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How Your Friends Can Help You Reach Your Health and Fitness Goals

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Photo: Peathegee Inc / Getty Images

In fitness and in health, the buddy system works: You're less likely to bail on a 6 a.m. spin class if your best friend is signed up on the bike next to you; having someone else who is on board for a midday smoothie can keep you reaching from sweets at lunchtime. So it only makes sense that when it comes to New Year's resolutions—or any goals for that matter—you shouldn't go it alone.

In fact, according to Paul B. Davidson, Ph.D., the director of behavioral services at the Center for Metabolic Health and Bariatric Surgery at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, involving other people in your goals—and even delegating aspects of them to other people—is a key part of reaching them.

"I believe that to truly make a change in our life, we must overcome the inertia of our old habits, and that seems to work best when engaging others," he says. Think of it like a rocket trying to leave earth's atmosphere. It needs boosters to take off and get into motion. Once in outer space, the boosters drop off and the rocket continues on its own power.

"If we could have made changes on our own, we would have done so, and so we turn to people to serve as our 'booster' to help us take off with a new habit," Davidson says. Left to our own devices? We find all the reasons to not follow through, reverting to familiar patterns or getting caught up in our daily grind.

To kick-start your goals with daily tasks and butt-kicking workouts, check out our ultimate 40-day plan with Jen Widerstrom. Then, boost success rates on any goal by following these suggestions with a buddy.

Have honest check-ins with each other.

"Having a buddy adds an objective perspective," says Davidson. Someone with a larger or zoomed-out view can help you see the ways you resist change and give you social reasons to stick with a new habit, he notes. For example, while you might not realize it, your friend might be able to pick up on the fact that you tend to skip workouts when you've had a long day in the office, or that you feel super sluggish on Mondays.

Having someone to help you stay on track in those "low" moments (maybe by setting up a yoga class following a stressful work day) can keep you accountable. Says Davidson: "When someone helps keep you focused on the target and will engage in it with you, you gain a relational reason to follow through, as we don't like to disappoint others."

Ask for help.

Admit it: There's something out there, whether its cardio or cooking, that you flat out stink at. Fortunately, there's also someone out there who's really good at those things—and eager to help you.

A simple example of delegation here would be to work with a trainer or a run coach, or to sign up for a cooking class with someone who excels in their specific area, says Davidson. (You could also ping a friend who loves the treadmill if your goal is to kick up your mileage.) Picking up the skills you need to succeed straight from a pro ensures a straighter path to your goal.

Another example of delegation here: Pass a chore off to your partner, roommate, or child to free up a half hour of your time so you can work toward your goal.

Turn to tech.

Have a hard time remembering to drink eight glasses of water per day? Set a reminder alarm every so often to get you to hydrate. Trying to move more outside of the gym? You're going to want an activity tracker (Davidson also likes the app Pacer which charts progress over time.) Technology not only reminds us to make moves in the moment, it provides us with data points we can look back on, so that we can push ourselves a little harder or notice trends over time, says Davidson.

For an added bonus, look for social apps like Strava, which enable you to share data with friends. "This allows you to also bring virtual buddies along with you for the ride to help increase accountability and the chances you will stick with your goals." 

Celebrate with a friend.

Finally, the good stuff: a little bit of positive reinforcement. "Whenever small milestones are met, I see them as an opportunity to reinforce what has been accomplished," says Davidson. Doing so can inspire you to continue on toward the finish line and help you feel accomplished along the way. And a little bit of bubbly or a pedicure after that long run just feel that much better with your BFF by your side.

Need to find a community to keep you accountable? Request to join our private #MyPersonalBest Goal Crusher group on Facebook for motivation, support, and to celebrate all your little (and big!) wins. 

The tools and inspo you need to crush *your* goals (whatever they are!) all year long. Join our Personal Best Facebook Group for 24/7 squad support and share your wins—big and small—on social using #mypersonalbest.

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