Owen Thomas wrote in an amazed tone in The New York Times recently how he managed to lose 83 pounds using a mobile application. He used MyFitnessPal. The developers of the app discovered that users who exposed their calorie counts to friends lost 50% more weight than a typical user.
It seems obvious that a social network can help you make a change, but it is less clear how. Many cite social proof--looking to others for how to behave--as influential, but what better explains transformation is commitment and consistency.
As flaky as we sometimes think we are, human beings at a reptilian level are capable of committing and once they do, are surprisingly consistent. As Robert Cialdini in his book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion puts it:
"It is, quite simply, our nearly obsessive desire to be (and to appear) consistent with what we have already done. Once we have made a choice or taken a stand, we will encounter personal and interpersonal pressure to behave consistently with that commitment. "
The more public our commitment, the more pressure we feel to act according to our commitment and therefore appear consistent. It can become a virtuous (or destructive) cycle as according to Cialdini, "you can use small commitments to manipulate a person's self-image" and once you change a person's self-image you can get that person to behave in accordance with that new image--anything that would be consistent with this new view of herself.
So want to change your life? Make a specific commitment, use social media to broadcast it and use the internal pressure you then feel to get you to follow through. This in turn should cause you to see yourself in a new way and therefore keep you continuing to follow through.
While Mr. Thomas' experience demonstrates the power of this theory as applied to dieting, I see the possible applications everywhere. Like say struggling Hispanic high school students (they have the highest high school drop-out rate). Why not get them to publicly commit to going to college? Might more then go? There should be an app for that.
Commit to checking in with Alicia consistently at www.AliciaMorga.com