You may have noticed that some people just magically show up at the gym every day. Or maybe you’ve noticed that neighbor who always jogs by your house at 6 am. You might have the co-worker who always orders a salad when you go out together, or the friend who always declines dessert.

Are these people aliens? Are they borne of a different species? What do they have that you don’t? Why are they so dedicated to their diets and exercise routines? How do they discipline themselves?

The answer is really pretty simple. They’re regular human beings, like you, but they have discovered a secret – perhaps intentionally, but probably by accident – that you just haven’t found yet.

It’s called the Social Cognitive Theory. Weight loss and healthy living are all about habits, and the root of whether or not we stay true to our habits lies in our confidence. In other words, if you believe you can do it, you’re more likely to stick with it. We use the following models of thinking when we decide whether to stick with a new habit:

  • Personal experience: Have I done this before?
  • Vicarious experience: Is there anyone like me, who has done this before?
  • Social persuasion: These people are encouraging me, and they seem to believe in me. So I can do it.
  • Physiological factors: Can I do this? I feel butterflies in my stomach. Is that good or bad?

We utilize all of those factors when we decide whether we can realistically reach a goal. But the social factors are the ones we can control. When we pursue new activities with new people, we learn through vicarious experience and social persuasion. We see other people like us, and they are accomplishing the types of goals we would like to accomplish. These people also encourage us to join them, and they believe we can work toward the same goals together.

So how do you apply these lessons to your health? It’s simple: Join a running club, make friends with people who have healthy habits, take a cooking class, or attend a weight loss support group. Learn to trick your own psychology. If you hang out with couch potatoes, you’re more likely to behave as a couch potato yourself. But when you surround yourself with positive role models and a personal fan club, you learn to stay dedicated to your goals.