Fitness, Friends and Core Values

The other day I came across a quotation that said something like “if you want to know about a man’s character, look at his friends”. This statement really made me stop and think about not just how our friends influence our behavior; but how we tend to choose our friends based on our core values. These core values are reflected in the activities that we choose to engage in, which affords us the opportunity to meet people with the same interests and hopefully similar values.

If you are involved with kids and adolescents in any way, you are probably familiar with how much influence a child or teenager’s peers have on their behavior. The example that comes to mind is the study that shows that a teen is much more likely to smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol or take drugs if his/her peers do so. Peer pressure is very strong for young people whose values are not yet formed or defined in a way that they become part of the person’s character (behavior choices). To put it simply, kids need experience, education and guidance to learn to make the right choices for themselves.

What about adults? It has been my observation that a similar thing applies. As adults, we are expected to be responsible for our own behavior but we also crave approval from people close to us. But, for most of us our value systems are well defined which keeps us from following blindly after someone whose values we don’t agree with. Most adults are not particularly comfortable around people whose behavior contradicts their own value system.

We become very concerned when our friends exhibit behavior that contradicts what we believe their values to be. An example of this would be when a recovering alcoholic starts drinking again. This person has demonstrated that he/she values his/her health but suddenly begins the activity that led to poor health to begin with. It’s very disappointing to see someone we admire make poor choices for themselves, no matter what reasons they have for it.

We like our friends and family to be proud of the way we live our lives, but we also want to have friends whose life choices we are proud of. We choose “high quality” friends because we consider ourselves to be “high quality”. We have expectations for ourselves and our choice of friends and partners is a reflection of those expectations.

Applying this to fitness: when you joined a gym and began a fitness and healthy eating program, what happened?

Did you find that your well- meaning non fit friends inadvertently sabotaged your efforts with comments like, “you are already skinny why do you need to work out or diet? Come to “happy hour” with us instead”. Did you feel enthusiastically supported?

Through your new fitness activity, did you meet new people who you admired because they too made a commitment to take care of their health and have followed through? Did you feel a sense of association and belonging with this new set of fitness enthusiasts? While it’s important to keep our existing friends and family close when we decide to make life changes, it’s also helpful to develop a new network friends who are role models mentors and advocates: people who are succeeding to do what it is we are endeavoring to do. This idea is often discussed within the topic of business and management success. There are many dieting support groups out there that encourage mentoring. In fitness, personal trainers do a lot of mentoring/coaching. Many also introduce their clients to one another and form support groups or plan social activities.

Having a network of fitness friends will help you stay on track working towards your goals or, more importantly, will question you when you start getting off track. They will challenge you to take yourself to the next level.

Not only is having friends to work out with more fun, but these same people will genuinely celebrate your small victories with you – because they will know how hard you have worked to achieve them. Their appreciation for your accomplishments will feel great because you admire them for what they are doing – and you are doing it too!

Copyright (c) 2006 Ainsley Laing