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I’m an introvert. I don’t like fairs, carnivals, airports, or malls. I don’t particularly like loud, overcrowded, sweaty fitness classes, which is ironic considering I’ve taught thousands of them. But despite my personal preference for a low-key vibe, group fitness environments can provide the extra motivation and accountability some people need to thrive.
One thing I have learned over and over again, as both a student and a coach, is that when it comes to reaching and staying at your goals, support matters.
So it’s not surprising to me that according to many health organizations, having support and community sits near the top of the list when it comes to a person’s likelihood of staying with an exercise program. According to the American Psychological Association, “It’s easier to stick with a weight loss plan when you have support, can share tips on diet and exercise, and have an exercise buddy.” A prominent study on weight loss in the New England Journal of Medicine corroborates this notion. The study found that the more group counseling sessions participants attended, the more weight they lost, and the less weight they gained back.
The moral of the story is — it isn’t just the diet or exercise program that matters; it’s the support that can help make or break your goal.
How you find the motivation and accountability that works best for you will differ, though, depending if you’re an introvert or extrovert, athlete or artist. Here are four steps to help establish fellowship where it relates to your health and wellness goals — so you can find the assistance you need to reach your goals and stay there.
Step 1: Know Thyself
The ability to be truly introspective unlocks the key to determining what environment will really help you thrive and succeed. Knowing yourself means moving beyond simply outlining preferences and instead defining what drives your authentic self.
A good place to start is an in-depth personality profile. Whether it’s Myers-Briggs or the more spiritually focused Enneagram, there are dozens of good assessments and books that will help you know yourself on a deeper level. It wasn’t until I read the book Quiet, by Susan Cain, that I truly affirmed my status as an introvert.
Having a “that’s totally me” moment helped me clarify and quantify the energy that helps me thrive. In my case, self-knowledge helped me find a “quiet” community in the martial arts, which tends to have a more intimate setting but a supportive group construct.
Being a student of yourself will broaden your knowledge and sharpen your ability to recognize the surroundings that truly resonate with you.
Step 2: Find People Who Match Your Vision and Values
The closest analogy to finding the right fitness community is finding the right church or place of worship. When you pick a new church, it isn’t about how comfortable the pews are or the aesthetics of the church. It isn’t even about the pastor or the dogma, as much as it’s ultimately about the people.
In a nutshell, the people in the church (or a gym/school/studio) should be traveling in the same direction you are. The word that most closely fits this group dynamic is “tribe,” which is simply defined as “a group that shares the same common character or interest.”
Your fellow “parishioners” are the ones you’ll be working beside and learning next to. Make sure that for the most part they are like-minded and going in the same direction you are.
Step 3: Pick the Right Type of Community
Just as vital as aligning with the right type of people is establishing what type of program is right for you. Just because you have a community doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll reach your goals if you’re getting the wrong type of support.
To use an analogy, if someone lost his job because of a substance abuse problem, he wouldn’t seek a career counselor to get back on his feet. His best path to success would require support that could expertly address the root of his problem.
Mass marketing in the fitness industry has hijacked the real messages of health and wellness to instead promote convenient untruths — namely, that “fitness” is just a mechanism to lose weight or craft a perfect physique. But true fitness is synonymous with health and functionality.
Therefore, if you’re seeking effective support to achieve optimum health, you need to look for a tribe that shares common values like a shared mantra of wellness or the pursuit of a specific skill set like dance or martial arts. A “tribe” will be less effective in the long term if they are simply a group looking for a self-serving means-to-an-end like burning calories.
Step 4: Involve Your Partner and Friends
It’s no surprise that the people you roll with influence the decisions you make. A 2011 study published in Psychology of Sport and Exercise found that the exercise habits of people you know can have a positive influence on your exercise habits.
Another study, conducted at Indiana University, looked at married couples that joined health clubs together. The researchers found that couples that worked out separately had a 43 percent dropout rate over the course of a year. Conversely, married couples who went to the gym together had only a 6.3 percent dropout rate.
The takeaway is to surround yourself with people who positively influence your goal. Find people who will say yes when you tell them that instead of meeting for a drink, you’d like to meet for a walk or a hike first.
Now, Go Find Your People
The research shows, and you likely know from your own experience, that you are more likely to stick with exercise if you have a workout buddy or group counting on you. Working out with a friend, team, or classmates raises the stakes because you’re not just striving for your own sake, but also for the sake of others.
If you’re in need of support in getting fitter and healthier, a fitness-based community is a great place to start. That said, there are many styles of gyms and types of programs to choose from. Assessing your personality, your interests, and your values will lead you to the right home.