10 Simple Steps to Motivate a Friend

Before you jump into reading this post I’d like to encourage you to drop by yesterday’s with a comment or two. MDA is getting a renovation and we are looking for reader suggestions on how to continue to make this the best health and fitness blog on the net. We look forward to hearing from you!


Your idea of a good weekend morning is to kick off with a brisk run (or a spin class or hike or other invigorating exercise), rustle up a healthy – and hearty – breakfast, and then get on with the rest of your day. Your friend, on the other hand, sleeps till noon, wakes up and drives to the bagel store and wastes the rest of the day watching re-runs of America’s Next Top Model. But then they come to you and ask for help…ask to turn their lifestyle around and become…well…more like you.

And, while imitation is certainly the most sincere form of flattery, why is it so darn hard to motivate a friend? The following are our top 10 ways to set a friend on the path to a fit and healthy lifestyle without compromising your friendship – or your sanity!

1. No! No! No!


When it comes to leading others, sometimes it’s important to first address the long list of things to do. What won’t work when it comes to motivating a friend? Prying, nagging, begging, bartering, manipulating, criticizing and shaming. If you can’t remember all of these, at the very least remember this one: Don’t offer advice unless you are asked. Trust us!

2. Model Behavior

Monkey See, Monkey Do

If your friend has asked for help, chances are they have already recognized that you know what’s what when it comes to all things health and fitness related. Your next move? Prolong this perspective by serving as a wellness model and advocate. For example, if you hit a restaurant, order sensibly – show your friend that eating well doesn’t have to mean being chained to your own kitchen. Or, if your friend is a sucker for happy hour, suggest that you get together for an après work walk. The point? Monkey see, monkey do works just as well for friends!

3. Listen Up

Big Ears

Life would be so much easier if people said what they actually meant, but unfortunately a friend isn’t likely to directly ask for help with their health. Instead, they are more likely to inquire about your eating patterns, where you have a gym membership or exactly what it is you do to stay in such good shape. Rather than just give them a run down of your preferred treadmill settings or talk about the hotties in your spin class, take cues from their inquiries to offer suggestions for how they could step up their own health game.

4. Strugglin’

Long Road

Chances are you weren’t born a fitness buff, but rather became one across a period of time. At some point – or even points – it would have been easy to ditch your healthy lifestyle and resort back to your old couch potato ways, but you powered through. Perhaps it required finding a new exercise you loved, experimenting more in the kitchen or simply just setting a new goal. Whatever it was, pretending that the road to wellness has been easy isn’t realistic. Instead share your struggles. Not only will it create bonds (because who doesn’t love a story about overcoming a struggle!) but it will also help your friend to realize that while you might not have all of the answers, your journey is theirs too – only you’re just a little further down the road.

5. Care Bear

Care Bears

Change is never easy, and when your friend is kicking off a whole new lifestyle, it’s bound to be a bump in the road. The best way to help out? Listen to their stories, let them complain and be their shoulder to cry on – quite simply, position yourself as someone who cares.

6. Structural Support


You might not be able to be there in the morning to get them out of bed for that early CrossFit session or be allowed – at least in some social circles – to slap the bagel out of their hand, but sometimes just lending a little support can go a long way. Be there when they need help, have them over for a healthy dinner (and be sure to offer up the recipe!) or set up a gym date – whatever it takes to show them your unfailing support!

7. School’s In

Old Books

Once your friend has shown an interest in health and fitness, it’s time for you to subtly give advice. But rather than just serve as their fountain of knowledge, steer them to resources (such as Mark’s Daily Apple) that they can access on their own. There are plenty of health and fitness blogs and resources out there, some more helpful than others, but try to help guide them towards those that will help them understand the importance of living a healthy lifestyle and how to best approach the task.

8. Can Do!

We Can Do It!

Perhaps they’ve started on this wellness kick because a doctor told them that they’re at risk for a heart attack, diabetes or another debilitating disease. Yes, the threat of sickness – or worse, death – can be a strong motivator, but when it comes to friends, it’s better to keep the outlook positive. Rather than focus on reducing risk, focus on the positive aspects of exercise – the high you get once you’ve run your first full mile, the sense of achievement you feel when your kids finally tell you that stir fry was delicious or the sheer excitement of slipping into a pair of jeans you haven’t worn in years. The point here? Positive always prevails when it comes to motivating friends!

9. The Onus Brothers


While you can certainly do your part to help your friend become a fitness aficionado, the reality is, you can’t do it alone. Instead, the onus is on them to make the decision to be healthy, to decide how to implement a fitness and diet regimen that works for them. In this case, while your support and advice is certainly welcome, this one, quite simply, just isn’t about you!

10. Let’s Celebrate

Balloons Celebrate

Your friend did it – they turned their life around, met a fitness goal, or mastered a new activity. Whatever the measure, be sure to celebrate the success. It doesn’t have to mean a big gift, a blow-out-bash or some other material token – you’ll find that a true friend can celebrate just by providing a few words of encouragement. Especially when those words are coming from the very fitness guru who has been there since day one.

Claudecf, somargraphics, *Rob*, Chris Seufert, flinchbaughj, justmakeit, Andy Brooks, Marion Doss, Swamibu, squishyray Flickr Photos (CC)

Further Reading:

Health Suicide in 10 Easy Steps

The Social Dimension of Eating: How to Eat with Unhealthy Eaters

Diet Change and Partner Dynamics

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13 thoughts on “10 Simple Steps to Motivate a Friend”

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  1. I think leadership and the idea of coming to the aid of others is best summed up by Sun Tzu, “To lead the people you must first walk behind them”.

  2. Dinner Parties! I invite my friends over and I cook for them. It’s always healthy, and it’s usually tasty enough for them to be impressed. It’s a good conversation starter, and whereas everyone at the party has a different idea on exactly what is healthy, it at least starts the chain of positive peer pressure.

  3. Here’s one I have always found to be important:

    Keep it Simple

    …at least to start off with. I have found that with some friends the list of things they need to change or do to get themselves in a good spot is so long that addressing them all at once over-faces them and leads to failure. These days I just pick 2 or three of the ‘biggies’ and just bite my tongue in relation to the remaining things that need changing so as to avoid confusion and demoralisation…

  4. I started a 100 day burpee challenge, similar to the one done by Crossfit Santa Cruz. I wanted to come up with a way to try and get a group of people to try a challenge and use the group atmosphere to give them support and to help them stick with it. I sent an email to all my friends. So far, I have about 20 people doing the challenge and most of the people are using it as a way to jump start their own fitness program.

  5. I have just about decided to stop trying to spread the good word about primal/evolutionary fitness. I have never been heavy handed or pushy about it, but even so, more often than not I get reactions that irritate. “Oh, so you’re on the Atikins Diet.” “Not even whole grains!” “So why do you shop at the grocery store…shouldn’t you be hunting for your food?” “What, you think cave men drank Miller Lite?” “That’s wierd…have you ever tried colon cleansing?” My tongue is sore from all the biting.

  6. Ed – I sympathise. The caveman gags (“shouldn’t you be eating with your hands?” etc) do start to wear a bit thin. I still evangelise to certain people who are genuinely interested and for the most part ignore the comedians. So far I have resisted the temptation to carry round a club with which to deliver the obvious punchline 😉

    1. [Look at hand holding utensil.] “I am using my hands, or is the fork levitating?”

      They think it’s humorous, so give them humor back.

  7. model model model and *wait* until asked to proffer any advice.

    or at least that’s the way I roll.


  8. Hi MDA,

    I am learning a lot of cool stuff here on your website and i doing a bunch of those.
    Like the lower carbs intake theorie and i really like the arguments that the body is structured in a efficient way, so we should listen to it.

    So i have a friend, who is going to a gym for 3 years already. But he has.. let’s say not a lot of improvements in losing weight (or even gaining muscle). There was a time that we worked out together (and that went pretty good), but i changed gym (for valid reasons). I can guess what he is doing wrong, but when i try to give him advice, you can see that understands it but he is not willing to pick up. He is willing to tell others what they are doing wrong.

    So my question is: How do i help him? Or should i just wait untill he asks for advice? (3 years already…)

    Things we have tried:
    – Convince him to join our gym. (somehow he finds his own gym to be his comfort zone)
    – Talked about carb and calorie intake. (he insists he only eat some fruits for breakfast and lunch.. yeah right)
    – added him to our whatsup/facebook gym group. But he just left. I think he got intimidated just by listening. Because not once did we have any criticism on him.

    Or should i think: Okay this is the way he wants to live. Let everybody be. With the risk that in a few years he comes complaining about his life…..

    Any advice?