Growing up I was definitely not one of the popular kids, so if you had told me that I would write a blog about cheerleaders I would have laughed in your face – yet here I am, cheerfully writing about something I know virtually nothing about.

That’s not completely true, though. In fact, most of us have, in one way or another, experienced the value of a cheerleader – someone who rallies support and unites people in their passion for a singular goal. Whether that goal is cheering the team on to win, or supporting an individual to reach greater heights, a good cheerleader can help us muster the courage or summons the last little bit of energy to carry us over the winning line.

You may have heard the analogy of life as a race in which you, ultimately, only compete with yourself, but just like a marathon runner might need some encouragement to continue, we all sometimes need a little bit of support when we hit an uphill in the race of life – we all could do with a little bit of cheering on, and at times, cheering up.

This is one of the primary functions of friendship – to support our friends when things are tough, to encourage and inspire them when life throws them a curve ball. Just like some friends will help you make lemonade and others will bring tequila when you’re dealing with the proverbial lemons of life, different friends play different parts in our lives.

You wouldn’t necessarily expect your shopping buddy to share your passion for animal welfare or the environment – although I personally expect my friends to care about these issues and I not-so-silently judge them if they don’t. The point is, we have different friends for different reasons, as each person we resonate with fulfills some role in our lives.

Anais Nin put it beautifully when she said, “Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.”

As much as we try to ignore the opinions of others, those opinions always seem to find their way into our heads. The trick here is to prevent them from strengthening your inner critic’s snarky messages but rather to listen to the positive feedback we do get – after all, research shows that it takes ten positive comments to cancel out one single negative comment.

One of the ways to deal with the (sometimes negative) opinion of others is to grow a rhinoceros skin – or to cover ourselves in duck feathers so that criticism can simply glide off us. The unintended consequence of this approach can be that we disconnect ourselves from others. If we have a wall around your heart, it becomes very difficult for other people to truly connect with us.

As a life coach, one of my favorite interactions with clients is to question every single thought doesn’t serve that client – limiting beliefs as well as the opinions of others. Is it really true? How does your body react to the thought – does it expand or constrict? Can you find any evidence to suggest that the thought might not be true? Is there a way you can rephrase that thought so that it better represents your own truth?

Another way of dealing with what “other people” say or think about you, is to dissect your mental image of those “people”. If you visualize “other people”, whether they’re your family, friends, random strangers, the members of the local bowling club or whatever other group of “other people” you envision, how many faces can you identify at any one point? I’m betting no more than a handful, right? The rest of the “other people” are a bit like computer-generated images (CGI), replications of the faces you can identify.

So what would happen if you change the faces in the front seat? If you choose your own personal cheerleaders to represent the opinions of others to you, how would that make your body react? I’m guessing if the “other people” are in our corner, their opinions feel less judgmental and more supportive. It might even energize you – the way in which only a team of dedicated cheerleaders could.

And while you’re at it – consider those people who regard you as their cheerleader. They too will benefit from your team of mental supporters…