The best antidote for perfectionism is a commitment to be better one step at a time. No advancement is too small, no step insignificant. But those aren’t the moments we see as we scroll our social media feeds 10, 20, or 100 times a day. Because I am passionate about human potential and growth, almost every product that crosses my feed is related to potential and performance on some level. My friend and I joke that 'they' are listening to our conversations...the products that show up on our feeds right after we chat are just too well marketed for it to be a coincidence. The thoughts and quotes and perfect pictures of the highlight reel of life fill in the rest of the space, and you have the perfect recipe for overwhelm. And yet I come back every day, posting on my story daily, taking part in the great social experiment that is Facebook and Instagram.
I do many other things to guard my consciousness and discipline my thought process but Monday, my mind was clear after a workout and the full realization that Facebook and Instagram were down hit me, and I paused to take it in. I noticed the slowdown in my brain and it felt blissful. I went back to a time when it was just me, and the connections that I made with people were one on one, which are still my favorite kind. I love uncovering layer after layer of someone’s story, when they are ready to tell it. Compared to that experience, social media feels jarring and shallow. The irony with all this sharing of information about our lives, is that we are lonelier as a population than we were in the past, not something that I would attribute solely to social media, but definitely a contributing factor. I texted my kids and a few other college students asking them if they had any thoughts on the matter…I got back some sarcastic jokes…”it’s the end of the world mom”, which of course made me laugh out loud, I know they have enough papers to write so when I ask these questions I don’t actually expect a deeply philosophical response. One of them chimed in saying that she and her roommates had been talking about it, checking their phones over and over again, to see what they were missing, noting how conditioned they had become to want to see whatever was coming across their feed first, in short order, before it became old news.
Behaviorally, most of us are guilty of the mindless scrolling that keeps us procrastinating, numbing whatever thought or feeling may be ailing us at the moment with that dopamine hit that comes from our feed, or feeling a sense of overwhelm as ideas, pictures, and products fill our consciousness. It’s no surprise that the growing interest in mindfulness practice coincides with our social media addiction. The first is trying to help us return to ourselves, the latter, especially if we don’t participate in the first, is pulling us away. Then when you couple the thought that the algorithm is dividing us, grouping us with like minds rather than exposing us to different views or opposing ideas, we are understanding less, with shorter attention spans than we had in the past. I wonder why the algorithm can’t be changed to do the opposite, so that we could be more easily informed of the flip side of an argument, the other side of the story, or an opinion different than our own. My mind always has a way of finding it’s way back to the optimistic side of life and because I believe in living exactly where my feet are planted today, social media is a part of that picture, so the question becomes how we handle it, rather than letting it handle us. Here are a few ideas and practices that I have come up with that help me keep it all in perspective:
Consciously choose the amount of time, and schedule the time you want to spend on scrolling or returning DM’s. With smartphones, we have all become accustomed to quick responses and having information at our fingertips and we forget that we are in charge of our schedules, and instead our impulses and buzzing alerts run our life. Before social media, there were other challenges that pulled on our ability to be present, this is just the latest one, and there will be more. So use the current reality to train the underlying habit of being present with the people around you, and dedicate specific time to build new connections that originate online.
Dedicate time, whether a hour or two or a day or a week to detoxing, consciously choose to stay off, and read a book or talk with a friend instead. Create real downtime for yourself and notice how your nervous system decompresses with the space you create between you and the social media universe.
Drill down on the connections that you are introduced to via social media. They may be the first layer of something that can become a passion. If you notice you don’t find interests that provide you with an avenue for growth on your feed, that is something you have the power to change just by paying attention to different things. Your feed is a snapshot of what captures your attention, if you don’t think it is helping you grow, change it.
In the end, I am so grateful for the real connection and learning that results from the time I’ve spent in this alternate dimension, because I pulled on the thread of an an initial introduction to a concept or human. The knowledge and friendships that have happened in this space for me have often led to profound understanding. Once again, life is what we make it by where we choose to focus. Honing that skill will always be important. I’ve made “friends” and learned things from their honest intention to help the world that would have been much harder for me to find and grasp without social media. Most of these are people I have never met, a few have I met in passing, and even fewer I have now shared meals with and turned into what I would call real connections. We live in an age of so much information, where it seems like the algorithm rules…keep thinking for yourself. Understand the current environment and find the courage to be you, independent of what the social stratosphere registers. The world needs your original thinking, don’t shy away from it.
When we look up from our scrolling, take a deep breath, and notice the real people and stories going on around us, we learn that they are always far from perfect but I’m drawn to them like a magnet. So post the highlights, but know that we are so much deeper and richer for the moments in life that we will never post, where our character is tested and real growth happens. The foundation of real optimism lies in how we react in the most ‘unpostable’ moments and our ability to adapt to the truth that life will never be perfect, but can always be better…sometimes in the tiniest steps, and others in giant leaps. Once we know this, we’ll experience a million moments that are worthy of our highlight roll…whether that’s the one in our head, or we decide to share it is completely up to us.
With Love & Optimism,