Through the fog: Some reflections on the influence social media has on our motivations and sense of self achievement in kayaking.
Recently I read an article by a pal of mine I boated with in Italy this year, and its safe to say he knows his stuff and has the experience to back it up.
His article, however, has upset a lot of people.
He seemingly (whether intentionally or not) attacked social media and those that use it as a form of self promotion.
I must admit I had to re-read it several times to try and work out if it was a targeted rant or not, and seems to have hit a nerve with a few folk! Whilst I am certainly one of those that is an active user of social media and use it to both create myself more business, and maintain support deals, I’ve come to the conclusion that I agree with the point that (I think) is being made, at least in part, which is social media can have a hugely negative impact on our lives if we allow it to.
His article sparked a deeper reflection for me on social media and the influence it has on my self and my own motivation for kayaking.
Media is no longer something we seek out. It’s no longer something we look for for entertainment at the weekends, or evenings. It’s pushed at us 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We are made instantly aware of new media every time we turn on a computer, or even when we don’t. We have notifications sent through devices we carry in our pockets that relentlessly buzz every time someone posts their latest video online. This has a much greater and wider psychosocial impact of course, one far beyond the scope of my meagre mind to write an article about, but the impact it has on our kayaking can be drastic and directly linked.
The point the article touched upon was that social media is often not real. A GoPro edit is exactly that, an edit, an augmented vision of the reality of the situation. Now don’t get me wrong, I love my gopro, and it’s no secret I post more than my fair share of edits over the internet (I’ll come back to that shortly). And I am also aware that there really is an “elite” who simply are as good as they look online, but social media creates illusions.
Perhaps the biggest illusion it creates is that it appears like everyone is going kayaking all the time. Whilst you’re stuck at work or with previous commitments, getting more frustrated and fed up that it appears like everyone is achieving more than you!
This is definitely something I can relate to.
This fear of missing out (or FOMO), can be a dangerous thing. It can lead us to become frustrated in our lives outside of kayaking, as well as within, the illusion that everyone is having more fun and leading a more active life than you. Creating a resentment to our working lives, and other commitments, and if we’re not careful damaging our relationships with family, friends and loved ones.
Social media has a huge impact on our motivations.
These can be roughly grouped under two titles;
Intrinsic: meaning that our goals are set primarily from self determination and a need to succeed for no other reason other than our own personal achievement.
Extrinsic: meaning our goals and success criteria are determined from outside influences.
Despite the often inspiring images pushed at us through our social media feeds, social media can lead us to feel down trodden, and under value the achievements we HAVE made; extrinsic influences over powering our intrinsic and self determined achievements.
Even if we have come back from a great day on the water, spirits high, maybe having achieved a great personal goal, it’s easy for us to flick on social media, see someone else running something harder, more dangerous, a cleaner line, more exotic location, etc. and and all of a sudden our achievements of the day dissipate, leaving a feeling of under achievement.
This shift of our focus is often unhealthy and negative, moving from what we achieved, instead now focused on what we DIDN’T achieve.
“Oh I wish I’d gone and done that river instead!”
“I should’ve run that drop as well!”
“Oh they ran that rapid much better than me”
All too familiar thoughts?
To those driven at least in part by by extrinsic motivation, (which I’d argue is a vast number of participants in our sport), social media has a great affect as we seek out extrinsic rewards.
Extrinsic rewards can be further categorized under two titles.
Tangible: meaning that the motivation is for physical reward, such as money or kayaking equipment.
Intangible: meaning that the reward is non-physical in nature, such as praise, recognition or admiration.
Social media can be used to gain both tangible and intangible rewards.
Those who seek tangible reward for their achievement are often involved in the higher end, and I would suggest are minority of participants. They are those who seek, or are involved in sponsorship from brands or are marketing services. It is this minority who often create the biggest illusion, as they are effectively just a marketing tool for for a brand. Now please don’t misunderstand, I don’t see that as a negative thing, in fact the opposite. However, they are those who are likely to push out more and more regular social media, and often a more polished product; but often the regularity of the posts isn’t a true reflection of the regularity of their kayaking (with a few exceptions of course), and perhaps is the greatest contributor to FOMO.
I would suggest most people however, are primarily seeking the intangible rewards from using social media. This can be an incredibly powerful motivational tool. Praise and admiration from peers is a powerful drug, and research has shown that to the brain, a compliment has just as much affect as monetary gifts (Sadata et al. 2012). What social media allows us to do is turn three to four compliments from friends and peers who witnessed the event, into hundreds, maybe even thousands! If we are saying that a compliment effects the brain in the same way as a being given money, then imagine how good it feels to get 20 quid from your Nan at Christmas, then times that by one thousand!
This might explain the rapid growth in popularity of social media.
This drive for intangible reward can become an almost drug like addiction. This again can lead to more and more social media being pushed out, thrown at us by people who may feel the need to ratify personal achievement through social media acceptance. Again breeding a feeling of FOMO due to the appearance that someone is doing more than you.
All of that being said, I feel that the motivation to gain intangible reward can be a powerful tool, and a form of self coaching. After all, we already use compliments and positive encouragement within our own coaching practices, so why not boost that?
If harnessed and use appropriately, the drive for greater social media presence could lead to great improvements made in personal performance, and the media itself a way of quantifying some of our successes.
We could bring in a wider discussion on motivations at this stage, as well as explore social media as a coaching tool, but I will save that for another piece at some stage!
So is social media a bad thing?
Whilst I stated at the start of this post about my agreement with the point in my pal’s article, and I still do agree, I also think it can be immensely positive for many reasons, some already discussed.
As already stated, I myself am a big contributor to social media and do so for a combination of reasons. The first (although not my main motivation) is that I am a marketing tool. I have been lucky enough that several brands wish to help support me in my personal and professional development. For this, I am eternally grateful. For starters, it allows me to afford equipment that I otherwise couldn’t. But it is a two-way street. I have to give something back, otherwise there would be no gain from the support offered.
Secondly, and my primary reason, I love sharing my sport!
I have the best times in life when I’m on the river, or sea, with some great friends in a beautiful place and I’m pushing my personal boundaries! I want to share these experiences with everyone, to introduce them to the places I hold dear, and to inspire people to take up kayaking or discover a new location.
I love seeing videos of other people loving the sport, either within the higher echelons of the sport, or even just achieving personal goals and that inspires me to achieve more and to continually re-assess my own goals.
What we do have to always keep mindful of though, is to not let social media affect decision making and motivation. To be acutely aware of FOMO and reality.
AND to accept that we can’t have it all!
We have to work, we have to spend time with family, with friends. Otherwise we start to “un-tick boxes” within our “fulfilment criteria”, the list of things that lead us to live happy and fulfilling lives. It’s a fine balance between becoming inspired by social media, and letting it have a negative impact on our motivation.
So in round about conclusion; Enjoy social media, keep mindful of what it is and how it affects your motivation, and don’t let it fully determine your actions.
Enjoy kayaking for reasons outside of social media, and keep setting your own goals and aspirations, yet don’t shy away from it.
DO be inspired by it, and use it to inspire others. Help others find the sport you enjoy so much
And never forget that at the end of the day…kayaking is supposed to be fun!
Words: Luke Partridge