Social media users, on average, let it run their lives, not the other way around. Their accounts and public profiles control them and they procrastinate by scrolling through newsfeeds looking for kicks and comparing their own life to that of their peers.
How are we getting it so wrong, and how do we change it?
Awareness of time
You are not going to live forever, so your time on this planet is finite. On your last day on earth as you’re thinking back over your life, will you remember all those TikTok memes or aspects of other people’s life you know everything about? No. It’s not important. Awarding social media scrolling with a significant chunk of your week is madness when put into perspective. Imagine what else you could do with that time.
When asking my networks about their social media habits, independent coffee shop owner Lydia Papaphilippopoulos said, “Without social media my phone wouldn’t be such a big part of my life. I might even leave it at home sometimes.” Freelance software consultant Philip Marsh said, “Social media has been around since the start of my formative years, but without it I definitely think I’d have more time in my life. I also think I would be more engaged with a smaller social set of friends.”
Set a timer. Install a blocking app. Put bigger gaps between account checks. Become aware of the urge to scroll and resist it. Distract yourself with something else. Have a higher purpose. Be so engaged in whatever else you are doing that you forget to check your profiles.
In an ideal world, scrolling social media means you keep up to date with your friends and feel happy for them. It means you keep up to date with people who you don’t know but would like to, and are inspired by them. That’s it. Comparing your life to others should not form part of it because it’s not real. Someone’s social media feed is a carefully edited showreel of their life and not the behind-the-scenes chaos.
But we’re struggling to think logically and sucked in to comparison. Business development manager Renna Mubarak-Drayner said, “Without social media I’d feel better about myself as I would not be comparing my life to other people’s. So maybe that means I would be happier.” Customer service representative Chloe Enticott said, “The pressure to be more or do more wouldn’t feel as immense. So I wouldn’t put myself down as much.”
Become aware of how you feel when you’re looking through your friends’ updates. Can you say, “Good for them!” and move on, without feeling pangs of envy? Practice it. Practice feeling happy for the people on your feed and let their success be a reminder that it’s possible for you too. But to find the success, you have to put your phone down.
Our attention spans are getting shorter and deep work is reserved for only the most disciplined. Focus is now currency; those with the most will win. Lack of ability to focus on work is costing progress, potential, and ambition. Lack of ability to focus on family is costing relationships and togetherness and bonding with kids and partners. I once saw someone check Facebook on their wedding day. Who else could they possibly need to know about? Everyone they cared about was literally in the room!
Mark Leruste, founder of the Unconventionalists, thinks that without social media he’d be, “more present with my kids and focused more on what I’m doing versus everyone else.” Creative agency founder Adam Butler felt he would be “less distracted and more centred” and sales and marketing director Philip Greer joked that he’d need “a different way of procrastinating” before suggesting “reading” or “staring” as alternatives.
Use whatever tools are at your disposal to get focus back, because once the habit has gone it’s difficult to re-develop. Set a pomodoro timer. Put your phone in another room. Wear a watch instead of checking your phone for the time. Clear your history and bookmarks so it’s not as easy to hop on Twitter. Stop looking for those short-term hits of oxytocin and focus on the glory that will come when you achieve what you’re working towards.
Are we ourselves, or are we our Instagram grids? The lines are becoming blurred. Sports therapist Max Hartman joked that without social media, there would be, “No holidays, no food, no lifting. No point if you don’t get the likes.” Jokes aside, what are you doing for yourself and what are you doing for the Gram? Are you traveling, training or visiting certain places because of the photos that you can share?
Global growth enabler Doug Lawrence differentiated between who you actually are versus the image you portray, saying that without social media, “‘Public’ persona would be an occasional concern. ‘Personal’ persona would still be daily.” PR specialist Dana Eble confessed that, “Half [her] personality is jokes from TikTok at this point!”
Project this forward thirty years, and we’ll look back at our lives with a sense of hollowness, that we did things because of how they would look to others rather than how they felt to us. It’s no way to live. If anything, I am more interested in those people who don’t regularly update their social media profiles. Where could they be and what could they be doing?
Not every interesting moment has to be shared and there’s no assumption that if you’re not posting you’re not doing anything. From a scene in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Walter waits for friend Sean to take a photo of a snow leopard. He asks, “When are you going to take it?” Sean responds, “Sometimes I don’t. If I have a moment, for me, personally, I don’t like to have the distraction of the camera. I just want to stay in it.” The best bits of your life don’t have to make your feed.
What’s the solution?
Social media is taking over our lives and making us feel worse, and we don’t all realise. We think it’s normal because everyone else is doing the same. The solution isn’t deleting your accounts and logging off forever. The solution is awareness and better habits. Hanging out with people who make you forget to check your phone. Leaving it later and later in the day before picking it up. Finding your true calling and getting stuck in with such a sense of purpose that wasting your time scrolling does not occur to you.
There are countless benefits to social media. It makes the world a smaller place, it helps communities form, messages spread, and levels the playing field for new businesses. But the benefits only outweigh the negatives when usage is intentional and controlled. Be your own rule enforcer to protect your mental health and energy, and take all the good parts without succumbing to the pitfalls.