The Health of Others

As you get healthier, it’s natural to want the people around you to be healthier, too. Unfortunately, trying to force change on another person is nearly always a recipe for disaster. Even “helpful suggestions” have a way of backfiring, and what you intend as support may come across as unwelcome pressure. So how can you approach this conundrum? Here, we offer up some expert advice and our real-life experience.

This week on The Living Experiment, we’re talking about the health of others — the struggles we face in trying to influence the choices of those we care about, and the opportunities we have to offer appropriate support without creating unhelpful stress and resentment for all involved.

From dealing with the real impact that others people’s health-depleting habits can have on our lives, to acknowledging the folly of trying to move anyone before they are ready, we explore the sometimes painful space of meeting and loving people where they are — even when we can see them going downhill fast.

Sharing insights from well-respected behavior-change models as well as our own real-life experiences, we offer strategies for making peace with what is, while still holding open the door to healthy evolution — if and when our loved ones seem ready to embrace it.

And of course, we offer you some experiments to help you re-frame your approach to addressing the health challenges of the ones you love.

“The Health of Others” Episode Highlights

  • Becoming a model for change by transforming yourself
  • Providing supportive cues for others, rather than trying to force them into change
  • Understanding Prochaska’s stages-of-change model, and the real-life continuum of “readiness to change”
  • How trying to change the people you love can lead to co-dependent behaviors and contribute to your own health crises
  • Recognizing the right of others to make their own decisions, and to deal in their own way with the consequences
  • Health and fitness differences as a common source of conflict for couples
  • Three questions of interest: What matters to you (or to us as a couple)? What are you planning to do? How can I support you?
  • Conversing with aging parents, and the fear and pain behind our desire to make them live a healthier life
  • Taking the opportunity to work on your own responses and reactions to wanting someone else to change before they are ready

Talk to someone who matters to you and whose health concerns you. Tell them openly about your feelings and fears as well as the hopes and desires that underlie your investment in their well-being — but with zero expectation that they will agree and without any pressure for them to take action. Then be willing to listen and observe. See what happens when you share your authentic feelings in the context of a vulnerable, empathetic conversation, rather than doling out judgments, instructions, and expectations. 

Think about someone in your life who is struggling with their health, and try to identify which of the six stages of change they’re in (pre-contemplation, contemplation, etc.). As you become more skilled at identifying the stages of readiness, and understanding what they entail, you’ll become more discerning about what kinds of support are likely to be most helpful, and when. 

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