About a year ago, I experienced a major shift in how I use and consume social media. While it didn’t happen all at once—nor was it a groundbreaking discovery—I began to realize how some of my daily online habits were making me unhappy. The internet was no longer sparking joy and I needed to get to the bottom of why.
In order to do this, I took a long, hard look at my usage, who I followed (who I didn’t), and the habits I had formed that were probably unhealthy. Perhaps the biggest part of this *journey* was actually admitting that social media was no longer a trivial time-filler but was, in fact, an important part of my life… and that’s totally okay; it’s 2019, and there’s no signs of it going away.
When considering the takeaways of my technological self-reflection, two lessons stand out as having the most lasting effect on my relationship, attitude, and general feelings towards social media.
Destroy the timeline, forget about benchmarks, and stop comparing
This is by far the most important aspect of my changed social media behavior and has made me much more cognizant of what I put into the universe (social media and otherwise). At some point, it was decided that there were certain “life goals” a person should reach after a given amount of time, and those events had to happen in a particular order. While this is far from the truth in the grand scheme of things, my Instagram and Facebook feeds beg to differ.
As a human in my late 20’s, I’ve become all too aware that a lot of people around me are getting engaged, married, having children, and buying real estate. I’ve also become extremely aware that I have yet to do any of those things—as if they are the only milestones to celebrate—and have wondered, many times, if I’d done something wrong to not be at that point in my life. It was an internal conversation I kept coming back to. This comparison mentality—benchmark anxiety, if you will—had become a problem.
How did I overcome the feeling that I was constantly getting lapped in the game of life? I stopped comparing my behind-the-scenes to other people’s highlight reel. While social comparison is thought to be an inherent instinct, you can control how and when you do it. There were times where I literally had to talk myself out of comparing my status in life to someone’s Instagram or Facebook post by repeating certain phrases to myself, such as:
- Most people only share the good, exciting, tangible moments [on social media]
- Give less power to what people think
- Timelines are not one size fits all
After internalizing these words of affirmation, I eventually started to value social media a little less and focus on my own life a little more.
Which brings me to my next point…
Post less, live more
When I think back to three years ago, squarely in the middle of my 20’s, I was caught up in the idea that everything needed to be shared. In fact, when Instagram launched the story feature in 2016, it was geared at sharing the in-between moments— everything that wasn’t being posted on our timelines. As a self-proclaimed “open book,” I took very warmly to this idea. While I wasn’t sharing every nitty-gritty detail of my day-to-day, I was seeking out opportunities and moments that I felt would make good content, for no good reason (other than a bit of attention).
Narrator: It was not (always) good content.
Looking back, I was mostly attempting to drive a particular narrative about myself through documenting a lot for the world (read: Instagram and Snapchat followers) to see. This went on for some time—and notably during a period where I wasn’t in the greatest space, personally or professionally— but when I started to place less significance on social media, I began to reach for my phone less and generally became less interested in sharing the inconsequential or frivolous parts of my days. In fact, I realized that there’s a beauty to being mysterious AF… or at least thinking you are.
Considering the why behind a post before you hit submit may seem silly or over the top; however, slowing down and being intentional is a takeaway that can easily lend itself to other parts of your life.
All of this is not to say that I’ve stopped using social media entirely. My feeds are alive and well and if I want to share something—be it a pretty sunset or a selfie—I do. What’s changed is my attitude, and I challenge whoever is reading this to take a step back and reflect on how your social media feeds really make you feel, and decide whether you need to consider a different approach.