Do you have trouble sticking to your goals? Do you ever feel like you could succeed if you only had the proper motivation? The solution to your problem may be social networking. Don’t die laughing yet – just hear me out.
Feeling Unmotivated? Facebook!
I recently came across an article in Time discussing the normative effect of Facebook updates on marathoning. I’d been hearing about the record setting numbers of marathon participants for some time (not to mention noticing it in the crowded starting corrals), so it was strange have to come across the Time piece at the same time that I spotted an old post by Mark Hayward. Check out the second bullet on Mark’s list: “Have you done something unique such as complete a marathon…?” Could it really be Facebook’s fault that, in the mere 18 months since Mark’s post was written, marathoning had gone from being “unique” to being the domain of Joe Everyman?
Don’t misunderstand me, I think it’s fantastic that so many Americans are finally getting off the couch and putting their bodies to use in the way that we were intended. But could the modern popularity of marathoning, a notoriously difficult task, really be be explained away by a couple of tweets? And, if so, would it be possible to intentionally leverage social networking to your motivational advantage?
It’s Good to Have Friends
It turns out that the idea isn’t as far-fetched as you might imagine. Normative social influence is an extremely well documented phenomenon. In a nutshell, when people that you identify as your peers appear to believe or behave in a certain way, you are far more likely to believe or behave similarly – even if you wouldn’t outside of the context of that social group. In other words, if all your Facebook friends suddenly appear to be running, you’re more likely to become a runner yourself even if you hate running.
Moreover, social impact theory tells us that this effect is stronger if:
- You closely identify with the group – like one would suspect you might with your “friends”
- You are exposed to the group frequently – as in your daily (or hourly) Facebook logon
- The group is large – and it certainly feels like there are more running posts in my newsfeed every day
So, as you read an ever increasing number of posts from runners in your newsfeed, you begin to develop the feeling that everyone else is doing it except you. And in the world of normative social influence, the logical outcome is conformity. You find yourself running as well.
Be a Trend-Setter
If this all sounds incredibly one-sided, it doesn’t have to be. Think about this. Every time you post or tweet about your goals, you exert the same descriptive normative influence on your friends. As they start to succumb, their conformity reinforces the norm which, in turn, makes you more likely to stay the course. Additionally, as people like or post encouraging comments on your goal-oriented updates, the injunctive normative influence makes it that much more likely that you will stick to your posted goals.
So, the next time you feel like you could use a little motivation or some help sticking to your goals (fitness or otherwise), commit publicly. Make like The Beatles and, “get by with a little help from [your] friends.”