Don’t Try This at Home

The wonders and dangers of sensational Internet videos.

By Kellee Katagi

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If you ever need a dose of humility, be thankful for the Internet. There, you will never fail to find video evidence that anything you can do, someone else can do better. Think you’re quick at doing math in your head? Check out this guy, who calls himself a mathemagician. Or you’re a pretty good pianist? Not as good as this 3-year-old, I’d bet.

And then there are the unbelievable fitness feats. Like the humble sauce this Swiss skier serves up with his phenomenal balance skills. And the are-you-kidding-me strength this soldier showcases during just another day at the gym. Youtube and social media brim with these modern-day equivalents of the 19th century sideshow, and for the most part, they’re just good, gee-whiz fun—a tribute to the remarkable creation that is a human being. They can even be inspiring proof that wherever you’re at right now in your fitness pursuits or sports skills, it’s possible to go higher, stronger and faster.

But, if you’re not on your guard, these videos can pose dangers, too. First, the physical dangers, a.k.a. the Superman syndrome. This is where you watch cool stuff online and try to recreate it on your own—often wrapping up with a pulled muscle or a trip to the ER. Don’t be that person. Enjoy the video, let it inspire you, but know your limits and progress gradually toward any goal.

Second is the emotional danger of comparison. A 2017 study in the journal Cyberpsychology concluded (unsurprisingly) that people who compared themselves to others online ultimately had lower self-esteem. Instead of allowing videos to inspire us, it’s easy to have the opposite reaction and conclude that we’re comparatively weak and hopelessly mediocre, so why don’t we just retire to the couch and have a cookie (not speaking from experience or anything—that’s a total hypothetical).

Instead of this social comparison, psychologists recommend a healthier technique called a temporal comparison, in which you compare yourself to where you’ve been in the past and where you hope to be in the future, versus where you stand compared to other people. In other words, watch the crazy videos, but just be you, progress in your own time and your own way, and who knows—maybe I’ll be marveling at you in the next installment of People Are Awesome.

Kellee Katagi is one of those strange souls who actually enjoys working out for the sake of working out. She’s spent most of her 20-plus-year writing and editing career covering fitness, nutrition and travel, as well as outdoor sports ranging from skiing to spelunking to street luge (yes, that’s a thing).

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