Surround yourself with the dreamers and the doers, the believers and the thinkers, but most of all, surround yourself with those who see the greatness within you, even when you don't see it yourself. -Edmund Lee
The Power of Positive Influences
A major factor contributing to a person's health relates to the people that surround him/her. Think about the types of kids we want our children to spend time with. We want them surrounded by positive influences because we know that this has a significant impact on them. This impact continues throughout our lives.
Now think about the people with whom you spend the most time -- your "inner circle." Are those people generally positive or generally negative? Are they problem-solvers or complainers? Do they celebrate your successes or rain on your parade? Do they get along well with others, or do they attract drama? Do you know they have your back, or do you wonder what they say behind your back? Do they tend to bring out the best in you or the worst in you?
How do these people live their own lives? Do they take care of themselves? Are they active? Do they eat well? Do they nurture their spiritual health? Are they financially responsible? Are they grateful for what they have? Do they serve others? Are they open-minded and eager to learn? Do they approach situations with a positive outlook?
Nobody's perfect. We all have our issues. Yet when we take some time to think about it, we might realize that certain people in our lives are not the best influence on us. Realizing this fact doesn't mean you need to sever all ties with these people -- after all, some of them might work with you, live with you, or be a part of your family. Yet there are some actions we can take to spend more time in relationships and activities that are health-promoting.
1. Set healthy boundaries.
Beware of codependent relationships. These are defined as a type of dysfunctional helping relationship where one person supports or enables another person's addiction, poor mental health, immaturity, irresponsibility, or under-achievement (Wikipedia).
As further described at mentalhealthamerica.net, [Codependents] have good intentions. They try to take care of a person who is experiencing difficulty, but the care-taking becomes compulsive and defeating. [They] often take on a martyr's role... The problem is that these repeated rescue attempts allow the needy individual to continue on a destructive course and to become even more dependent...
Do you have a friend or loved one who is extremely needy on an emotional level? Do you spend a great deal of effort trying to help them and find yourself depleted (and perhaps resentful) in the process? If you're honest, at the core of this self-sacrificing behavior, is there a need to be needed?
Codependent relationships are unhealthy for both parties involved. It's important to recognize them and to establish healthy boundaries to avoid them. This means stepping back a bit and not letting others' issues consume our life. It means not always jumping in to rescue, and instead allowing the loved one some space to work through their own problems. In doing this, we empower these people to help themselves, and we send ourselves a lifeline in the process.
Note: If you are involved in such a relationship, especially if substance abuse or self-harm complicates the picture, it is highly recommended that you seek help from a mental health professional. And it goes without saying that if you are involved in an abusive relationship, it is imperative to get out of it.
2. Lead by example.
When I talk to patients about the importance of leading a healthy lifestyle, I sometimes hear things like, “But my husband/wife/etc. never wants to do anything except sit around and watch TV.”
My typical answer to this is, “This isn’t about your spouse. This is about you.”
We cannot depend on others for our happiness. It must come from within us. If your spouse or loved one is not on board with making positive changes, don’t dwell on it. In my opinion, it’s often wasted effort and a source of contention. Use that effort instead to focus on YOU.
Personally, when I put pressure on my spouse to do something I want, it usually doesn’t get me too far. I find that I get much further when I take the attitude of I’ve decided to make this positive change. You’re welcome to join me if you want.
When we lead by example, others notice the positive changes in us, and become more eager to jump on board. Two examples in my own life that come to mind are:
- Running. My husband Chris was a competitive runner in high school and college, but he took a break from running for several years. He stayed active and did a lot of strength training during that time, but he didn't do much cardiovascular exercise at all. I would tell him things like, "You should start running again -- not to compete, but for the health benefits. It comes so easy for you, and you're good at it." This never changed his mind. It was only when I (the untalented one) started running consistently, that he started running too. And now he's training intensely, competing in races, and far-surpassing what I had hoped for.
- Church. My husband is not a big church guy. This is not to say that he is not spiritual -- he just has mixed feelings about church. When we had kids, it was important to me that we attended church more regularly, so that the kids could be exposed to this kind of spiritual environment, and later make their own spiritual choices. Chris was reluctant, and we'd argue over the matter (seems ironic that this topic would cause strife for us). I finally decided to stop pushing. I would bring the kids to church, and he was welcome to join us if he wished. Once I changed my attitude, and stopped trying to force my spiritual path onto him, he became much more open to the idea and started to join us more frequently.
Chris's attitude/actions have the same effect on me, by the way. If he is on my case about something, my tendency is to dig my heels in and not budge. Yet when he leads by example, and I see the positive effects, I am more likely to change.
3. Reach beyond your circle.
Even if you have an awesome inner circle, filled with great role models who genuinely care about you, this will only get you so far. We grow the most when we reach outside our comfort zone. If you're serious about making some big changes, it helps to intentionally seek out those who are exceptional in these areas.
Seek mentors. There are many ways to do this; it doesn't have to be a formal mentor-mentee relationship. For example, you can join a gym or fitness group to surround yourself with others who are committed to improving their physical health. You can join a special interest group, such as a book club, spiritual group, moms' group, creative group, etc. Perhaps your employer offers a coaching or mentoring program that you could take advantage of.
And of course there are so many books, blogs, podcasts, videos, and online forums that we literally have at our fingertips these days. They offer a wealth of information and inspiration to help us out. In taking advantage of these resources, we can learn successful practices to create positive change. Some influential "mentors" for me include:
- Michael Hyatt (blogger, "virtual mentor," This is Your Life podcast, author of Living Forward and other books) - on intentional living and productivity
- Dr. Lissa Rankin, MD (blogger, author of Mind Over Medicine and other books, founder of the Whole Health Medicine Institute) - on "healing health care" and whole health practices to supplement traditional western medicine and improve patients' quality of life
- Seth Godin (blogger, author of Linchpin and several other books) - on putting great work into the world and "making your work your art"
- Dr. Shefali Tsabary (clinical psychologist, author of The Conscious Parent and other books) - on parenting in a way that challenges us to transform ourselves and empower our children
- Dave Ramsey (radio show host, author of Total Money Makeover and Entreleaderhip, developer of Financial Peace University) - on financial freedom, as well as leadership
By evaluating our inner circle, nurturing healthy relationships with those closest to us, and seeking out good influences, we can positively impact our health and well-being.
This post was originally published on August 24, 2016.