The Importance of a Social Support Network in Achieving Your Goals
Written by Justin Wright

Arnold Schwarzenegger is famous for saying that he believes the concept of a self-made man is a myth. When he spoke at the University of Houston, he stated, “I wouldn’t be here without my parents, my mentors, my teachers.”

Developing a Social Support Network has numerous benefits, both mental and physical. Supportive behaviors have been shown to reduce stress and to reduce feelings of isolation, leading to better long-term emotional health. While these benefits seem self-explanatory, how does a social support network positively impact goal-setting? Furthermore, how can you utilize this support to ultimately be more productive and more successful?

What is a social support network?

Finding a network of people who can provide guidance and assistance is critical for achieving your goals. Doing hard work in isolation is incredibly difficult, and accomplishing daunting tasks will inevitably require a good deal of hard work. The bigger your goals, the more social support you will ultimately need to be successful.

Think about the difference in effort required in completing a single project at work versus building a successful company. Both of these things can be goals, but the input required for each is vastly different. To put this into a fitness context, think about the difference in difficulty of getting your first muscle-up and qualifying for the CrossFit Games. As you can imagine, the latter requires a much larger support network and is almost impossible to do alone.

Try not to confuse a support group with a support network. A support group is generally put in place to handle a crisis situation or to help provide a community for overcoming some type of destructive behavior. These involve support groups for eating disorders, addiction, etc. A support network, on the other hand, is a collection of family, friends, peers and mentors who provide guidance and add value to your life. They can offer advice, physical resources, perspective and feedback to bolster your resolve and help provide direction when you may be lost or confused on your journey. Support networks also provide a sense of belonging, increased feelings of self-worth and increased feelings of security.

Forms of Social Support

Social support comes in four major forms, each expressed by a different type of person in your support network:

Emotional Support

These are expressions of empathy, love, trust and caring. Emotional support resonates with you on a personal level.

Instrumental Support

These are concrete, tangible forms of assistance. This involves someone in your network sacrificing some resource for your benefit.

Informational Support

These are suggestions, information, advice or other knowledge to assist you. This can be both professional or personal, depending on the type of information.

Appraisal Support

These are similar to informational situations, but instead focus on information that is directly relevant for self-evaluation. Constructive criticism falls under this category.

Identifying Who is Best to Provide Each Type of Support

Each of these forms of support are useful and relevant in differing situations. It is also important to understand that they will often be provided by very different people in your support network.

For example, it would be entirely appropriate for your spouse to provide emotional support by loving and encouraging you during the times when working on your goals becomes arduous and difficult. They can provide a unique viewpoint as your life partner that others in your network may not have. Emotional support can also come from parents or close friends who know you on a deeper, personal level.

A professional mentor, on the other hand, would be more likely to provide informational support by giving you increased knowledge and offering the perspective of someone who has likely already accomplished what you have set out to do.

An effective boss or manager may provide frequent doses of appraisal support by providing valuable feedback or criticism to help you perform better and optimize your efforts as you work towards your goals.

Instrumental support can come from many sources: your spouse may be willing to pick up more hours at work so that you can spend more time building your business, or a close friend or mentor may be willing to lend you startup money for this same business.

Regardless of what form the social support takes, all of them are equally important and effective. The more daunting the task in front of you, the bigger support network you will likely need. As your goals increase in scope, you will find that each type of support will be well-suited to a particular aspect of accomplishing that task.

To go back to our example of qualifying for the CrossFit Games, you would need support in each of these forms throughout the process. Emotional support from your friends and loved ones would help them be empathetic to how much time you are spending in the gym, how strict you are with your diet, and the fact that you would likely miss many social events.

Instrumental support may come from sponsors or members of your gym who help provide funding and resources for you to travel to competitions.

Informational support would come from your coach who tailors your training to best prepare you, or from another athlete you know who has already qualified in the past and knows what it takes.

Appraisal support may be the most useful in accomplishing this particular goal; the friend or peer who convinces you that you are adequately prepared, and instills belief in yourself when you step out onto the competition floor falls under this category. Each is valuable, and each is necessary along the way.

How to Develop a Support Network

Developing your support network can be as simple as informing those around you that you are undertaking a new task or working towards a new goal. Part of effective goal-setting requires you to share your goals with your network. If your friends and family know what you are trying to accomplish, they will likely be more willing and prepared to offer assistance when and if they can. On top of creating support, this also creates accountability! You are more likely to succeed if you don’t want to let those around you down and if you have the additional support you need when the going ultimately gets tough.

If the people in your life don’t understand your goal, or aren’t willing to provide assistance, then it is important that you look elsewhere. Seek out those with similar ideas or with a similar mindset. With the advent of social media, there are countless support networks on Facebook where people share thoughts and ideas. A quick Google search will turn up various groups and support networks in every major city and area around the world. Start spending time around those people, and start seeking out people who are trying to accomplish the same things you are.

The environment that you spend time in determines how your genes are expressed, and ultimately determines the type of person you become. Jim Rohn famously said that, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”

Surround yourself with like-minded individuals so that you can not only grow your support network, but also be part of the networks of others. Your gym community is a great place to start! Find those in the classes you take or the events you attend who have similar goals and work to help each other succeed. Encourage those around you to push themselves and set increasingly challenging goals. Try to always under-promise and over-deliver; go out of your way to provide support to others and watch as that support, in turn, is provided back to you.

Mentors are another great resource. These are individuals who have achieved a level of success in their field that you ultimately want to attain. Mentor-mentee relationships are incredibly useful because they can teach you to avoid the mistakes they inevitably made along the way. Failure is life’s greatest teacher, but learning how to avoid common pitfalls from someone who has been there before can save you valuable time and frustration. Mentors almost always love being mentors! Don’t hesitate to reach out to someone you think fits the mold and can provide help and guidance to you, chances are they will jump at the opportunity.

When should I change my support network?

Knowing that you are the sum of those you surround yourself with, it is equally important to know when your support network is no longer serving your best interests. Sometimes, when you set large goals, those around you may become uncomfortable because of your drive and determination. Some people in life are perfectly content being mediocre, and these people are often the first to try and douse your flame when you work towards a new goal. If you find yourself surrounded by negativity and are not receiving the support you need, consider changing the people you look towards for support.

The support network is a symbiotic relationship; they should be providing as much value as you provide to them. If you find that individuals in your life are taking far more than they give, consider cutting them out of your life or minimizing your interactions with them. It sounds harsh, but the reality is that you cannot afford to let people be a drain on your energy and prevent you from accomplishing your goals.

Alternatively, as your goals change so too must your support network. If you have supportive family and friends then they will always be a part of your network. However, if your goals change then you may be forced to alter your network to attain the help and support that you need. The mentors or peers required to qualify for the CrossFit Games are likely quite different than the mentors and peers required to build a successful business. Routinely audit your support network to ensure that those who are providing information, support, and guidance are actually helping you accomplish your goals. Also realize that it is entirely likely that your support network will be slightly different for different goals!

Invest in Yourself

It is almost impossible to accomplish most tasks if you go at them completely alone. As you accomplish your goals and they compound to form bigger, loftier goals, realize that your support network oftentimes must evolve as well. Seek out mentors who have been down that road before, and seek to learn as much as you can from those with valuable information to give.

At the end of the day the smartest investment you can make is investing in yourself; surround yourself with supportive individuals who can teach you valuable lessons, and try to absorb as much of that information as you can. When challenges come, which they inevitably will, lean on your support network to help you keep your head above water and ultimately succeed. You must also be willing to provide the support and guidance that others around you may need from time to time. Building a support network is a two-way street and requires you to give just as much as you get back. No matter what form your support network takes, it will prove to be one of the most valuable resources you have in helping you accomplish your goals!

We’ve developed a FREE Goal Setting Guide to help you set effective goals. Get yours here!

Also Check Out…

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Michael Blencowe
Michael Blencowe
July 23, 2024 2:17 pm

I have found that working and studying alone is easier to track my own progress and adjust my time accordingly. I now realize the importance of a support system and how much it can help me.

Kenya Chatman
Kenya Chatman
July 15, 2024 6:25 pm

After reading about the different types of support systems I am more aware of choosing people for support. I agree with Arnold Schwarzenegger that self-made is a myth. We all were taught in some ways the value of life and that there are positive support people around us.

Jason Weber
Jason Weber
July 14, 2024 6:29 pm

Really nice article.

July 10, 2024 10:13 pm

After reading the article I thought about how my self imposed isolation would affect my school career as well as my work life. It demonstrated how with a support system would help keep me accountable to my goals and responsibilities. It also helps to have them there when I need the support and motivation to keep moving forward. I’m reminded of a quote that recites “ if you lay down with dogs you get up with fleas. It’s a good example of how if I surrounded myself with people of questionable character that it could possibly make me more like… Read more »

Christina sargent
Christina sargent
July 9, 2024 9:39 pm

I like this article I learned a lot from it and I learned what I need to work on and what I can’t work on.

Carmen Nicole Brock
Carmen Nicole Brock
July 9, 2024 1:34 pm

i really enjoyed this article and it really got me thinking about a lot of different things that i need to work on!

Delont'e Samuels
Delont'e Samuels
July 8, 2024 11:56 am

I have to agree, the company we keep does reflect a representation of ourselves. And surrounding yourself with like-minded people opens doors for sure. Great article. Very insightful.

Iva Coleman
Iva Coleman
July 8, 2024 10:22 am

Love the article great support system

Roxanna Jimenez
Roxanna Jimenez
July 3, 2024 10:32 am

Growing up, I did not have much of a support system, but now with work, I have surrounded myself with people that are a positive influence and that can mentor me in positive ways. I too think we can in some ways do things on our own but mostly, we always will need some sort of support even if it’s just someone that is giving us good advice and showing us a positive way of looking at life’s daily challenges.

Roxanna Jimenez
Roxanna Jimenez
July 3, 2024 10:29 am

This was a very helpful article. I do believe our support system has much to do with our success.

Christian Radke
Christian Radke
June 30, 2024 8:42 pm

Thank you, I enjoyed this article very much!!

June 30, 2024 8:13 am

Thank you this information was very helpful and insightful.. we are the average sum of the 5 people we are around sounds accurate and factual. I also subscribe to that theory and philosophy. I also understand the importance of having a great support network. It really is everything in business, thank you again for contextualizing my thoughts.

June 28, 2024 6:33 pm

Thanks for that I really needed to read that right now for sure!

Iva Coleman
Iva Coleman
June 25, 2024 10:49 am

I love the article it makes me think about my goals and I always love a challenge

June 9, 2024 7:58 pm

After reading this article I am curious to actually do a deep dive into who makes up my S/N and are they currently relevant to how my goals have recently shifted. Presumably, I’m thinking there might be difficulty establishing like minded individuals at my age. I am up for the challenge.

Jamie Montes
Jamie Montes
June 7, 2024 7:31 am

I love this article. It was interesting to see how the author broke down the different types of support groups. My support groups would be my family, my husband, a few friends, my AA and NA community, my Whitesky treatment counselor, my therapist, and the the people at my church! 🙂

Amy Roth
Amy Roth
June 10, 2024 1:52 pm
Reply to  Jamie Montes

Hi Jamie, I don’t often come across people who are friends with Bill W. It is important to have a network that respects your mission and shares common ground. My support groups are my friends of Bill and the new family I have created. I also found this article interesting as it operates under the same guidance I have been given and have had to implement in my life in order to remain sane and lay my head on the pillow at night with one more day under my belt and knowing that tomorrow is just another opportunity to be better.… Read more »

Phillip Gallow
Phillip Gallow
June 6, 2024 6:24 pm

Hello, I’m Phillip and I find that my biggest supporters are my kids especially my 15 year old daughter. She literally mimics me in more ways I can explain. Listening to me and watching me as I work hard at helping to raise her and working long hours to better provide for the family, starting my first company from scratch to now creating a new company from ground up, I am happy to say that she has become a young entrepreneur herself. She bakes sweets and sells them for profit. She is doing really great with it and she is… Read more »

Kim Mattox
Kim Mattox
June 6, 2024 1:31 pm

My biggest support system is my mother. She offers daily support and is always there for me. I couldn’t ask for a better support system.

Jacqueline osborne
Jacqueline osborne
June 6, 2024 5:03 am

Hi I’m Jackie, I love the part mentioned about making an audit of the people around you. If I want to do better I need to surround myself with like-minded individuals the do so. Birds of a feather flock together.

Rodney Parsons
Rodney Parsons
June 5, 2024 7:50 pm

Hi my name is Rodney and I just wanted to say this was an awesome post. My biggest support system is my wife. She motivates me daily and constantly reassures me that I can do anything I set my mind to.

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