My three children have grown up in the Internet age and don’t remember what life was like before Facebook, Twitter and other social media were around. I remember it well. I remember the days when I didn’t have to compare myself to all the people on Facebook who have achieved so much in their lives.
It isn’t enough that many of these people are ultra-successful in their careers, they’re also ultra-successful in other areas of their lives, particularly in their exercise programs. I don’t know about your Facebook friends, but some of mine are regularly running marathons, completing Ironman triathlons, and swimming across the English Channel. Meanwhile, I’m flipping through my cable TV lineup, looking for an English channel.
Yes, some of my Facebook friends are in superb shape. It’s a wonder that they haven’t yet competed in the Olympic Games, but that’s only because they have very important jobs and can’t take time off to attend the Olympic trials.
I’m certain that if they had a chance to compete in the Olympics, lots of records would be broken, such as the record for most Facebook posts while running a marathon.
You might think that my Facebook friends are just using social media to brag about their exercise routines, but I don’t think so. I know these people well, and let me tell you, if they have a conceited bone in their bodies, they must be hiding it under their Nike Flex-Repel training shorts.
The main reason they share their sports accomplishments is not to brag, but to inspire me and others. In the middle of a marathon, when they take a selfie of themselves, they say to themselves, “If I post this on Facebook, maybe it will convince Melvin to get his butt off the couch and join me in the next marathon. And maybe he’ll be close enough to take pictures of me from another angle.”
Whenever they post something on Facebook or other social media, they’re taking a risk that people will think they’re showing off, that people won’t realize the motivational service they’re providing. They’re also taking a risk that researchers will conduct studies about them and make misleading conclusions.
Indeed, researchers at Brunel University in London conducted such a study and concluded that people who share their exercise routines on social media tend to be narcissists. Narcissists are people who are obsessed with themselves. (Donald Trump, in case you’re wondering, isn’t a narcissist. He’s the Narcissist-in-Chief.)
The main goal of these people is to brag about how much time they invest in their looks, according to the researchers. Status updates such as “Just completed a 10 km run through Mumbai” tend to attract many ‘likes,’ but not because people enjoy being updated about these accomplishments.
“Although our results suggest that narcissists’ bragging pays off because they receive more likes and comments to their status updates, it could be that their Facebook friends politely offer support while secretly disliking such egotistical displays,” said Dr. Tara Marshal, a psychology professor at Brunel University.
When my friends post something about their exercise routines, I immediately ‘like’ the post, partly because I want to encourage them and partly because I want Facebook to stop showing me the post over and over. (Unfortunately when Al Gore invented the Internet, he also created something that determines what Facebook shows me on my news feed, something called an “Al-Gore-Rhythm.”)
Am I annoyed by these posts? Well, it depends. If a friend is updating me about the marathon he just completed, I’m neither annoyed nor inspired. I know I’ll never run a marathon, so it doesn’t bother me that one of my friends is doing it. There is no voice in my head saying, “You should run a marathon, too, Melvin. You should run 26 miles and then spend 26 months recovering in the hospital.” (It still amazes me that any human can run a marathon. The most I’ve ever run is about five miles and that was with a stray dog chasing me.)
On the other hand, if a friend is updating me that he just went for a 20-minute run, then I’m a little annoyed, because I know that I could easily get myself off the couch, run for 20 minutes and post about it on Facebook.
Yes, with a little more effort and discipline, I could be the one whom everyone believes is a narcissist.