The desire to be popular drives human behavior, yet it can be a gauche topic. In the fitness industry, it’s no secret that your popularity affects your paycheque. Discussions about popular trends, popular instructors, and popular brands can turn fitness professionals against one another. Being popular means that you can influence and guide other people’s behavior. So, why do we downplay the power of being popular?
Consciously or subconsciously, we’re all trying to improve our popularity and status. You may disagree or even recoil at the thought of this. The idea may conjure up painful childhood memories or bring to mind scenes from the movie “Mean Girls”.
Actively trying to increase your popularity may seem distasteful. The concept may feel shallow or unimportant. After all, being popular doesn’t mean right. It certainly doesn’t mean being nice. Some would even say that striving to be popular is more about status than substance.
The Evolution of Being Popular
Behavioral scientists trace the importance of being popular back tens of thousands of years. In the past, status hierarchy ensured your survival. Being popular was a survival mechanism. Evolution has made it so that our bodies respond dramatically to any sign that we might not have that status. As a result, we’re all still trying to be popular to one extent or another.
Today, the quest to be popular is synonymous with being liked, being successful, or being wanted. To be popular is to have influence. We all seek to have some influence over others. We wouldn’t be a part of this “change industry” called the fitness industry if we didn’t.
The desire to be popular is a normal human behavioral trait.
Duality in the Definition
Popularity can mean different things, and the distinction is important. The Oxford Dictionary defines popular as being “liked, admired, or enjoyed by many people or by a particular person or group”. It’s also defined as “intended for or suited to the taste, understanding, or means of the general public rather than specialists or intellectuals”.
Being popular doesn’t always mean appealing to the majority. Being popular can be about being well suited to a specific group. Humans are highly social creatures that thrive in situations where they feel they belong or have purpose. Being popular within a specific group of people means, you have contributed to an environment where people feel they belong.
Someone else’s popularity does not diminish yours.
Having Status vs. Seeking Status
Studies suggest that status itself is a fundamental driver of human behavior. People that seek status typically act in ways that will benefit themselves with little regard to how it might affect others. People that have status can use it for the greater good, focusing on altruism, generosity, and other behaviors that benefit the general public.
Within the fitness industry, if you are a popular instructor or trainer, you have the power to change people’s attitudes towards exercise, health, and wellness. Less than 20% of the population in North America belongs to a health club. That is a staggering amount of people that may not have the access, means, desire, or ability to engage in physical activity.
Consider using your influence, no matter how big or how small, to make a difference.
Us vs. Them
When discussing popular fitness trends, most fitness professionals can agree. Each year the American College of Sports Medicine releases their annual ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal. It’s a worldwide survey to determine industry trends by health fitness professionals. Ranking the popularity allows fitness professionals to understand which areas have greater significance and impact on consumers.
When we get more granular into specific brands, programs, or instructors, the dissension increases. Who and what services are provided turns fitness professionals against each other. Instructors and trainers downplay one way of doing things and insist that their way is better. But what if you’re wrong?
Confirmation bias, a closed mindset, and sometimes, even jealousy, can cause binary thought patterns where you believe your way is right and their way is wrong.
We Do Not Know What We Do Not Know
There is no shame in wanting to be more popular and influence people to lead healthier lives. The problem occurs when we believe we have all the answers without considering we have more to learn. Be open to observing the actions of the people that are leading the fitness industry.
Adam Grant, in his book, Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know, has this to say. “Recognizing our shortcomings opens the door to doubt. As we question our current understanding, we become curious about what information we are missing. That search leads us to new discoveries, which in turn maintain our humility by reinforcing how much we still have to learn. If knowledge is power, knowing what we don’t know is wisdom.”
“Is the desire for status a fundamental human motive? A review of the empirical literature” (Psychological Bulletin, Vol 141(3), May 2015),
“Status Check: What Does It Mean to Be Popular?” By Dave Nussbaum (Behavioural Scientist, September 16, 2017)
“Being Popular: Why it Consumes Teens and Continues to Affect Adults.” Deborah Farmer, Kris (KQED, Sep 19, 2017)
“We all want high social status.” University of California, Berkeley Haas School of Business. (ScienceDaily, 6 May 2015).
Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know, Adam Grant, 2021