Is This the Secret to Staying Motivated?

3 min read
Research tells us that partnering with a friend might help us stay more motivated—whether we're trying to amp up our workouts or working towards a promotion at the office.
Research tells us that partnering with a friend might help us stay more motivated—whether we're trying to amp up our workouts or working towards a promotion at the office.

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While most of us probably wish there were a way to life-hack our goals to fruition, science tells us that there really aren’t many shortcuts when it comes to habit-building—just time, consistency, and some good, old-fashioned grit. That said, one thing that we can stack in our favor is the way we harness our motivation. And according to research, there’s a lot to be said for enlisting a buddy to help you follow through.

We are, after all, social creatures. If you think about it, the stakes feel a bit higher when we get someone else—someone we care about, no less—involved in our goals. We don’t want to let them down. We feel energized by their support. We have a sounding board if we're struggling. And if we’re working toward the same or similar goals together, it’s that much more fun than if we go it alone.

Neuroscientists have only just begun to scratch the surface of how habit formation works in the brain, but they do know this: When we have an intrinsic reason to return to a habit (it’s enjoyable, or has some kind of other emotional pull), we’re that much more likely to see it through. And that’s why partnering with a friend can be so useful—whether you’re trying to adopt a simple self-care ritual or have major career goals on the brain.* (1)

Pro tip: Write down your goal and then check in with a friend.

When it comes to enlisting a good accountability partner, it might be as simple as that. A study conducted by Dr. Gail Matthews, a psychology professor at Dominican University of California, found that when participants wrote down their objectives and then sent weekly updates on their progress to a friend, they were 50% more likely to be successful than those who kept their goals to themselves. Whether you’re working towards a work-related goal, training for a fitness feat or simply want to be better at taking your vitamins, consider this proof that small, strategic steps can add up to a major impact.* (2)

Hitting the gym with a buddy might make you work out more.

That’s according to a study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology in 2015: Researchers invited half of their participants to start working out with a new partner, while the other half were told to continue their usual exercise regimen. They found that the “gym buddy” group ultimately exercised more frequently.

But the researchers wanted to take their findings a step further and dig a little deeper into what makes a great gym buddy—so they asked the participants to rate their partners and describe what kind of support they found most effective. Interestingly, emotional support outweighed practicality: In other words, it’s not about the friend who makes sure you’ll never miss a workout, but the friend who acts as a cheerleader when you do hit the gym.* (3)

On that note, working out in a group might help mitigate stress.

Think about it: If you’re having fun, you may be more likely to stick with your habit. In a study published by The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, researchers found that those who worked out in a group reported significant improvements in emotional, mental, and physical quality of life, as well as a decrease in stress. (For comparison, the group that worked out alone only reported improvement in the mental quality of life category, while a control group didn’t report any changes at all.)* (4)

Finding a mentor you trust might help you take bigger leaps in your career.

Any work pal who keeps you accountable on daily projects is definitely a plus. But a good mentor has the additional benefit of helping you stay on track for your longer-term career goals, offering perspective and constructive feedback along the way. Research may suggest that those who have mentors tend to feel more satisfied with their careers and are even compensated better. A bonus? Those who are doing the mentoring might reap some of those same benefits.


  1. Neuroscience News. (2016, September 13). Intrinsic Reward Helps Make Exercise a Habit. Retrieved from Neuroscience News
  2. Study focuses on strategies for achieving goals, resolutions. (n.d.). Retrieved from Dominican University
  3. A new exercise partner is the key to exercising more. (2016, October 4). Retrieved from Science Daily
  4. Samendinger, S., Hill, C. R., Kerr, N. L., Winn, B., Ede, A., Pivarnik, J. M., … Feltz, D. L. (2019). Group dynamics motivation to increase exercise intensity with a virtual partner. Journal of Sport and Health Science, 8(3), 289–297. doi: 10.1016/j.jshs.2018.08.003
  5. Ghosh, R., & Reio, T. G. (2013). Career benefits associated with mentoring for mentors: A meta-analysis. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 83(1), 106–116. doi: 10.1016/j.jvb.2013.03.011


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