10/12/2012 03:36 pm ET Updated Dec 12, 2012

The Company You (Don't) Keep

A long time ago, I knew a man who coached professional tennis players who were ranked in the top 25-50 in the world. In our interactions, he shared a story that I have never forgotten, and it has become a guiding principle for me. At the time, he was coaching a player who was ranked number 25 out of all the tennis players in the world, but the player wanted to be better; he wanted to be in the top 10!

When he told his coach his goal, his coach told him that if he wanted to be ranked as one of the top 10 tennis players in the world, then he needed to practice only with tennis players who were in the top 10. The player listened; he immediately stopped practicing with players ranked lower than 10. Within a year, he was ranked in the top 10.

What was so fascinating to me was the effect that one's surroundings could have on one's success or failure. Really? The people around me, or rather, the people I drew around me, could determine how successful I became? Turns out, yes!

This principle has many implications, especially if you are trying to make a lifestyle change. This brings me to my next lifestyle change tip: When implementing a new program, practice or habit, surround yourself with other people who want the same thing for you as you do. This is easier said than done. The reason is because it gets to the often unspoken agreements that friends and family have with one another, and its subtext often goes something like this: "I won't call you to account about your weaknesses if you won't ask me about mine."

Although friends and family usually say they want the best for you, they can often feel quite threatened when you change and decide to get healthier. Basically, if you stop eating that pint of ice cream every night and they don't stop, they may feel a little uncomfortable. And their natural human response is to encourage you to "live a little" or "have just a little, it won't hurt you."

This applies to every lifestyle change I can think of: weight loss, smoking cessation, eating programs, exercise programs, etc. Your loved ones don't mean to sabotage you. (Well, maybe some of them do, but most of them really do want you to be healthier.) It's just that they are conscious enough to know that they need to come along with you, but often are not ready. Hence, the discomfort and encouraging they give you to do something that may not be in line with your new lifestyle.

There are reasons that people are encouraged to have "workout buddies" or sponsors, and why Weight Watchers and overeaters anonymous have groups because these are individuals are clearly on your side, as you begin to practice a new, healthier habit.

As you contemplate making a change, I invite you to find one or more people who will wholeheartedly be on your side. Then tell them what you are up to, and ask (out loud!) if they will help you through any rough spots.

The chance to "phone a friend" may make the difference between a successful lifestyle change and inadvertently falling off the wagon. Better yet, be that person for someone else and see how great it feels, then ask them to return the favor.

For more by Dr. Wendie Trubow, click here.

For more on emotional wellness, click here.