Radical Self-Prioritization: Social Media Edition

How a half-year social media fast challenged my outlook and changed my life.

 THE BEGINNING

My first exposure to social media was the tail end of high school, when somebody told me about this thing called “Facebook.” We could post to our walls, play cooperative games, and connect with people from around the world. It was how we’d stay in touch after graduation.

I signed up. We all did. It was fun! Does anyone else remember Farmville? I distracted myself through more university lectures than I care to admit farming corn and pumpkins!

But then there was Twitter. And Youtube. And Instagram. And Snapchat. Now, there are countless ways to connect with people, but also endless potential for distraction. I find that the more time I spend on the platforms, the less fulfilled I am. I am no longer connecting with people I cared about, but was being connected to by savvy marketers and by social media platforms who are motivated to keep me scrolling… because that’s what benefits them.

Somewhere along the way, I became a victim to my own habits. By 2018, I was deep into a majorly dysfunctional relationship with social media. Here’s the evidence:

  • I was compulsively checking my socials during transitions between activities (such as my nightly routine and bedtime, or between pulling up to my house and exiting the vehicle…).

  • I was starting sentences with “have you seen that meme/post where….”

  • I was suffering from political and eco anxiety to such an extent that I felt guilty when I was doing anything other than protesting politics or saving the environment.

  • Old disordered eating habits and body dysmorphia returned.

  • I began to struggle with focus in the rest of my life (which has never really been an issue for me).

  • I questioned my value when my life wasn’t “shareable.”

  • I slowly lost some of my creative mojo. It became way more comfortable to consume rather than to create, especially when thousands of other users were creating content similar to my own!

While I felt like I was really succeeding in other parts of my life, I consistently carried the weight of this social media relationship. It got to a breaking point when it became difficult for me to serve my clients and community because I was so uncomfortable with social media (both when I was on a platform, and when I was off). So, I made a plan for healing and started the process.

THE FAST

The easier strategy may have been to cut out all social media. Doing so would surely heal the wounds of over-exposure, right? But the abstinence strategy wouldn’t allow me to develop healthy habits for later use. It took me awhile to realize that I want to contribute my voice to the online world and accept that social media would be critical in doing so. So, I came up with a strategy that would allow me to change my relationship with social media without cutting it entirely.

Let’s call it intermittent fasting for social media. Here’s what I did:

  1. Limit the available platforms. I deleted or disabled all social media accounts except Instagram. This would naturally limit my social media use, as there was only one platform on which to play.

  2. Further lean down exposure. I unfollowed every user with whom I did not have a direct personal relationship / wanted to have a direct personal relationship. No celebrities, influencers, creatives, or content creators who were not personal connections.

  3. No posting. Just, none. I needed to have a better relationship with the platform before contributing to it.

  4. No scrolling the community tab. This had been one of the major happiness hurdles for me. The algorithm had responded to my interest in activists and politics by flooding my communities tab with the-world-is-ending doom-and-gloom type stuff. It was a source of information and anxiety, and I continually chose to engage with it. It was time to cut that out.

  5. Embrace the ick. I had to remember that this was going to be difficult, uncomfortable, and sometimes painful. I chose to frame it with a few reminder statements: this is uncomfortable, but I was also uncomfortable before. This discomfort will get me a better result.

  6. Find alternative habits. I downloaded some books on my phone, and a few idle games (my favourite by far is terrarium). When I was tempted to scroll, I often turned to these instead.

Look. This wasn’t an easy process. I had an opportunity to observe all manner of social media urges, such as checking twitter to find out the latest news (when has that ever helped anyone?), increasing my usage because a friend was upset that I wasn’t engaging with his business’ posts anymore, posting photos of great food or cute dogs, or following a cool content creator because I know that numbers are important for anyone trying to make a living on a social media platform. My inner people-pleaser tried to jump to action whenever someone commented that I’d been quiet on social media, and I continually experienced the urge to create and post, not because I had anything all that valuable to share, but because it can be so validating for an entrepreneur.

Through this journey I realized just how much I turn to social media for information that could easily be found elsewhere. How much I relied on likes and engagement to feel worthy of this career. How much time I spent zombified, scrolling through a media platform instead of living my life.

THE RETURN

After almost six months I can confidently say that my relationship to social media has drastically improved. Like, I’m excited to hop on the platform and see what my community members are up to. I’m ready to return (more on that in a second), but I know I need the return to be thoughtful and deliberate. It would be a waste of six months if I chose to jump right back into old habits!

I’ve spent some time in the last few weeks preparing for a return to more complete social media use. Some of my considerations for this preparation have been as follows:

  • I’m continuing to limit myself to one – or two – social media platforms. I will continue to use Instagram, will benefit from some great content on Youtube, but will keep my other accounts deleted or disabled.

  • I’ve deliberately followed a few users who inspire me to get off my phone and into the real world.

  • I’ve thoughtfully engaged in the community tab, clicking through on posts that will give me the best community experience: kettlebell and weightlifting (fitness without diet culture), dogs sliding down snowy hills, readers and writers, chefs, and Harry Potter memes. A perfect combination of things I love.

  • I’ve planned out my content strategy so that I can share and contribute on Instagram with health and enthusiasm!

THE TAKEAWAYS

My social media fast was exactly what I needed, exactly when I needed it. I’m left with some powerful takeaways that have [actually] changed my life. Here they are:

  • I can’t believe I let the internet dictate my self-esteem. My younger self is deeply disappointed. She’s stepped up and continues to give me a pep talk (“why the hell do you care? You’re awesome!”) when that anxiety crops up.

  • I began this fast with a clear bias: Instagram is a soul-sucking waste of time and energy. But this fast has revealed that I was wrong. Instagram is a neutral force. It’s not soul-sucking. It’s not a source of joy, either. I’m committed to keeping it neutral so that I can participate with enthusiasm and set boundaries around it without regret.

  • I love lifting heavy things. In the time that I would have spent on social media, I started lifting kettlebells (my husband recently purchased a whole family of them). I’ve found a community of wickedly strong kettlebell educators on Instagram and look forward to the continued inspiration.

  • I find so much freedom in saying “oh, I don’t have Facebook. You’ll have to email me instead.” My relationships are richer because they’re not mired in multiple social media accounts.

  • I’m comfortable with social media discomfort. I can better-manage the urge to consume, and I’ve seen the benefit of this in other areas of my life!

After this fast I feel healthier, lighter, and better than ever!

I know I’m not alone, here. I’d love to hear from you: what are your struggles with social media? Does it help you, or does it hold you back? What sort of boundaries have you constructed, and how to you enforce them?