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  • Beth Bradford

Social media won't give you the approval you seek

A man posted in a Zwift Facebook group several screenshots of his latest accomplishment--The PRL Full. Evidently this is a 100-mile ride--a little more than that. He was happy to obtain this final "route badge"--what is the virtual version of a participation trophy. 


I see a lot of these conversations on Zwift--trying to get this route badge or that one. I also see conversations about wanting this jersey after doing a specific ride or race series. I, myself, worked for six Saturdays to get my beloved Norseman jersey, and strangely enough, people didn't treat me differently. I still went to work regularly and no one even noticed.


It's said that a tree that falls in the woods doesn't make a sound if no one is there to hear it. Indeed, that's a metaphor because everything creates sound waves, even if we don't hear them. I often see this perspective, though, when people post on social media about their accomplishments. 


I used to do it, too. When I would do a race, I would spend so much energy on social media posting how excited I was before a race. I would post a pre-race meal or prep. I would get a shot before the start. I wanted a shot after the race, preferably at the finish. Then I would scour the internet for hours looking for race results, even though I knew I might have achieved a podium finish. I wanted to post the race results somewhere.

We didn't do this before social media.

I remember in 1999 I did my first marathon. Each week of training was hard, but I knew it was important to finish each long run and training run in order to sustain myself for 26.2 miles. I savored every moment of the process--the flight to Chicago, the pre-race pasta dinner, the freezing cold start. Back then, we were moving from film cameras to digital cameras. Not everyone had one, including me. Thankfully I got some good pictures of my friends and I at the finish. 

No one knew about it until I told them personally. I didn't have a blog. Social media hadn't quite taken off yet, and certainly no one I knew was using it.

I was happy to have course photographers capture images of me during the race. I ordered a few, and I had one mounted on a plaque. My first marathon--October 24, 1999--time of 5:05:16. It still sits in my room as a nice memento of the experience.



These days, we create blogs of our Ironman journey. We document every workout and post it on social media. Our lives are so much more about the external--how we seek approval of others. 

I honestly wonder if it's about fitness and health or our need for approval. 


The man who got his "final" route badge on Zwift--would he have done it if he didn't get the badge? It's not something he can mount on his wall--at least, I hope he hasn't framed his screenshot. And wasn't his achievement enough? Why did he feel the need to post it in the group?

Indeed, I think it's helpful for us to have support groups for a specific journey. I think it's great when I hear about people who started on Zwift completely out of shape, feeling sorry for themselves, with the intention of getting fit. Six months or so later, they turn their lives around. They lose weight and their health is improved. They encourage other people in their journey.


However, we can't live our lives looking for ways to improve how we look on social media and ignore what's going on in our actual life. I have seen firsthand people engaging in behaviors, staging pictures and looking for the crafty words to make their lives seem ideal and perfect. Rather than focusing on the ride or race itself--the process--they are thinking about how they will arrange the "right" post to magnify the "likes."

We have to be careful not to use these groups to fulfill our dependency and needs. Support is one thing, but needing validation for achievements is another. I'm sure this man must have been happy to have reached a specific milestone in his journey. Perhaps his wife wasn't happy that he took his entire holiday to reach it and he was looking for someone to congratulate him even if his wife didn't.


However, I wonder if he rode 100+ miles on the road without a fitness tracker if he would feel the same sense of accomplishment. If his intention was to train for a race, to achieve fitness, or lose weight, then he should feel proud. But was part of his pride tied to the actual game of Zwift--of getting the badge--and sharing it on social media? 


We get so caught up with sharing these badges/trophies, but they are meaningless if we lose perspective. Did you engage in this just for the badge or trophy, or are you doing this to work towards your overall health?


It's ok to go to extremes every once in a while, but we can't live there. Instead, we come back to moderation and focus on a more resilient, enduring perspective that will sustain us the rest of our lives.

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