Peer support may be one of the easiest and most impactful things that you can do in your health journey. We are relational creatures and benefit so much from the witnessing, accountability, guidance, and loving embrace that sharing the path with another brings.
By inviting the support of those around you, you’re more likely to stick with the commitments you make and to enjoy the process along the way.
Finding a self-care buddy can feel intimidating, but it’s simpler than you think. I suggest thinking of a friend who might be in a similar place to you in terms of being ready to create real change, and wanting to disentangle from the self-care patterns that haven’t been serving them.
Invite them to be your “vitality buddy” (or come up with a name that excites you!). It won’t cost you anything, and it will not only bring benefit to you, but to your friend, too! In fact, you might have more than one vitality buddy. One you may connect with for exercise, another for emotional support, another for work or life-goal intentions, another for diet, and so on.
Time and time again, I have seen friends and clients benefit greatly from peer support. Jack, a client who had great resistance to exercising, decided to invite his friend (who felt the same way!) to join him. The two of them would meet to go for hour-long walks a couple of times a week at a local lake. They also began to go biking together.
He came to enjoy the movement and received many benefits that went far beyond the boost in vitality from the exercise itself. The social time was fun for them both, and their friendship deepened. It also got Jack outside in nature on a regular basis; although this had always been something that nourished him deeply, he’d had trouble motivating himself to get out on his own. With the peer support, the resistance to exercise was no longer an issue.
Another client, Victoria, experimented with using texting as a fun way to connect with her vitality buddy. Every morning they would text their intentions to one another about how they would nourish themselves that day. Then in the evening they would text again to share how it went.
It wasn’t just about the actions themselves, but about what they learned in the process and how that would inform their next set of intentions and experiments. Then they’d walk together once every week, or every other, and check in at greater length about how they both were doing.
As you can see, the possibilities are endless. You can help each other create new experiments about how you support one another. But there are also a couple of things to watch out for in this kind of support.
First, it is very important that this is a mutually supportive relationship. If it starts to feel like one person is leaning in more than the other, it may be time to check in and see if perhaps the way in which you are engaging needs to change, or if another type of support needs to come on board. You both will need to be completely honest with each other in this way so that you can relax.
On that note, it is vital that this relationship has proper boundaries. Remember, it is peer support, not professional support. For your own well-being, as well as that of your vitality buddy, be mindful not to overstep your level of expertise, or to expect more from your partner than is realistic.
Don’t hesitate to suggest professional help if it feels like your partner may need a type of support you cannot offer or that feels uncomfortable for you in any way. Likewise, take responsibility for seeking out the support you need in order to fully enjoy, and benefit from, your peer support.
As the Irish poet and philosopher John O’Donohue writes in his book Eternal Echos,
“One of the most beautiful gifts in the world is the gift of encouragement. When someone encourages you, that person helps you over a threshold you might otherwise never have crossed on your own.”
We all need lots of encouragement in our self-care journeys. Which of your friends might you invite today to be your vitality buddy?