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on self improvement

In this post I write about

  • My personal relationship with Social Media
  • What happens in the brain when using social media
  • Some tips on how to use social media mindfully
  • Pinterest image with blogs title

    My last post on Instagram dates August last year, so more than a year ago. It would appear as if I have been inactive on the platform, but that’s not true. I have been spending more than 30 minutes per day there, and sometimes I hit that self-imposed limit already in the morning.
    I know this because an alert pops up after 30 minutes, something I decided to set up after my mother told she had it set up for herself (yes, not only my mother is giving me tips on how to use Instagram, she also has more followers than I do)

    You can set a time limit for yourself as well like this: 

    I like to post stories, and I like to scroll around. But as I try to become more and more aware of myself and my reactions to the world, I realized that every time I close the app, I’m feeling more anxious and more clouded in my mind than when I opened it.
     If fact, research has shown that social media addiction works in similar ways to drug addiction because it triggers the reward centers in the brain. Every time you receive a like, new follower, or comment, it stimulates the “feel good” hormone in the brain and, of course, you feel good. And, when you’re bored, it’s almost by instinct that you turn to your phone for another dose of dopamine in hopes to increase your mood.

    Here’s an interesting short video of how social media is affecting our brains: 

    So I’m addicted. 

    I pick up my phone almost without noticing it, and there I am, sneaking onto other people’s lives, the idyllic (and not so idyllic) places their travelling to, their children, their successful work projects, the houses they’re building, the art they’re making, quotes of inspiration, and so on. And the boredom that made me pick up the phone in the first place transforms into an underlying disappointment with my own life. Sometimes I’m more conscious of this disappointment than others. But the boredom, and the need to run away from it with social media, seems to keep increasing instead of diminishing.

    Much like drugs, one starts to build resistance and starts to need more and more of what creates a good feeling, and there’s often a stage when enough is never enough.

    But it is fun, I love photography, and I think photographs are charged with emotion, which makes looking at them very interesting.

    Photography helps people to see. - Berenice Abbott 1898-1991

    Even before Instagram, I was hooked on an “old” photography website – Flickr - and I used to find really amazing how people decided to capture themselves and their world, and I would spend hours delighting in the different perspectives. But it was different. Perhaps I could stay a minute or two appreciating the beauty and depth of a photograph, while on Instagram, it feels like a sort of fast consumption.

    In the case of social media, adding to the brain's chemical reaction, we’re basically practicing ungratefulness...

    ...we’re looking into other people’s lives and all we’re placing our attention is in that which we don’t have in our life.

    I long for the time when there was time to rejoice in the beauty of an image.

    So Instagram, in one hand, brought a piece of that joy to everyone’s pockets, but at the same time killed the beauty of stopping to appreciate all the tiny details and the deeper meaning(s) behind an image. After all, you’re just looking at your phone. Maybe while bored waiting, or maybe when just married... 

    a just married couple holding their phone next to each other

    This photograph is part of a series by the photographer Eric Pickersgill, who used Photoshop to removed the phones from the photographs, to show how terribly addicted we've become - check more of that series here.

    Do I think we should give up Instagram (or Social Media in general)?

    I’ve seen people experimenting with it and unfollowing everyone for a while. Which sounds daunting to someone like me (my zodiac sign is cancer, and I can get really attached to memories, so unfollowing and “losing people” sounds very daunting to me).

    They say it has freed up space in their minds, allowed them to become more creative than they have been before, and allowed them to express themselves in a freer way, as well. (Now that I write these words, I do feel like doing this experiment after all – why not?)* - See below, I actually did it.

    There are different ways to take on Instagram 

    One can decide to share bits of their life in a more or less unedited way, or one can take it as a creative project and create its own rules to abide. (Which in a way can become or feel restrictive and impair creativity.

    I’ve been focusing on Instagram because I think it has a very particular way of functioning and it's probably my platform of preference. However, my next words apply to all forms of social media.

    The key to healthier social media use is awareness and purpose

    When it comes to awareness, ask yourself these questions:

  • How am I using my time on social media?
  • How am I feeling before, during, and after I spend my time on social media?
  • When it comes to purpose, ask yourself: 

  • Why am I giving time of my life to this?
  • How would I like to use it instead? (Time and content wise)
  • What is the higher purpose behind it?

  • Downsizing

    Now, I gathered the courage and downsized my following considerably. I unfollowed people I had pleasure following, and people I was afraid to lose sight of in the future. The purpose of the expeirment was to see how Instagram would feel like with much less to look at.

    So far I’ve enjoyed very much having a less crowded feed. I’m trying to simplify my life as much as possible, and that involves creating more space and fewer distractions all around me. This experiment with Instagram gave me precisely that.

    There were times that I would run out of new posts to see, which led me to close the app. And there wasn’t so much stimulation entering my mind and taking it to distant places. Not being out there, having my attention on other people’s post, meant I was giving myself more space to be in the present moment, in my own life.

    Here’s a text by Seth Godin that I highly appreciate, regarding social media:

    Check more brilliant blog posts on Seth's blog.

    With this in mind, I’d like to look at social media, more specifically, Instagram, as a place to store memories and stories that I’d like to keep and easily access. Things that make me happy to remember.
     And that’s how I’ll guide my social media use from now on. Something mostly for myself, for my own use and delight, to bring positivity and joy and wonder. If others appreciate my sharings, that’s a by-product and not an end in itself. 

    If you’re curious and want to see what I'm doing on the 'Gram, check out @ana___o.o 

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    About the author

    Ana Batista is a psychologist focused on making change easy. Besides therapy, she teaches online courses and workshops on positive psychology, brain science, and self-authoring. 


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