by Dean Witherspoon   Dean's profile on LinkedIn  

Peer support can mean the difference between success and failure in many endeavors: academics, athletics, health habits, work projects. A particularly effective approach is the buddy model, where groups of 2 work together to achieve shared or similar goals. But it’s not as simple as just saying “buddy up.” Buddy systems for health behavior change are most effective when:

  • Individuals pair up voluntarily based on reciprocal friendship. Social media has given rise to lots of faux friendships — “friends” who are really acquaintances. For best results, health buddies should be actual friends who engage off line as well as on, not just someone from the Facebook list.

  • Buddies are peers. If deep friendships aren’t possible in your scenario, aim for buddies to be peers in terms of social sphere — with as many mutual friendships as possible.

  • They’re physically near each other. Virtual buddies can work, but the opportunity for face-to-face interaction is better. Consider bonus points for shared walks, meals, etc.

  • Recognition is as much about the support you give as the goals you achieve. Being supportive of a friend’s efforts to improve health habits significantly ensures your own success. You automatically model the behavior you’re supporting.

  • The goals are truly shared, not 2 individual goals added together. Unlike teams of 4+, buddy programs should have higher dependence on each other (when one falls short, they both fall short). Shared goals eliminate social loafing (“I can take a day off because my teammates will pick up the slack.”) Note: social loafing occurs most often in teams with more than 5 members.

  • Buddies have insight on how to support each other. This covers preparing, getting started, staying on track, and finishing strong. (Request our Passport: Round Trip to Health buddy guide, How to Be a Great Travel Companion, for ideas.)

For more information, view the Health Enhancement Systems SlideShare: Energize Your Wellness Program With Buddies.

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