Beyond Nagging

In relation to physical activity, McCartney (2015) rightly calls for more policy-based work that aims to "create a society in which exercise is the easy, pleasant option;" However, potentially even more important is her assertion that:

"Exercise should be for the people, by the people. It should be about good living—less “good for you” and more “feel good.”

This is a powerful concept and one that is already pervasive, not so much in professional Public Health work, but in the many social media communities concerned with physical activity.

Excellent examples can be seen by following Twitter accounts such as @UKRunChat (https://twitter.com/UKRunChat) and @ThisGirlCanUK (https://twitter.com/ThisGirlCanUK). Each manage to effectively promote an active lifestyle not through nagging, or even through the promise of long term health gains. Rather, the focus is on a here and now ‘feel good factor’, as well as on community, friendship and building confidence in others.

The success of these social media movements can be explained, at least in part, through the fact that they positively influence two key drivers of behaviour change: ‘self efficacy’ and ‘perceived norms’.

First, within his Social Cognitive Theory, Bandura, (1977) suggests attention should be paid to the role of 'self efficacy' in attempts to encourage positive behaviour change. According to Bandura, self-efficacy is “the belief in one’s capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action required to manage prospective situations”. In other words, someone with perceived self-efficacy believes that they have the ability and resources to make a change and stick to it. If perceived self-efficacy is high, then research suggests behaviour is more likely to occur and more likely to be successful.

Second, the social media examples mentioned above successfully create a positive “perceived norm” around an active lifestyle. In his Theory of Reasoned Action, Fishbein (2008) asserts that adopting a certain set of behaviours (eg: becoming physically active) depends on the extent to an individual believes that others are engaging in that behaviour and the more one believes that those others think that behaviour is a 'socially desirable' thing.

Social media movements such as @uUKRunChat and @ThisGirlCanUK tell (and show) people that they are indeed able to maintain an active lifestyle. They reinforce that lifestyle by presenting us with other, positive examples of others (just like us) making the same changes and loving it. We feel empowered and accompanied, unlike nagging, which leaves us feeling downtrodden and very much alone.

 

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