What To Say When Someone Brags About Working Out & You Just Don't Care

Photographed by Andi Elloway.
Sometimes, it feels like the Kardashians are trolling us with their workout Snapchats. I'll be minding my own business, tapping through stories, and then I see Kourtney, Khloe, and Kim squatting, sweating, and jump-roping on a basketball court. And then I feel guilty about not working out myself.
Plenty of people post about their workouts on social media, for a number of reasons, and that's their prerogative. In fact, many folks who post workout selfies do so not because they're showing off, but because celebrating small victories helps motivate them to keep going — and maybe they hope that motivation rubs off on some of their followers. But regardless of intentions, sometimes it can feel like their posts aren't meant to inspire you, and are just rubbing their success and discipline in your face. Humblebrags are actually pretty transparent, and a 2015 study found that people really don't like it when someone tries to humblebrag, because it's clearly a self-promotional strategy. So seeing posts like, "I feel amazing after my 10-mile run!!!!" or "Just casually slayed my morning bootcamp and it's not even 6 a.m.!!!!!" can feel like a personal attack, regardless of whether the person meant it that way.
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So yes — the workout post can sometimes be the worst. But the truth is, your reaction is probably more about you than it is about them. Even though someone's post or comment might seem obnoxious, think about why you feel so annoyed, suggests Kendra Knight, PhD, assistant professor of communication at DePaul University, who studies communication and relationships. "On one hand, someone's bragging might lead us to engage in a negative self-to-other comparison, resulting in feelings of envy or frustration," Dr. Knight says. For example, if you see a Kardashian Snapping their workout, it's only natural to compare yourself to them, and feel like you're not as fit or motivated as they are.
You might have a gut reaction to roll your eyes and use the sarcastic Kristen Wiig Bridesmaids line, "You dooooo?" or a cool, "Nice" in response. Or you'll feel tempted to send a screenshot of the post to a friend so you can get someone to commiserate, she says. "In our less-assured moments, we might respond to our negative feelings in an antagonistic way; antisocial responses to envy include belittling the other or becoming defensive," Dr. Knight says. "Even if we don't feel envious, it might annoy us that someone is taking time out of our day to detail their physical fitness regimen."
Again, people who dish about their exercise routine truly might not be doing it for your reaction. A 2012 study found that people like to share information about themselves because they find it "intrinsically rewarding." Dr. Knight says it can be helpful to think about something you perceive as humblebragging as a "bid for connection," rather than a way to isolate you. Dr. Knight cites relationship expert John Gottman, who believes that it's crucial to "turn towards" a partner when they seek our attention, interest, or approval through these kinds of bids. To a degree, the same can be said for casual relationships, she says. "In other words, recognise that they are seeking our attention and make an attempt to emotionally connect with them."
If someone says something to your face, or sends you a personal message about their workouts, and you have to respond, what should you say? "Resist the urge to assume that they are trying to demonstrate superiority," Dr. Knight says. "Even if they are, becoming defensive just plays into their hand." Instead, "turn towards" them and acknowledge that they are talking about something they care about, and say something encouraging, she says. You don't have to gush, but Dr. Knight suggests you say, "Cool, good luck," or "You must be working very hard to reach your goal."
At the end of the day, humans want to be seen, Dr. Knight says. "Although sometimes they go about it in an awkward way, it's not necessarily an affront to you." Even though it's not your responsibility to praise someone for their workout, "fortunately, it doesn't cost very much to give somebody a little praise." If seeing the Kardashians' posts about working out are pissing you off, just unfollow them. As for the people you actually know IRL, the good news is if you do take the time to answer them, "it might fill up the person enough that they will leave you alone," Dr. Knight says.
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