Should We Rely on Others to Help Us Break Our Bad Habits?

It’s Sunday night: You’ve written out your meal plan for the week, scheduled some time each day to spend at the gym and you’re ready to tackle Monday. (Go you!) But try as you might, your perfectly planned week may be met with some unanticipated stressors and last-minute schedule changes. Sticking with a fitness or health goal can be difficult when life gets crazy. These goals require planning, but more than that, they require accountability.

But how much should we rely on other people to help us in our behavior-change efforts? 24Life asked some experts for their insight.

Others can help us follow through

“We need all the help we can get,” says Todd Rogers, Ph.D., behavioral scientist and Professor of Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. “Though it may feel like our thoughts and behaviors come entirely from a singular isolated true self, that’s rarely the case. People shape who we are and what we do. People shape our goals and our abilities to achieve them. People can motivate us, inspire us, monitor us, coach us, remind us and teach us.”

According to Rogers, there are usually three overarching reasons that we fail to follow through on our good intentions: We forget, we lack the willpower or self-control, or we face unexpected obstacles.

Caring individuals “can help us overcome all three of these. This is especially true when they feel actively invited to help us and they are able to help us in specific critical moments,” Rogers says. “The challenge is explicitly enlisting these [individuals] to help and then finding ways to alert and empower them in those key moments.”

A little friendly competition never hurts

Gretchen Chapman, Ph.D., Professor of Social and Decision Sciences at Carnegie Mellon University, says the benefit of support from others also is evident in ways you might not think. “Specifically, it is competition or social comparison that fosters behavior change more so than social support.”

Chapman explains that studies show people walk more when they can compare their effort to someone else’s effort, versus walking on the same team.

“We can understand these results in light of a study by Zhang and others who found that groups of people who competed with one another increased their exercise frequency relative to groups of people who supported one another by working toward a group outcome,” Chapman says. Some friendly competition may be just what you need to get your fitness routine going.

Chapman recommends taking advantage of your fitness tracker and syncing up with your friends and family members to inspire a little healthy fitness competition.

Support is key to success

“By all means, we should engage the assistance of others in accomplishing our behavior-change goals,” agrees Robert Cialdini, Ph.D., Emeritus Professor of Psychology and Marketing at Arizona State University and author of The New York Times bestsellers “Influence: Science and Practice” (Writers of the Round Table Press, 2012) and “Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade” (Simon & Schuster, 2016).

“People are significantly more likely to move in the direction we are recommending when we give them evidence of other individuals who support our recommendation. The first is peers—people similar to those we are trying to convince,” Cialdini says. “For example, in one study, hotel guests were more willing to re-use their towels and linens if they were told (honestly) that the majority of guests at the hotel do so.”

How can we leverage this when it comes to positive behavior change in the realm of health and fitness? Get your friends in on the fun. Make a standing date to go to a workout class every week with a friend or two. If they commit to going, it’ll be much easier to drag yourself off the couch to meet them than if you didn’t have someone else committed to the cause with you.

Want to change your behavior for good once and for all? Join 24 Hour Fitness and 47 world-class scientists to explore and understand what makes behavior change stick. The 28-day StepUp Program is free to 24 Hour Fitness members. Sign up at

Photo credit: Curtis MacNewton, Unsplash