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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