One of the many paradoxes of our modern life is the idea of seeking mindfulness while moving through mindless habits and situations. Life can, at times, leave us dry, empty and with a sense of dissatisfaction with who we are, with what we do with our time, with the way our bodies, homes and relationships look… And it’s no wonder! We live in digital times, where information is everywhere, right in front of our faces whether we want it or not. This information moves fast, changes constantly and is easily accessible and diverse.
It is part of our human nature to compare ourselves to others. After all, we learn everything we know from imitation: observing, copying and then assessing how well we did. Add to that, modern society seems tasked to sell us more: more of what we “are not yet,” more of what the other one is loving, more “happiness.” FOMO (fear of missing out) is a real stressor! And nothing pushes us to seek “more,” to imitate what we believe we are observing, than social media.
Our brains are not fully effective at understanding that we are looking at an image, at a representation most likely carefully chosen to highlight something that is not us entirely, rather a piece. Yet we have the tendency to see it as a whole, as a juicy representation of how perfect the lives of others can be.
So even if we are not consciously “comparing,” our brain is actively taking in those representations and creating a map, a guide of how things are looking out there… and things are looking pretty complex. There are way too many expectations waiting for us to tackle them: body, mind, family, work, health, parenting, cooking, traveling. In every single area we are actively receiving data telling us how a “good” and “desirable” life is supposed to look.
It’s a natural human instinct to judge our progress or success in life by seeing how we match up against others—what psychologist Leon Festinger called “social comparison theory” in the 1950s.
So, while social media has the potential to bring us together across continents, oceans and time zones – it also has the power to isolate us through its messaging.
And yes, if we are one of those human beings consciously working on our higher self through mindfulness we might not fall down the social media rabbit hole so fast…or so often; we might carefully watch our social media consumption, who and what we follow, and how much time we spend and for which purposes. We might find more inspiration and joy in the happy moments of our fellow humans.
Regardless of how mindful we are of our social media consumption, we are irrefutably active participants. And even though not every single thing we do has to be deep and full of purpose (yes, it’s ok to post a pic of a good meal or a random nice sunny day) it is also necessary for our personal growth and mental health to be conscious of what is going on in our mind when we embark into social media and mostly, what it is provoking in us. So here is the magic question: Is social media use making us stray away from the present moment? For example, are you present with friends but thinking about that other friend’s awesome pic you cannot wait to comment on? Or a political rant you got all worked up about? Or wondering which comments you have waiting on your latest post? Or busy staging the “perfect” photo? Remind yourself that virtual world is NOT the real world. It is not where most of your mind and time should go. Social media is doing its part perpetuating the unattainable idea of perfection and that idea robs us from the beauty of the present.
So, go ahead and reflect on your social media use. Perhaps turn off notifications. Give yourself a day (or week?) without social media. Time your consumption, going online just for your specific need. Or delete the app in your phone to avoid constant visits. And for your mind’s sake, be aware of how much of your precious time is going into the bottomless scrolling pit. You may be surprised with the results.
Promote this idea with friends, encouraging them to take breaks. Model for the little ones around you. Make sure to stay far away from electronics during meal times and strive to never talk to children or teens while on your phone. Experiencing people, and our connections to them, is one of the most beloved experiences we’ll have in life. Do not let a non-existent, virtual world take away from it.
So here is to more face to face interactions, more personal calls, more focus on our lives and less contemplation of the lives of others, more smelling the flowers and deep breaths and fewer pictures. More moments of being fully present with fewer screens. You and those around you will be glad to see you fully existing and hopefully they will join, too.