want from food. Don’t fight them. Instead, find out where hunger and nutrition (instead of specific cravings) need to be addressed. Help them talk through easy solutions, from boiling eggs to troubleshooting menu items. It doesn’t have to be perfect; it just has to be a little better.
– Connection: you want them to feel good, right? That’s why we’re talking about this. You don’t have to be hard on them about not eating well. Odds are they’re already hard on themselves. Instead, celebrate the good moments. Share their victories. Let them know that you feel good when they feel good.
– Autonomy: let go of your own agenda. Your job is to help your loved one think through things and make decisions. They need your support but they also need the strength and capability to handle things on their own.
Have a great, healthy New Year together with someone you care about.