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SOCIAL MEDIA: THE EXTERNAL MOTIVATOR

September 2, 2019

 

Today I ran a personal best during my yearly 5K “fitness test”. Funny thing is I wasn’t even planning on doing the test today. I originally wanted to go for a nice easy bike ride, but for some reason I talked myself into doing the run. After a grueling finish, I was happy to see my time was 21 seconds better than my previous attempt.

 

As I walked home gloating in my new victory I had the urge to share it to the world. I rarely use the Strava app, using it sparingly to get some feedback on my progress so when I received a notification that someone “liked it” I was wanting to let more people know. But then I caught myself, and tried to see this urge a bit more objectively. What is the reason to post this accomplishment? If no one knew about it, does the personal best mean nothing?

 

It's an interesting dilemma. Some studies show that sharing your exercise with others (such as on Facebook) can improve motivation to exercise since you feel a sense of relatedness and connection to others, one of the 3 pillars of self-determination theory which is the dominant theory of individual motivation; feeling a sense of autonomy, competence, and relatedness. However, there is also a dark side to this sharing. One of the authors of the above study reports: 

 

"When interactions are not positive – actions such a negative comments about your own exercise behaviour or attempt, or even negative social comparison with others exercise endeavors – it can lead to feeling disconnected from others, which, in turn, negatively affects exercise motivation."

 

And that's not the only thing that is a negative aspect of sharing your achievements. One study found that when individuals set a goal that is closely tied to their identity and then share their intentions with other people, they are actually less likely to achieve the goal. In the specific study the authors were looking at whether or not scientists are more likely to write their papers if they tell their colleagues about their intentions. Low and behold, the more they talked about the action the less likely they were to actually do it. This is because we get a very similar dopamine hit from saying we are going to do something compared to when we actually do it. It's a cheaper way to get our fix!

 

"One study found that when individuals set a goal that is closely tied to their identity and then share their intentions with other people, they are actually less likely to achieve the goal."

 

As I pondered whether or not to post my new accomplishment out to the world, I thought about this idea of identity. Am I posting this to enhance an idealized version of my identity? Was it really me doing the running, or was it someone else? Working through my personal philosophy and values I got clear on my intentions behind exercise. Health is one of the 5 core pillars of my life and thus exercise is part of the process in living up to this value. Because that is clear, I can defeat the notion of the self that wants to create a falsified image of myself, aka., that I am a super fit person who does exercise all the time (I certainly don’t exercise all the time). 

 

I am not saying to not share the things you enjoy. Go ahead, it might even make you motivated to go out and do it again. But be aware that this is a form of external motivation. It is reliant on things outside of yourself and it tends to be short lived. People who have goals that are internally motivated, or in other words ones that they do just for the sheer enjoyment, are more likely to stick with it for the long run. Because if something is external to you, it is tough to control. Not everyone is going to like you, or for that matter care that you just ran a 5 k PB (Yea I did!!) so by seeking external approval we are barking up the wrong tree. So next time you are about to hit post ask yourself; why am I posting this? And see where the question takes you.

 

It is becoming more evident that we are overly relying on other people's opinions to define who we are. The rise of social media has perhaps created more connection with others but it has also come with the cost of losing connection with ourselves. If you think you could benefit from a healthier relationship with social media, check out my previous article on this topic. 

 

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