The herd mentality is certainly nothing new. Many of us grew up with our parents asking us, “If one of your friends jumped off a cliff, would you do the same?” Back then it was more commonly called peer pressure. What ever you choose to call it, peer pressure, herd mentality, mob mentality, or having pack mentality, it all boils down to the same thing, that we are influenced by the people around us.
Sometimes having herd mentality can be advantageous, if it drives you to do something positive that maybe you wouldn’t otherwise do on your own. Likewise, the herd mentality can be detrimental if it pushes you to do things that are unsafe or just not right for you at the moment. With the increase in social media platforms, the herd mentality has increased hugely in the last 5-10 years because we can now see what others are doing around the world, not just in our little corner of the world.
One way I deal with herd mentality as a runner is by realizing that everyone is different and what may work for one person may not work for me. Likewise, what may have worked at one point in my life may not always work for me. For example, I run half marathons and have had the goal of running a half marathon in all fifty states in the US for many years now.
If I let fomo (fear of missing out) get to me, I would sign up for more races than I currently do, based on what my fellow runners are doing. The SeaWheeze Half Marathon in Vancouver looks like an amazing race and I know several people who have run it. The website even claims: “SeaWheeze isn’t your average half marathon. In fact, it may just be the most breathtakingly beautiful and ridiculously fun half marathon in the world.” How could I possibly not run this race?!
Quite simply, my body (and my wallet) can only handle a few half marathons a year. Although I used to run four half marathons a year (one every season), I’m currently running three a year because I’ve run all of the southern states during the winter months and am not willing to run a half marathon in say Minnesota in February! If I were to run SeaWheeze, that’s one less state I can run in to make my goal. I’m up to 42 states so I feel like it’s critical to not get off-focus at this point.
Herd mentality can work to your advantage if you need a little nudge or push. For example, if you’re an evening runner and you’ve had a particularly rough day at work and are just not in the mood to run after work. You check Instagram and notice that someone you follow just ran 5 miles and had “one of the best runs ever” despite having a hard time getting out the door, and they were so glad they took that first step and went for a run. You may see this and think, “OK. If she can do it, so can I” and go on to have a good run, although maybe not “one of the best runs ever” but a good run is better than no run, right?
When taken to the extreme, though, herd mentality can be bad. Say you planned on running 4 miles because that’s what was in your training plan for that day, but you saw on Strava that your friend just ran 5.5 miles. You decide to run 5.5 miles as well and you feel great afterwards, so you think that was a good thing after all. Then the next day you’re supposed to take a rest day but your friend just ran 4 miles, and you decide to run 4 miles as well. You continue down this path for several days which turn into a couple of weeks and that’s when the wheels start to fall off. You’ve been pushing yourself too hard for too long and it all comes crashing down. You think maybe you just need to take a rest day, but even after a day off you develop a nagging pain in your foot. That nagging pain gets worse and before you know it you have a full-blown running injury and have to take some serious time off now.
On the flip side of herd mentality is our influence on others. Every post we put out there on social media is viewed by someone and sometimes many people. We may not even realize how much we influence other runners. Someone else may be on the receiving end of that post you put on Instagram about running 18 miles even though you had a fever and cold and “probably shouldn’t have gone for that run.”
I always try to think before I post and use the rule of thumb that if it’s not something I wouldn’t want put on the front page of my local newspaper, I probably shouldn’t post it. Beyond that, though, I try to think how what I’m posting might be interpreted by others. Would I recommend that someone run 18 miles when they were sick with a fever? No, so I probably shouldn’t post something like that, let alone actually do that. There’s nothing badass about not making good decisions for your body and your health.
I’m not trying to be all preachy here. I was just thinking about this one day when I was running and how no one really talks about this subject. It seems like it’s gotten worse over the years because of Instagram and Facebook, or I guess it’s just more obvious.
What do you all think? Are you effected by the herd mentality because of social media or do you just stick to your own running schedule regardless of what you see others doing?