Taking someone else’s goal

There are a lot of fads in the internet community.  For goal-oriented people, there are a lot of goals out there that people can latch on to.

Things like marathon training, whole30 (#2 doesn’t even know what that is.  No no, don’t tell me.*), early retirement, minimalism, and on and on and on.

Sometimes taking one of these outside goals leads to self-improvement and happy changes.  Often they seem to lead to unhappiness for those attempting things or guilt from those who don’t attempt them but are still part of the relevant communities.

Why do you think these things gain so much traction?

Is it because they’re great ideas and we just never thought about them before?  Is it because of peer pressure– everyone else is doing it?  Are we trying to fill up some void in our life?  Is it something about how human beings are social and like to follow Bellwethers?  A hope for quick cash from blog revenue?  (paypal to grumpyrumblings at gmail, in case you were wondering, though we are now BOTH gainfully employed and do not need it as much as your favorite charity does)


*too late–it’s kind of like a Paleo diet that you do for 30 days.  People who do it also tend to use the word “cleanse” a lot.**

**can you tell by the dated fads listed that this was another post pulled out of ancient drafts?  I think this one was from when minimalism was going through the PF community, not its most recent iteration through lifestyle blogs.***

***had to add this footnote because Whole30 is starting to make its way through the public finance internets!  They use words like “healing”.  Everything old is new again… with a different internet community.



19 Responses to “Taking someone else’s goal”

  1. becca Says:

    There’s some data on the positive effect of using social media in supporting physical activity interventions. It seems to be the sense of community- I don’t think anyone has shown they work better than e.g. weight watchers for people who could spend equivalent time on each. But the internet, being potentially asynchronous, allows more people to participate.

    I do wonder if social media could do the same things for personal finance… I don’t see why not, but I also don’t know anyone who is studying it. But then, it’s not my field either.

    I’m currently doing a twitter hashtag for working out (#sobtember). I’ve never tweeted much about my physical activity before this year, and it took several years of being exposed to it on twitter for me to pick it up. I don’t really love to read other people’s exercise stuff (though I don’t actively mind it either), so I feel like I’ve gone over to the dark side, a bit. I actually think it’s better on twitter when it becomes a Monthly Thing, because people who are part of my general interaction circles but actively rejecting exercise could simply mute the hashtag.

  2. Steph Says:

    Maybe the internet is just the new vehicle for fads. Fad diets, at least, have been around since before the internet – maybe they just run their course a little faster since you don’t have to look for printed material, or they’re more obvious bc facebook lets your friends shove them in your face?

    Or all of those things are people’s attempt to remove some chaos from their world, or at least to feel like they’re removing it. This article (http://www.salon.com/2015/05/03/diet_fads_are_destroying_us_paleo_gluten_free_and_the_lies_we_tell_ourselves_partner/) has a fascinating take on fad diets – people willfully ignore science because a diet fad like Paleo gives them a way to instill order and myth into their world. The article does try to say that it’s about a replacement for religion, though I’ve known plenty of Christians who follow the fads too (I spent a semester trying not to scream at some folks who couldn’t stop talking paleo and whole30 and anti-vax at small group meetings), but I think it’s in a similar category.

    • Debbie M Says:

      I agree that part of it is that people like to know what to do.

      Another part of it is that people like to have a mission. It feels so good to have goals and accomplish them. This is why video games are so popular, too.

      And if you also get ideas and support on social media, you get to feel you belong, too. It’s win-win!

      Unless the goals suck. Ideally you pick goals that are good for you and good for the world. Poor suicide bombers have picked super terrible goals.

  3. Leigh Says:

    I think that figuring out what your yourself wants is a really hard problem, so copying other people’s goals seems easier. Or other people’s goals bring out some level of anxiety in ourselves.

    I feel like the few first years out of college, I was just happy with the job I had and didn’t really think about trying to find a job that would connect more with my passions/interests than just general software development.

  4. bogart Says:

    Interesting question. I certainly don’t think the general trend is anything new (predates the internet).

    How have people (in general, over time) learned what is possible and what we should want and strive for (and to what extent is striving to achieve what others want for us or think we should want, part of that)? Seems to be a pretty social process, overall, though I would guess for most of human history (and present), resource, geographic, and communications restraints (among others) limited the choice set more, often much more.

  5. Linda Says:

    Nice to see a link to bellwether; I loved that book.

  6. xykademiqz Says:

    Are we trying to fill up some void in our life?

    This. These fads give one the illusion of control.

    Several of my colleagues have taken up gluten-free diets. I cannot believe that they all have gluten intolerance, since they are not genetically but only clique-wise related. 2/3 of these colleagues also have other ascetic or otherwise highly control-freakish tendencies.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I was SO GLAD when the wheat allergy went away after pregnancy and even more glad when DC2 grew out of hers. That given, I super appreciated that GF was the current trend while we were avoiding wheat– made life a *lot* easier with less vomit for me and fewer rashes for hir.

  7. Bardiac Says:

    I only want to use “cleanse” in the context of what I do for my palette between tastings of something yummy.

  8. chacha1 Says:

    Following fads is just part of human nature. See the great Dutch Tulip bubble for a classic example from hundreds of years ago. Fashion – all about fads. Cars – all about fads. Even houses: subway tile, anyone?

    My theory on it is that most people are either afraid of original thinking (lizard brain: doing something unfamiliar is evolutionarily risky) or incapable of it. In the U.S., our public education system does not exactly encourage the training of the analytical muscle, nor does it foster free play of the imagination. So we do what we see others do. We are primates, after all.

    • becca Says:

      Subway tile is clearly heinous, and it is powerful trendiness indeed that can convince anyone to go with it ;-)

      It’s important to remember that in many cases the battle of natural selection went not to the strongest, nor to the smartest, but instead to the guy that ate unfamiliar berries after someone else had tested them.

      • chacha1 Says:

        Yeah, but a lot of times, the guy who tested the berries croaked. :-) So it was the bystander who watched what happened, not the experimenter, who generally came out ahead!

  9. Jenny F. Scientist Says:

    I vividly remember the food fads of my childhood. Low fat! Low sugar! Low fat AND low sugar! No wait, eat butter! Give up dairy! Maybe the cycle just goes faster now?

    My theory is that the Internet has given people the delusion that because medicine/science is imperfect they should instead ‘research’ on Google and so when they feel unhappy or stuck they look for an answer online, where information propagates faster. But see also the Great Revival, slap bracelets, and Timothy Leary: people are surprisingly susceptible to fads (per Connie Willis, yes. I just re-read that book.)

  10. Revanche Says:

    I agree with most that it’s just easier to jump on bandwagons with the internet. If you want to, that is. I enjoy picking up some momentum from someone doing a thing I had on my list but hadn’t gotten around to. It’s a little boost. But it’s pleasant because I’m never inspired to jump on a bandwagon I didn’t already want to join. I have exactly no time for manufactured discomfort.

  11. kt Says:

    Agree with Jenny F Scientist re “My theory is that the Internet has given people the delusion that because medicine/science is imperfect they should instead ‘research’ on Google and so when they feel unhappy or stuck they look for an answer online,” because I do it myself. I have a physician in the family so I ask questions about a lot of health things, and often the answer is, “We can’t do anything for that” or “We would recommend an MRI but the recommended treatment is the same no matter what it shows.” So I do go to the internet, because I like to read other peoples’ ideas, and I certainly get some fad answers (coconut oil solves everything!) but sometimes they work (I have tested coconut oil on my sunburns and where I apply it, the redness goes down a bit faster). The fact that sometimes the delusion gives good results perpetuates it :)

    But back to goals: sometimes taking someone else’s goal is interesting. I have a friend who loves running (surely a fad if I ever saw one, right?). She wanted me to do a race with her. I set it as a goal for myself, this thing that was someone else’s goal. I learned some things about myself: I can run x distance, I can enjoy trail running, I don’t enjoy road running, I don’t like squishy shoes. Now I know those things and can make an informed decision about whether to do the next running race (no to most, yes if it’s short and in a very pretty place).

    The other thing taking someone else’s goal is about is having something to talk about. My running experiment gave me something to talk about with my running friend. The people at my gym doing some nutrition challenge are all talking about their nutrition challenge (and I’m not, because I’m not doing it, so I’m not in the in-group). It’s like going to see a movie someone else wants to see. Sometimes it’s worth it just to do something with the someone else.

    Guilt or unhappiness…. meh. I think people who feel really guilty or unhappy about some month-long challenge would be guilty or unhappy about something else. (Or maybe it’s a bunch of social cues I don’t get.) I think the Whole30, for instance, is a fine way to challenge yourself to cook regularly if you’re into all-in challenges rather than “change one tiny habit” challenges, but getting super guilty or unhappy is a signal that something else is going on, like you’re a perfectionist, or you hate your body, or you hate cooking, or you really are addicted to sugar, or you’re really invested in keeping up with someone else’s priorities, or… Learn something from it and move on. These are self-imposed challenges even if you’re stealing someone else’s goals — take them just as seriously as you want to and no more!

  12. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    “Why do only the awful things become fads? I thought. Eye-rolling and Barbie and bread pudding. Why never chocolate cheesecake or thinking for yourself?”
    ― Connie Willis, Bellwether

  13. Rented life Says:

    The one IRL person I know who does whole30 owns a gym so she wrote about it as the whole group of them do it together. And posts food ideas. I’ll never do a whole30 (pry that coffee out of my cold dead hands thank you) but I borrow people’s food ideas because good tasting food is good tasting no matter the fad. But she’s the only person I know who also eats normal the rest of the time.

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