It doesn’t matter what age you are as you read this article, you’ve probably had a concern or two about getting older. If you’re in your teens, you might be worried about getting wrinkly when you’re 30. If you’re in your 30s, you might be worried about getting heart disease when you’re 50. If you’re in your 50s, you might be worried about falling and breaking a hip when you’re 70.
With each decade of life, a different concern about health arises. Luckily (or unluckily, depending on how you look at it), as we get older, those concerns become more profound and higher level, meaning we need to pay more deliberate attention to how we’re taking care of ourselves. Having a clear complexion may be top priority at 18, but at 48, your skin texture doesn’t matter as much if you have aches, pains and zero energy.
Although it may seem like it, this article is not going to be a depressing articulation of what it means to get older. On the contrary, after you read the following content, you should have a different outlook about what’s possible. You should feel as though, no matter what age you are, you can become the best version of yourself, in fitness and in health.
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Why We Believe the Things That We Do
The beliefs that we have as a society about fitness and health did not show up on accident. They had to start somewhere in order to become engrained in our society as facts. But where did they come from? And how did we come to have beliefs that may be causing our health to deteriorate faster than it would otherwise?
Those are both very deep questions. To understand the answer to either one, you must first have a basic understanding of influence.
If you’ve been lucky enough, you’ve had a chance to read Robert Cialdini’s book Influence (if you haven’t read it, you should). In the book, Cialdini suggests that there are 6 principles of influence that we can utilize in order to persuade others to do or believe what we want:
#1) Social Proof – Think of testimonials for a product or before and after pictures for a diet.
#2) Commitment – Have you ever been asked by someone selling something “Do you like your house to be clean?”. If you said “Yes”, you’ve already committed to buying the product in their mind.
#3) Reciprocation – This is the typical “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine”.
#4) Liking – Are you more likely to believe your best friend, or a total stranger? Usually you’ll believe the friend because you like them more.
#5) Authority – Typically, the only time you’ll believe a stranger over a friend is if they have authority. Like a doctor telling you to eat a low-fat diet to lower your risk of heart disease.
#6) Scarcity – Have you ever watched an infomercial that had a countdown clock in the bottom corner of the screen? They’re trying to make you believe you only have that much time left to get this once-in-a-lifetime deal.
I’m sure as you think through your lifetime, you can come up with more than a few examples when you were influenced through each one of these principles. At Thriveology, for instance, we count on lots of social proof to show people how becoming fit and healthy can change their life. This is an instance where influence is being used to the greater good.
Other times, as is the case fot health and fitness, we develop beliefs about what’s possible based on the a different kind of influence, even when those beliefs are flat out lies. But, as Adolf Hitler once said, you can get anybody to believe a lie if you say it loud enough and long enough.
How We’re Influenced to Believe the Myths of Health & Fitness
When it comes to the 6 principles that we covered above, there are 3 in particular that cause us to believe the health myths that we have today. Let’s take a look at each principle one-by-one so you can get a better grasp on how you’re being influenced by those around you.
#1) Social Proof – The first principle that influences our health beliefs is, of course #1, social proof. Think of social proof as the model on the front of a fitness magazine. When you look at that model, you think that in order to be considered healthy and fit you have to look that way.
Same can be said for diet and exercise programs. Think of the last time you saw an advertisement or before/after picture expousing the results of the latest, greatest diet. That image ingrained the belief that you have to achieve that level of transformation in order to be successful. And if you don’t get there, you’re a failure. Not a great foundation to build a house of health and fitness on, right?
#2) Liking – The second principle that persuades our health beliefs is liking. Let me start by saying, your friends and family are well-intentioned. No matter what their opinion is about health and fitness, they hold it and convey it with your best interest in mind.
With that said, 99% of people in America no little to nothing about getting in shape, losing weight, or aging properly. They only know what they read in People Magazine or saw on the morning news. Why do you think we have obesity, diabetes, dementia, Alzheimer’s and many other non-communicable diseases running rampant in our society?
When Aunt Sallie notices that you’ve put on some weight and she says “well, hunny, you should try that fasting diet” you believe her because…well…she’s your aunt and you trust her opinion? When your best friend tells you that spinning is the best workout ever, you believe her because…well…she’s your best friend, why would she lie to you?
#3) Authority – Which brings us to our final influencing principle, which is probably the most destructive of all, and that’s authority. The authority that I’m typically speaking of in this context is your doctor. Doctors are the main health authority in most people’s lives. We assume that, when it comes to improving our health, doctor knows best. After all, with all of that education and those fancy degrees, they have to know everything about improving your health, right?
Well, maybe. I’m certainly not here to tell you that doctors don’t know what they’re talking about. No doubt they are all much smarter than me. The issue comes in believing what the doctor says about the areas that they have no authority in.
Nutrition, for instance, is one of those areas. Just think. To become a doctor, it takes an unfathomable amount of hours. And how much formal nutrition education do they get in that amount of time? About 12 hours worth…and that’s on the high side. Would you trust a person that said “I’ve studied nutrition for 12 hours, let me help you”? No. So why do you trust your doctor when they give you nutrition advice? Well, they’re a doctor, why would they lie?
Never Fear, There is a Better Way
I know what you’re thinking. It sounds like I want you to become a zealot, isolate your friends and family, and not listen to your doctor, all in the name of not being influenced to believe the myths about your health.
While I certainly wouldn’t be against that…okay, just kidding. But seriously, there is a process that you can go through so that you don’t fall victim to the influences of society. Some of the things that we learn about our health are actually super useful. Flossing, for instance, seems to be one of those things that can literally alter your health for the better.
But hearing something and THINKING it’s true, and KNOWING that it’s true are 2 different things. So, the next time you have a conversation with someone, or you feel yourself being pulled into the grasp of social proof, follow these 3 steps to decide if what you’re being convinced of is true.
#1) Ask “How do you know this is true?”
If you’re sitting with someone, and they may a factual statement about health in anyway, you should feel comfortable asking them how they know that statement to be a fact. Even if it’s your doctor.
Why should you ask this question? Because, if they do know that the statement is a fact, they will have no problem giving you enough evidence to prove their stance. While, on the other hand, if they’re really using their opinion as a statement of fact, they may say something like “I read it in a magazine” or “because I said so” or “that’s just what they say”. Who is “they” anyway?
#2) Do your own research
I’m a big fan of figuring things out for yourself. After all, if you can’t trust you, who can you trust? This isn’t to say that you should be become an expert in all things health and fitness related. However, if someone tells you that your metabolism will slow down as you get older, no matter what, you can do a quick Google search to find out real quick if that’s a fact.
#3) Ask a Trusted Advisor
If you’re not the type of person who likes to fact-check themselves, the next best thing you can do is ask a trusted advisor. Now, in this sense, what I’m talking about is a trusted advisor in the field of which your question covers.
For instance, you’re not going to ask your accountant about dieting advice. Like we talked about above with the doctor, just because the accountant knows numbers and has a fancy degree, doesn’t mean they can tell you what to eat.
A trusted advisor must live in the field that you’re seeking wisdom on. If you want to know about nutrition, ask a nutritionist or personal trainer. If you want to know about fitness, ask a personal trainer or strength coach. If you want to know about healing an injury, ask a chiropractor or physical therapist.
There’s a saying that goes something like this, “you can either live by intention or exist by default”. If you take everyone’s word as fact, you are existing by default. It takes no effort to believe everything you see or hear. What takes effort is knowing that you know is a fact. And that is living with intention.
Know what you want to know and go to the right authority to find out the facts. Only then can you start to understand the truth about what’s possible in your life.