Don’t you just hate those people who constantly feel the need to inform the entire Internet every time they work out – complete with their latest mileage stats and a booty-flaunting selfie?
Especially annoying are the humble-brags: “Ugh…I’m gonna be sore tonight after running a 10k in 28 minutes! Wish I were in better shape!” or “Two minutes shy of my personal best for marathons. Finished in 3 hours, 7 minutes.”
On the flip side, there may actually be solid science backing of the practice of posting a play-by-play of your fitness escapades on social media. Why? Well, part of it is that we don’t want to look like hypocrites to the outside world.
If we post about our commitment to getting in shape, and then we go out to dinner with friends and eat fried chicken, we look hypocritical, which makes us feel embarrassed. So posting about our athletic feats holds us accountable to others. It’s the reason I posted on Facebook the minute I decided to run a half marathon. I knew there was no backing out now!
But it turns out, it’s more complicated than that.
Follow me here for a second… Since I landed a job writing for this site, I’ve lost 12 pounds. While a variety of factors contributed to this, one is that it makes me feel like a hypocrite to write about the importance of eating kale and then go scarf down an éclair. Even if nobody knows but me…
So it’s not just that we’re afraid of looking like hypocrites to others. It’s that we don’t want to look like hypocrites to ourselves.
Weird? Maybe. But science says it’s legit.
What does this have to do with psychology?
It’s called the theory of Cognitive Dissonance. What this means: “we experience mental stress or discomfort when we hold two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values at the same time, or are confronted with new information that conflicts with our existing beliefs, ideas, or values.” When this happens, we try to reduce this dissonance and avoid situations likely to increase it. In other words, we don’t like to disagree with ourselves.
So, if we post about how we tore it up at the gym, but then hit Mickey D’s, we feel like we’re contradicting ourselves. Our actions told us “I’m a person who strives to be fit,” but our subsequent actions tell us “I must not care that much about being fit.” We want to be consistent with our previous image. Even if we’re alone in the proverbial forest.
Aristotle may not have called it Cognitive Dissonance, but he certainly understood the principal when he wrote about the importance of habit and its ability to quite literally transform who we are. We think about how our feelings and thoughts influence our actions, but our actions (or habits) similarly influence our feelings and thoughts, which over time become our character and identity.
Okay, enough academia.
What I’m trying to say is, that you officially have my permission to post the hell out of your pilates sesh, tweet the spandex photos to your thousands of Twitter followers, and humble-brag about your sore muscles.
If anyone calls you out on it, tell them science has your back!