5 Ways to Make Social Media Improve Your Training

Did social media do more harm than good to your mood and your training last year? We have a solution.

Hi, I’m Emily Beers and I’m a phone addict.

I always knew this about myself, but (confession) there was no hiding it this past year, as my phone started letting me know how many times I picked it up and went into scroll-mode each day.

While the time spent emailing or online searching were often work-related and justified, much of the rest of those hours were unproductive time or Facebook, Instagram or a dating app, which usually led to a dampened mood

Not only that, social media time certainly didn’t help my performance at the gym. I would check my phone between squat reps, and 10 minutes later I’d realize I only had 15 minutes left of training until my next client showed up.

If you’re into improving your health and fitness, maybe you can relate to feeling negative after a scrolling session. There are so many fit people to follow, and while some of whom might be inspiring, informative or entertaining, others lead you down a path of feeling guilty or inadequate.

One common experience many CrossFit athletes have admitted to me is how they let various people’s performance-based social media posts strip the joy they feel from their own accomplishments. 

Can you relate to this: 

You just put forth an effort during the CrossFit Open that you’re incredibly proud of, only to see some chick from the gym down the road around your same fitness level post a score that’s 50 reps higher than yours. The joy and satisfaction you felt immediately dwindles, as you’re left contemplating whether you should redo the workout, obsessing over your inadequacy

A while back, I interviewed Karen North, a clinical professor at the University of Southern California.  

She explained that we often compare ourselves to people we see as similar to ourselves—aka people in our relevant peer group. We tend to feel good about ourselves when we’re better than two-thirds of our relevant peer group, she explained. 

In the pre-social media days, this peer group was less in our face. We might run into these people a few times a year at various competitions, for example. But today, social media means our peer group is right there every single day, staring us down, and stripping our self-love. 

And the worst part is, it’s a losing game, because if and when we do conquer a peer group, there’s just another peer group waiting to be joined, meaning we end up on a permanent hamster wheel to nowhere (I know that’s what social media often feels like to me: The road to nowhere). I wrote this article for Precision Nutrition earlier this year about this exact topic.

So, what’s the solution?

For some, the answer is to delete social media entirely.

But to me, that just seems like a way of burying the problem under the rug. It’s 2020, and for many of us that’s just not a practical choice. I know much of my livelihood depends on it, and I’m not unique in this matter. 

Instead of going the cowardly route and deleting social media, consider taking these five steps to help social media help your life, as opposed to hurt it, in 2020.

Step 1: Assess whether you have a problem

Tim Ferriss suggests that instead of New Year’s resolutions this year, conduct a past year in review. 

He recommends going through your entire year and making a list of what events, moments, habits and decisions etc you made that led you to feel good. Conversely, figure out what you did that made you feel poorly or negatively in 2019.

If all those nights spent Netflixing all the while scrolling the feeds looking at people stronger and fitter than you led to negative emotions, it might be worth considering moving forward to Step 2. 

Step 2: Embrace what you’re willing to do

Take a close look at your life and your current priorities to help you discover your true training and nutrition intention.

I have discovered that often the negative feelings I have felt come down to my own guilt that I’m not willing to do what so-and-so appears to be willing to do.

For example, if you are constantly feeling guilty because someone on your IG feed seems to have endless energy to meal prep each week and cook healthy dinners for her family every single night of the week, it might not be that that person is so horrible to follow. It could just be that you feel guilty that you aren’t doing the same. Not only that, because you know you could never live up to what that person is able to do, you give up altogether on eating healthy 90 percent of the time. 

Similarly, if someone is annoying you with daily PR videos, it might not be the videos per se that are making you feel jealous. Maybe it’s because you have two kids and a full-time job and you’re simply struggling to maintain your fitness level, let alone go for new PRs.

I wrote this article about the importance of discovering your true intention recently. In short, many of us end up pretending to pursue goals we don’t really care that much about, or goals that are outdated or simply unrealistic for us at the moment. As a result, our daily actions are not aligned with our goals, which leaves us feeling frustrated and guilty. 

The point is, the problem might not be your actions. It could be your goals. And that’s OK. The moment you figure out your true purpose, you’ll be able to align your actions with your intention and can lose the guilty and embrace what you’re willing to do.

In terms of social media, doing this can be freeing. Now, the person you were jealous of who makes a production in the kitchen each day, can be a source of inspiration for those nights you do have time to cook a healthy meal for your family. And now, your likes on your friend’s daily PR videos will actually feel genuine.

Step 3: Spring clean your feeds

If you have completed the first two steps and still find yourself dealing with some negative emotions stemming from social media, it might be time to give your feeds a good old Marie Kondo-type clean up. 

If you have the time, go through each person on your feed and decide whether to keep or discard. Ask yourself whether they inspire you, make you laugh, teach you something valuable, or whether they’re still contributing to the comparison game or other negative emotions you’d rather not experience.

Or, you can just delete or unfollow as situations arise.

Though it might feel harsh to eliminate various people from your social media life, it’s not personal. That person isn’t doing anything wrong. But you gotta take care of you.

Step 4: Put your phone in prison

This might be hard for some, as we all love taking fitness videos of ourselves to share to the world, but give this a try: Leave your phone at home when you go to the gym (GASP!). Or when you head out to dinner, or when you go for a walk with a friend. 

I have done this a couple times lately and have found it to be incredibly useful. While it’s not practical to leave my phone at home every day, the handful of training sessions I have showed up phoneless have contributed to more productive and efficient sessions. 

Step 5: Turn it into a game

If you’re into CrossFit, you’re probably at least a little bit competitive. 

Figure out how much time you spent on your phone last year, and aim to improve upon it in 2020. Do it slowly and at a pace you’re comfortable with. 

For example, if you averaged three hours a day on your phone last year, aim to reduce this by 10 minutes each month over the course of the year. 

If I have learned anything about lifestyle changes in my decade as a coach it’s that, as much as we want this to be the case, they don’t happen quickly. Lasting change takes time, so stick to a manageable goal. And don’t beat yourself up if you mess up one day and spend too much time scrolling. Just get back on the train tomorrow. 

Bonus tip:

Journal about your process. 

Since doing the Tim Ferriss task a few weeks ago, I started to keep a journal of my phone usage each day and compare it to my mood. I have discovered a definite link between spending less time on both social media (and the dating apps) with how happy I was that day. And the happier I am, the better I seem to train at the gym. And the more productive I am at work. Interesting how it all ties in together. 

So, if you think social media is hurting your mood, and maybe even your training or your desire to cook healthier food, consider going through these five steps in 2020.

Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.

Emily Beers

Emily Beers

Emily Beers is a freelance health, fitness and nutrition writer. She has also been coaching fitness at MadLab School of Fitness in Vancouver, B.C. since 2009. A former college basketball player and rower, Emily became heavily involved in CrossFit after finishing her Masters degree in journalism at the University of Western Ontario. She competed at the 2014 CrossFit Games and also worked with CrossFit Inc.’s media team for 8 years. You can also find her work at Precision Nutrition, the Whole Life Challenge, OPEX, and a host of other fitness and nutrition companies and media outlets.

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