How to Help Loved Ones Make Healthy Changes
Updated: Feb 1
It's hard to see your loved ones living an unhealthy lifestyle. If you have ever had to visit a family member at the hospital, get a call about a sudden illness, or if you're lucky enough to have a family member trust in you enough to confide in you about their health struggles, then you know how painful it can be to see loved ones suffering from unhealthy lifestyles. When you live with someone you care about who is struggling to make healthy choices; eat healthy foods, prioritize self care, seek help, exercise consistently- you can feel frustrating, disheartening, and powerless.
The truth of the matter is that you cannot make anyone create changes in their life. We are all left responsible for our own choices in life and only our own choices. In many cases, the harder you push someone towards something, the more they feel a natural instinct to resist that very thing. But, we cannot simply sit back on the sidelines while our loved ones continue to suffer a destructive fate. While you cannot make your spouse, parent, grandparent, sibling, child or friend change their lifestyle, there are some ways you can help them. Today, I am going to leave you with some simple strategies that you can use to help your loved ones find their path to living a better lifestyle, without pushing them away.
If you're reading this, you may have already tried this strategy. That shows me that you care for that person(s). One problem that can occur with expressing your concern is how our words are perceived to the recipient. While we can't control how someone perceives something, we can change the way we direct it. Think back to the conversation you had or imagine the conversation you want to have. Did you tell them how you felt? Did you tell them that they need to make some changes or else they would end up in a situation they might regret? If so, you have run into this common issue. Telling someone what they have to do is often a recipe for push back and defensiveness. In fact, studies show that 'should' and 'have to' actions have a much greater resistance overall. Instead of telling them what we believe they should do, we want them to understand that we are concerned. The truth is, they probably already know to some degree what they should be doing better and are frustrated that they have been unable to. Your role as the loved one is to help them see that you are on their side. Tell them how it makes you feel to see them struggle and more importantly ask them how it makes them feel. When they feel heard instead of told, you build trust and they feel less isolated in their struggle.
Now that you have their trust, offer your support. Remember though, support is not what you want them to do. It's not about what you want or what has worked for you, it's about what they want or what they feel they need at this moment. They still may not feel ready to take that leap, which is okay. This is your time to provide some reassurance to them. Let them know that when they are ready to make some changes, that you will be there to support them in whatever way they need you to be.
It's not about you
The most common mistake is to jump in at this stage with the golden plan to success. People will say, okay Todd, now that you're ready all you have to do is... You don't need to have the answers for them (even if you do), you simply need to be there for them along their unique journey to finding their own answers. They may even throw you the juicy low hanging fruit of okay, you're so right... What should I do then? I'm so lost. RESIST the urge to eat the fruit. This is not about you, remember. A good response to that would be Well Todd, what do you think you should do? This kind of response allows them to start to take control of their situation, maybe for the first time ever! That's powerful! Guide them to find a starting point that feels truly realistic for them.
Small steps are still steps
They may come up with something that appears to be such a small step to you and you will be tempted to say Yah, but you might also want to... Don't. For example, they may suggest getting a daily walk in would be a great start. Your mind may go to, yah but the diet is the real game changer. RESIST. The diet can wait. Embrace this exciting idea they have come up with. They chose that for a reason, an important reason. What's small to you might feel massive to them. Progress is progress and if you want this person to truly change their life, they need to start with success so that they can build some momentum here! This is why you want them to start where they feel is best, not necessarily what will get them the fastest results.
Actually support them
Next, you made a commitment to support this person. Be there for them. You do not have to become their full time personal trainer or therapist. We still need to allow for some healthy boundaries. But, check in with them from time to time. Engage in more meaningful conversations. Ask them how they are doing, what they are struggling with and celebrate their small wins with them. The little things go a long way when it comes to feeling supported. Remind yourself why you offered to help in the first place. Lastly, make sure you stay within your personal boundaries as well. If they are over reaching at any point or if you feel you are out of your realm, help them find an alternative to support so that they can continue to find success and ownership of their journey.
Lead by example
In some instances, you have done everything right however your loved one is still not quite ready to make healthy changes. That's okay. Remember, we can't make anyone change. They have to be ready. This is where it becomes crucial for you to continue to focus on you. Particularly when it comes to spouses and children, leading by example, guilt free, is an asset to everyone around you. There's no doubt that the people you spend the most time around have an influential effect on you. Be that positive influence for those around you. While they may not be ready to take action themselves, the more they spend time around you and your positive lifestyle, the more likely they will be to feel pulled to follow in your footsteps. Beyond this, you have little control.
We cannot simply force our loved ones to care for themselves more. What we can do is show them that we care for them. We can be there for those who we love when they need us and give them the best support system to lean on when they are ready to use it. Not everyone will change. If that is the case, I suggest you try to accept that not everyone you love will have the same strengths, beliefs, or desires as you have around life. Embrace the relationships for what they offer you, and continue to embrace your life in the ways that make you feel best.
I hope this has been a helpful read. Provided below is a free resource for couples that lists 20 active date ideas to mix things up, create healthy ways to communicate and stay active. One of these might just be the perfect way to start a conversation like we discussed in the above article. You can download it free here: 20 Free Active Date Ideas
If you enjoyed this, you might also Episode 22 of The Wellness Dojo Podcast, where we talk with Relationship Therapist Amber Dalsin about creating better communication with your loved ones.
Thanks for reading.
Written by: Kyle Craik