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

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

Informational – 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 – 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.

Where can I develop, or improve, my 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!

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About the Author

Justin Wright is the Head Coach of Invictus Boston in Boston, MA. As an athlete, he competed at the CrossFit Games on Team Back Bay in 2016 and also played two years in the NPGL as a professional GRID athlete. Now, Justin spends his time coaching and teaching mindset and mental resilience strategies. Feel free contact Justin with interest and questions – he loves to chat!

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