Excellence University Blog

STEAM Tip: Social Support

by Dr. Brian Higley

December 24th, 2009

The people that we chose to surround ourselves with can have a profound impact on both the types of goals that we set and how often we achieve these goals.  If there are any goals that you are struggling to complete on time or at high levels of quality, you may wish to increase the amount of effective social support (and/or decrease the amount of ineffective social support) that you experience in relation to those goals.  Here are a few steps that have helped people to recruit effective social support into their lives:

  1. Identify which sorts of support you want for different sorts of goals (and what sort of social interaction you do not want as well). The first step in boosting effective social support for a goal is often a clear understanding of the variety of different types of social support that is available to people and which type of support is most likely to help one to move closer to the achievement of a specific goal.  There are many different types of social support, including  (a) physical assistance, like help with moving a couch across a room; (b) financial assistance, such as a loan to help pay the rent this month; (c) specific advice, including instructions on how to effectively engage in relaxation exercises or complete one’s taxes; (d) emotional support in the form of reminders from others of how much one is loved and cared for; and (e) a feeling of being involved in a common mission with others, such as belonging to a group focused on intellectual, financial, and/or personal growth.
  2. Determine which sorts of social support are most effective to the achievement of different goals (and which types inhibit goal-achievement).  After becoming clear about the different types of social support, you can then begin noticing which types of support are most effective for different goals in your life.  For example, it may be that the feeling of being a part of a group that works out regularly together helps you to achieve the goal of physical fitness, while specific advice from group members on how to work out actually makes goal-achievement less likely (you may actually avoid going to the gym with advice-givers if you do not want exercise advice from them).  At the same time, you may notice that specific advice is more helpful than the feeling of being a part of a group when it comes to how to cook a certain meal because you do not feel a desire to belong to a cooking group or to develop your own recipe for the meal.
  3. Ask people for the specific kinds of support that you want for specific goals (and to avoid social interactions that drain energy that could be used for achievement).  Once you are clear about what type of social support is likely to help you achieve different goals (and which type may harm your goal-achievement), you are ready to ask others for the precise kind of support that is likely to help achieve these goals (and to ask others to avoid ineffective types of social support).  For example, you can (a) ask for specific advice on how to start a business from successful business people that you know, (b) ask for emotional support for your goal of increasing your self-esteem from people who know the value of such an endeavor, and/or (c) ask other interested learners in a training/class to participate in a study/implementation group with you.  At the same time, you can ask the certain people to avoid certain types of unhelpful social support for these goals.  For example, you may not desire as much emotional support from your study group members as you do from the people that you have asked to support you in your self-esteem goal; it is perfectly reasonable to clarify this.  For example, you might say something like this to members of your study group, “What really works for me in study groups is staying focused on the material; I don’t really personally benefit that much from discussions about how much the group values my presence (although I do recognize and honor that others may get a great deal out of this sort of support).”
  4. Minimize time with people who do not honor your social support requests.  Whenever necessary, you can chose to minimize time with people who do not honor your specific social support requests as much as possible.  If you are not helped by a group that regularly provides specific advice on how to exercise and you repeatedly make this clear to your exercise group, it is perfectly reasonable to seek out others who can honor this request if current group members cannot.
  5. Think about modifying goals to include effective types of social support (and to minimize ineffective types of social support).  Often, effective social support helps to make goal achievement more realistic.  You may wish to modify goals to include specific types of social support. For example, the goal “Complete an important project” could be modified for increased effective social support like this: “Ask John for advice on how to complete my project, then complete the project using the portions of his advice that I deem helpful.”  You can also goal-set in a way that decreases the probability of experiencing ineffective social support.  For example, if John regularly gives you advice that is not helpful, you might set a goal like this: “Work on my project weekly in an area where I am not likely to be interrupted.”

The more effective types of social support you utilize (and the more you minimize unhelpful social interactions), the more likely it is you will experience high-quality achievement and, in some cases, strengthened relationships with others.  For more thoughts on recruiting effective social support, click here.

FINAL NOTE: If you were linked to this article by a video or email, please return to that link and proceed with any other instructions that you deem helpful.  If you are using the Mission Fulfillment System to identify and track goal achievement, please keep this article in mind when you develop and/or modify your goals on the system.  For more articles related to improving STEAM, see our Self-Mastery, Interpersonal Expertise, and Mission Connection tips.

Article Filed under: 1. Social Support Tips

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Excellence Tree Journal &&hellip  |  December 31st, 2010 at 11:20 am

    […] Recruit “satisfying leisure social support.” Some of us can find ourselves in social circles (both personal and professional) that do not understand or value the power of satisfying leisure time.  Some people falsely believe that spending time in satisfying ways is “bad” or “lazy,” which can motivate them to try to make those of us using our leisure time in satisfying ways feel guilty about it.  Because this can be such a common attitude toward leisure time, it can be important to find people who are supportive of our commitment to satisfying leisure, rather than dismissive of it.  Finding others who recognize how important it is to relax and recharge on a regular basis can make it more likely that we continue to do so.  Click here for more on recruiting effective social support. […]

  • 2. Lindsey E  |  October 13th, 2014 at 6:35 pm

    One of my weakest points in the past has been my ability to effectively use and engage in social support that facilitated my progress towards goals, instead of hindering them. With my motto of balance for this year, I decided that it was time to address this issue of social support and get straight the “kinks” I left untouched for so long.

    To begin, I ended up writing a friendship paper up to help me get my thoughts together and also point out to other people what a true friend (in my definition) really is. You can read the paper here if you’d like: http://lindseys-positive-memories.blogspot.com/2014/08/meditations-on-friendship.html

    I noticed that, for some reason or another, there were many discrepancies between what one expected of a friend and what a friend actually did. From constantly trying to mooch off of someone for car rides to emotionally dumping problems on someone else, without any sort of balance, the acts deemed “friendship” or “social support” bewildered me. Writing this paper helped me sort through my friends to see who was just mooching off of me, or just a poor social support, and who was actually good social support.

    Next, which I have been doing recently, I had to figure out what kind of social support was actually helpful to me in any given situation. Obviously, this ranges from situation to situation, but being able to readily identify the kind of support needed helps me to receive that type of social support quickest. For example, right now, I just need support that helps me have fun and take my mind off of the stresses around me, but also will let me vent if needed. Thus, I have surrounded myself with people accordingly, and it has worked wonders.

    However, the harder part that I have with social support seems to be getting out of the unfavorable support groups. As someone who does wish to help others and be supportive, I find that needy people flock to me and readily take my attention, but give nothing in return. While trying to back away from these situations for the better, the backlash of these situations never ceases to amaze me, from people claiming I am abandoning them to just being a bad person. However, this only shows me more how unsupportive this environment is rather than guilt me into staying.

    Thus, it cannot be overstated how important it is to figure out what kind of support you need, surround yourself with that support, and remove the unfavorable support from your life. For me, doing this made me realize how much time I was wasting on trying to help others at the cost of my own productivity. Now that I am surrounded (for the most part) by good, high-quality social support, I have never felt more content and productive before in my life!

  • 3. Rachel S.  |  March 30th, 2015 at 5:16 pm

    Having struggled with social interactions in general, I was especially not proactive about pursuing social support in a goal-oriented manner. Eventually, out of shear necessity for more specific guidance, I ban seeking out a social support network of a more utilitarian kind, revolving around my field of choice and work I’m personally interested and invested in. Since doing so I’m getting far more out of my education, and most other experiences, really, while cutting back on unhelpful noise.

  • 4. Caitlin Moriarty  |  November 14th, 2016 at 5:01 pm

    Although this seems like common sense, it can be pretty hard to get social support (or remove bad influences) in order to achieve your goals. For example, if you want to start going to the gym more, it might be hard to start if your friend group prefers to play videogames at home. To help with your goal, join a class at the gym. That way, you get social support from the people in the exercise class so you’re not just relying on your friend group. Though I’m sure that they’d provide plenty of social support for you to achieve 100% completion in the videogame of your choice.

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