How Community Supports Achieving Goals

We’ve all been there. It’s been a long day at work and we just don’t have the energy to get out there, but we’ve promised someone we’d make it. Even though we don’t want to dance/ play sport/ go shopping we still get up, and drag our tired, depleted body out and get to what was planned.

If you’re anything at all like me, the hardest part is getting to the car. Once I’m there, I just kick into autopilot and get to whatever event I was planning to go to. I get out, meet my friends, play my sport, or enjoy a movie. Funnily enough, I hardly ever regret going once I get there, but sometimes it is so, so hard. I think saying that I don’t regret it is probably an understatement, most of the time, I’m really happy that I went and feel great as a result of doing it, and here’s the important part- I wouldn’t have gone without the peer pressure.

There is a rule of thumb that suggests that we end up becoming the aggregate of the people that we spend the most time around - kind of like the idiom ‘birds of a feather, flock together.’ This happens partly because we gravitate towards people like us, but it is also because the people we are with tend to ‘rub off’ on us. When we are a part of a community, or when we choose to join a community, we join a circle of people who are doing or being something that we want to become. This brings us to our main point. Joining a community is one of the most effective ways to support achieving your goals.

Alongside the fact that relationships make us more likely to do things even when we’re tired, they tend to make it easier once we get there. Again, we have ancient idioms that indicate this universal truth: ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ - something that studies have indicated is a legitimate phenomenon (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2548917/A-problem-shared-really-IS-problem-halved-Study-finds-discussing-problems-people-situation-reduces-stress-levels.html). When you are following a program with friends, you are more likely to do it, and it won’t take as much effort as if you did it on your own. Win win!

Isolation is mental…

Being a part of a group helps to make things easier, makes you more likely to do it, and makes a long-term change much more likely, but one of the reasons that I’m so enthusiastic about it is that it also has a profound positive impact on people’s mental health. We are designed to operate in a community setting.

When we are lonely, our ability to enjoy things (University of Chicago) and our ability to process information is impaired (University of Michigan). Not only that, it’s possible that loneliness can increase cancerous tumour growth, and that it can be as much of a risk factor for disease as obesity and smoking (Science Daily). In other words, when we aren’t a part of a community, it can be a really big deal.

Joining a new community is almost always scary, I get that, but the potential payoffs can be as great as losing significant amounts of weight or quitting smoking, and doing something like playing a sport, a game, or taking up a new hobby is way more fun than the other two. And the great thing is, the right group can utilise its positive influence to help you do all three things at once (and it will be way easier than trying to do any of them on your own). In fact, whatever your goal is, you are five times more likely to achieve it with a group. By the very nature of being a part of a group of people you like, you are decreasing a risk that could be on par with smoking and obesity without even trying!

When times get tough, and they do, people can often find themselves derailed. They might lose a job, or have someone important get sick or die, and these are times where we can really easily lose track of habits that we’ve developed that are important for our health, well-being, and life satisfaction. Unfortunately, will-power alone is a very ineffective tool when it comes to regaining your equilibrium. If you are a part of a community that cares, whether it is a church, a club, or even a well run sporting club or gym, and people from that community can reach out to you and support you and help you to maintain the crucial parts of your habits, then you are much more likely to maintain them or to regain the lost ground. The other nice thing when you hit a rough patch and you’re a part of a community is the ability to access the hive mind. Communities will often have people who have experienced what you’re going through and who will have navigated the same waters. Even if they can’t help you, they usually will have the good sense to listen and nod without giving trite responses that actually do nothing, and a lot of the time, they’ll actually be able to help you or point you in the direction of useful resources.

You can achieve great things on your own, many people have, but when you join a community you are stacking the deck in your favour, and by doing so you are giving yourself the best chance of achieving long-term, lasting change physically, mentally, and emotionally.

qkbPiers Kwan