The Internet Gold Standard

You can read my full meet report here.

I try to engage a lot on social media and here on Elitefts, and so I’m aware of the Internet criticism of my lifts at Record Breakers yesterday. The knee-jerk reaction to criticism is always self-defense, but I know damn well I’m not going to change any opinions on the Internet. Fortunately, I don't need to. I really like Dave’s quote about this:

Judges - judge, lifters - lift, and critics - criticize.

In other words, the Internet Gold Standard™ ain’t my problem (or any other lifter's problem), it’s yours.

Here’s the thing: it’s actually a big problem if you want to get better as a lifter. In almost exactly the same way that thinking about your “genetic potential” makes you weaker, finding ways to explain — in your own head or on the Internet — why other people aren’t really all that hot undermines your actual progress. Unfortunately, I believe that modern social media platforms actually encourage this type of thinking. Here’s why:

Validation-Seeking Behavior

When I first starting actively using social media for more than just staying in touch with people I know in real life, I planned on just posting some of my lifts and explaining a little bit about why I train the way I do. I mean, hey — I’ve been at this a while, and I’ve had some success, and I’m in a really cool Ph.D. program that gives me a very unique perspective on strength sports. That’s worth sharing.

Pretty quickly I realized that way more people paid attention to what I did when I did it with my shirt off. And as soon as I realized that, things started to get out of hand. I got caught up in the excitement of getting those sweet, sweet Internet points — followers, likes, upvotes, whatever. Doesn’t matter. Everyone loves points, any kind of points, and more is always better, right?

A post shared by Ben Pollack (@phdeadlift) on

Obviously, more is not always better. In this case, chasing Internet points meant derailing my own training, doing stupid shit in the gym instead of sticking to the (admittedly boring, but effective) plan. In other cases, it might mean you go from spending a couple of minutes a day playing Candy Crush or Farmville to shelling out hundreds or even thousands of dollars of hard-earned cash on getting the next super-secret bonus or exclusive DLC. Or it might mean your IG posts go from actual progress pictures to softcore porn you shot with your cellphone in a public restroom.

Academic studies agree that most people are highly motivated to seek Internet points. The “more is better” mentality is virtually inherent to a capitalistic society, but beyond that, most social media platforms structure their points in a way that encourages association with positive feelings, like goal achievement, higher status affiliation, and solidarity within a group. There’s a reason Instagram represents points with hearts, and why Facebook doesn’t have a “dislike” button — they both want to encourage association of points with positive emotions. And yet, when people chase after points, they’re more likely to experience negative outcomes — even very serious ones, like depression. Other people might begin to equate themselves with their Internet personas – and trust me, your number of Instagram followers has zero relevance with regard to who you are as a person.

Scarcity and Abundance

All that’s very interesting, but it doesn’t explain why, when someone else is getting points, we so often feel the need to discredit them. After all, when someone else gets points, you don’t lose any — and yet, it often feels like that’s exactly the case. Some popular authors have described the issue as one of mindset, and argued that the difference in feelings can be attributed to whether you see “success” as a scarce resource or an abundant one.

Most people think of a scarcity mindset as the “zero-sum” one: there’s a fixed amount of success, or winning, or points, and in order for me to get more, I have to take them from you. The abundance mindset, in contrast, isn’t based on a limited amount of resources, and so both you and I can have more of what we want without harming or inhibiting each other in any way. (While the abundance mindset seems “better,” and oftentimes is, it’s also important to note that a scarcity mindset can have some major benefits. For example, having a limited amount of resources can encourage more careful decisionmaking and increased creativity.)

It’s blatantly obvious that both social media and strength sports involve no scarcity of resources. My getting stronger or getting internet points in no way, shape, or form makes you weaker or takes away from your Internet points. But it often feels that way, because, in my opinion, of the inherently quantifiable nature of both. When you’re constantly thinking in terms of pounds or kilos or number of likes, you’re naturally going to think of those numbers in relation to something else — and that something else is usually the number of pounds or kilos or likes of the guy right next to you.

So if he has more, it feels like you have less, even when in reality that’s not the case. And since it’s not so easy to just go out and add more to your own number, we instead try to take away from his, in any way possible — by downvoting, discrediting, or just ignoring the other guy completely. After all, if I can’t see his pounds or his points, all of a sudden, it’ll feel like I have more again!

What To Do

Sadly, it’s hard to escape any of this entirely. Social media is by now deeply embedded in modern society, and foregoing any use of it means sacrificing availability of information, valuable connections and opportunities with others, and is damned hard to explain when someone asks why they can’t add you on Facebook.

The best we can do is to be aware of how social media influences our behavior, and try to own that behavior. For the record, my lifts were all to competition standard – below parallel, paused, and locked out – and I’m proud of them, and besides my third bench, I wouldn’t change a thing about them. If you disagree, that’s cool — it won’t change the fact that I had a great time at Record Breakers and that I finally feel some sense of satisfaction from my powerlifting resume. I’m not going to waste my time responding to any critics individually – I’m going to spend my time making myself better and strong(er), and helping people who want to do the same.

Loading Comments... Loading Comments...