Peer Pressure and Homework: It’s Not Just for Kids!


Remember the peer-pressure lectures from parents and teachers back when you were in high school?  We were told to listen to our gut, have an escape plan, and otherwise be prepared for when we were confronted with that uncomfortable feeling that occurs when social pressure kicks in.

As a culture, we focus very little on peer pressure with adults, and mostly that is rightly so.  By the time we become functioning grown-ups, there’s an assumption that we have learned to navigate social forces and have developed enough of a personal core that we are not susceptible to pressure from the outside when it comes to doing things that are illegal, immoral, unproductive, or likely to cause us harm.  Uh oh.

If we are honest with ourselves, we would probably admit that we are faced with incidents of peer pressure constantly in our adult lives.  If I had a dime for every time someone persisted in offering me a glass of wine, even after my telling them that I don’t drink wine—heck that I’m allergic to wine—I’d be rolling in cash.  The same is true for the number of times I’ve been encouraged to stay out late and ignore my longstanding self-awareness that I am a much better parent, wife, friend, athlete, writer, you name it, when I adhere to a certain bedtime routine.

Of course, peer pressure is not always negative.  Heck, I spent a year of life writing a book called The Power of Community, documenting the many positive effects of group experiences and support on our overall well-being.  Part of being in a group and being a member of a community is appreciating and buying into certain group norms.  If we are enriched by being a member of a religious community, we have to believe in and practice at least some aspects of that religion.  If our community support comes from playing on a team, we must be engaging in the sport and doing enough behind the scenes that we are able to physically participate.  Part of the soul of connectedness is shared norms, goals, and even values.  It is easy to see, then, that our need for connection and our desire for community, which are generally positive and wonderful things about being human, might also make us susceptible to peer pressure.

For you CrossFitters out there: have you ever been worried that your nutrition choices would be frowned upon by your fellow gym members?  Ever questioned why you decided to go for that one-rep-max back squat when you walked into class that day feeling tired and knowing that your back is vulnerable to injury?  Ever pushed yourself in a workout with high-volume pull-ups, only to wonder afterwards why, in the moment, it seemed worth tearing your hands, even though you are a hairdresser and use your hands for your livelihood?

How about you runners?  Have you ever showed up to a running group workout and sprinted on a day when your gut told you that your body needed longer, less intense pieces?  Have you ever purchased a running shoe because all of the best-looking runners in your group have them, and not because you’ve done your homework about the benefits of such a shoe for your running goals and your arch structure?  Maybe you’re a mountain biker who has gotten burned, having taken on a dangerous course against your own best judgment, because your buddies were all gung-ho to do it.

Perhaps you’re a member of a book club—a great way to find community and keep your mind active.  Have you ever held back your opinion because you realized it didn’t jive with the group consensus as the discussion unfolded?  Or perhaps your thing is girls’ nights out.  What do you do when the conversation unexpectedly turns to politics and you realize your penchants differ from those of the alpha member of the social group?  For you parents out there—who among you has registered your child for an activity simply because it seemed like “the thing to do” and it seemed your child would be left out of some critical life experience at THE best place in town at having such an experience?  Anyone willing to admit THAT one?

There are plenty of other examples of how even the most positive of group associations can pressure people to do things that are counter to their best interests at the time.  Is being a member of a CrossFit gym generally a great thing that is highly likely to improve one’s fitness, functional capacity, and overall health and wellbeing?  Absolutely.  Is being part of a running group likely to help its members get out onto the trails more often and increase their enjoyment of their sport?  Yes.

But I think we do ourselves a disservice if we don’t occasionally reflect on the ways in which social pressures might override our inner voices, even as the super-evolved, self-esteem holding adults we fashion ourselves to be.  If we don’t pay attention to such forces, we are likely to get hurt doing more advanced movements, lifting heavier weights, and running steeper trails, than our bodies are prepared to take on—maybe ever, or maybe just on any given day.

The next time you’re out with your buddies and you know you’ll be driving home, rethink that third drink they are encouraging you to have.  For you CrossFitters–when you’re at the gym next time the workout “Grace” is programmed, check in with your body and your stats and ask yourself how reasonable and intelligent it would be to try to do that workout as prescribed.  When you’re out on a ski trip and your crew is joking that you’re mentally weaker now that you’ve had a kid, it behooves you to question their desire to have you join them on that big, bad run of the mountain.  Your kid needs you home in one piece.

Here comes the homework part.  Being prepared and armed with knowledge, self-confidence, and conviction can help us avoid the pitfalls of social pressure when it threatens to work against us.  Just like we hope our teens will choose their wardrobe based on their own comfort and style and not a drive to fit in, we should make our own choices of gear, nutrition programs, workouts, etc, based on our own needs and guided by self-education.  Just like we hope our kids will implement “escape” strategies when drugs appear at a party, we, too, might want to have some of those strategies of our own.  How do we leave a party when it’s hopping if we need to function well at life the next day?  How do we adhere to our training plan or our designated-driver status and refuse those drinks, even when we fell like a heel for doing so?  Commitment, confidence, management of the fear of being left out, and knowing there will be other times for such imbibing, should we choose it.

Doing homework means knowing ourselves, knowing our goals and desires well enough to make choices that are consistent with them, even when confronted with social pressures to the contrary.  Being caught up in the energy of a group can be detrimental to our training if it leads to injury.  Lifting heavy weight is cool if it feels good and our bodies are ready.  But we’ve all seen the nastiness that can come when someone goes too heavy.  Running super fast is fun if our bodies are up for it, but a pulled hamstring sucks.  High-rep handstand-ups are an excellent party trick, but neck injuries are no joke.

So next time you’re at the gym, on the trails, hitting the slopes, or partying with friends, call upon that inner teenager, dial in those lectures of your past, and make decisions that are consistent with who you are and what your goals are, for training and for life.  Whatever seems so awesome in the moment because of social pressure just might not feel so awesome tomorrow or the next day.  No need to learn that lesson yet again, the hard way.


  1. Great post. Sage advice for all ages!

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