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The controversy around the topic of social media seems never-ending. Despite the relative newness of technological developments, lists of harms and benefits that social media users can inflict upon themselves are all over the internet. So, what is the real risk? How does it affect fitness professionals and athletes?
Interestingly, these questions have penetrated the scientific field and inspired an impressive number of research papers. While one would expect a confirmation of dangers, psychologists point to quite the contrary. Apparently, in most cases, the pros often overweigh the cons, if you know the right approach. So, let's get a better look.
Here's the deal, most of the content posted online demonstrates the best aspects of one's lifestyle. People tend to portray themselves in the most flattering ways. Only the best of the workouts, meals, outfits, days, or ideas go online. It is easy to mistakenly assume the lives of others are impeccable, while we are constantly dealing with mundane struggles. We tend to make these comparisons regularly and almost automatically; it is a part of human nature.
To put it in more scientific words, these are upward and downward comparisons. What's the difference? When we make the upward comparisons, we perceive others as fitter, richer, luckier, and simply better in general. While during downward comparisons, we find ourselves to be superior.
As you might have already guessed, it is during upward comparisons that most of the social media ‘hate' creeps in. Psychologists confirm that this is when the most envy is experienced: "an unpleasant and often painful blend of feelings characterized by inferiority, hostility, and resentment caused by comparison with a person or group of persons who possess something we desire." Not only it is uncomfortable to experience these feelings on their own, but they also lead to a wide range of negative consequences and disrupt our well-being.
Here's where it all becomes interesting. Psychologists have discovered that there is absolutely no need to stay away from these online platforms altogether. Instead, we can learn how to use them to enhance our wellbeing. Apparently, the easiest way to make upward comparisons rarer, and instead promote motivation and happiness is to become an ACTIVE user of social media!
Let's pause here and elaborate on what active or passive use of social media means. It's quite simple: active users are the ones who, themselves, tend to share some content online. They post pictures, update status pages, and share tweets and stories. As for the passive users, these are the ones who stick to scrolling the feed only. There is nothing wrong with being either type of a user, per se. However, being a passive user increases the risk of upward comparisons. In contrast, being an active user decreases it.
Long story short, sharing a flattering workout selfie with your friends may convince you in your progress, while silently observing other people's successful shots will most likely do the opposite.
On ISSA blog, we have already noted the importance of motivating and engaging a client. Building a plan that goes beyond the gym is essential. Most of the nutritional or psychological work is in fact done outside of the gym. Thus, the correct use of social media can become a great tool.
Which path you will choose to follow truly depends on individual differences. Once you get to know your client better, you will find out what suits them the most. You may encourage them to share the journey on their personal profile or share their achievements on your own business page (with permission of course). Or, you may provide an online community space where your clients can interact and support each other.
It's a no brainer that social media can create and even strengthen social connections. Fitness professionals frequently use this tool to create communities where members can exchange thoughts and ideas about their common topics of interest. The mutual support that trainees get through these communities is highly valuable. Especially for those who lack self-confidence and often seek confirmation of progress from their surroundings. Not to mention, it offers a safe environment for sharing personal goals and achievements among each other, or maybe even pictures that the person would not want to expose elsewhere.
If you are a fitness trainer and don't already have an online space for your motivated, healthy community, create one now. The benefits of having one are endless, and dangers are truly minimal.
Psychology is a science of the human mind, and the mind is the most complex creations of all. So, be careful not to underestimate the individuality of each client and their preferences.
When researchers provide recommendations and advice, they rely on the results of the majority of tested people. However, the minority is no less important. There is a chance that the client you're working with belongs to that minority. In such cases, knowing and adjusting to their preferences is simple as long as you stay open to their own preferences and not just what's easy for you.
Finally, before you suggest any tool for motivation or help with a lack of self-confidence, make sure you have gathered enough information about the client. Stay within your scope of practice. Sometimes the reasons behind psychological difficulties are medical and you need to refer your clients to a medical professional.
Social media is just one of the tools you can use to motivate clients to help them achieve their goals. If you're interested in more way to promote healthy behavior change, check out the ISSA's transformation specialist course. You'll learn how to influence behavior patterns and help your clients maximize their overall wellbeing.
Verduyn, P., Ybarra, O., Résibois, M., Jonides, J., & Kross, E. (2017). Do social network sites enhance or undermine subjective well-being? A critical review. Social Issues and Policy Review, 11(1), 274-302. doi:10.1111/sipr.12033
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