I’m on a mission to learn how to not live for other people’s validation. Think about it, if no one – not your family, friends, partner, acquaintances, or even strangers could see or know what you were doing, how would you spend your time? What would you be doing? The first step on this journey for me is to practice social media minimalism.
I think that I, like many others, have gotten into a very bad habit of partially living our lives for others. We show, tell, and compare ourselves with others through social media. We confuse real friendships with low-effort, low-quality exchanges on social media, and we may lose sight of what we truly value in our endless comparison with others.
Validation and attention on social media
Growing up, social media has always been a big part of my life, as for many others my age. We grew up with Facebook and Instagram as daily and essential parts of our social lives and network. It’s how we keep in touch, how we share our lives, and how we flaunt our successes and status. It’s also how we share our joys, perhaps our pains, and how we in many ways validate ourselves.
The likes we get on social media can become like buttons of validation, a source of attention, of being seen and approved by others. Compliments, comments, likes, and follows are all part of the modern status game. It feels good when someone whom we admire or respect likes what we post and sends us a compliment. And what about the feeling and excitement of when someone you have a crush on looks at your story, likes your post, or DMs you after a post? Feels great, right?
The apps have been designed to hook our behavior
What we might not always be aware of though, is that these apps have been engineered, designed, and created specifically to hook us on the addictive feeling of social approval – of gathering social points. And there has been an insane amount of time, money, end energy invested into perfecting the addictive parts of these apps.
Honestly, yes, it does feel pretty good to get “liked”. And there’s nothing shameful about that. It’s exactly that type of natural human psychology that the tech giants and social media companies have known, utilized, and turned up the pressure on.
And so, even if you’re not a deeply insecure person, you still may be hooked, manipulated, and used to using social media as a tool of validation and social approval. But the problem with this isn’t that it’s bad to feel a bit of a confidence boost from getting likes or positive comments. The problem is that social media is limited in what we measure ourselves and others with. It’s too shallow, it makes us forget deeper values and virtues.
Social media doesn’t show the real picture
We cannot show every part of ourselves on social media. Social media is based on low-effort, low-quality, snapshots. It reverts to people posting selfies (valuing physical appearance), high points of their lives (the best moments of travel, partying, dinners with friends), and the tip of the icebergs (that last promotion, success, or point after much invisible effort).
But there are so many other values to people than our appearances and the high points of our life. Things that cannot be shown through social media posts:
- the hours put into mastering skills and developing talents
- the virtue of hard work and continuous effort over years before any results
- the beauty of compassion and friendship in unflashy ways
- the slow moments in between
- the boredom that leads to insights and creativity
- the confusion and conflicts that are necessary for our development
None of these can be shown through social media.
We don’t show the “real” parts of life on social media. This is probably why apps such as Bereal now have become wildly popular, where everyone is supposed to post once a day, showing their “real” lives in those moments. Unsurprisingly, I’ve seen many people, both friends, and strangers, wait for the right moment, hours later until they’re doing something fun or fabulous, to post – defeating the entire point of being real. And guess what? It’s natural. It’s not surprising.
Humans do compare themselves to others. It’s in our nature and a natural part of our status game. But, social media makes the image that we compare ourselves to unrealistic. It’s unrealistic to compare an average hour of a normal day in your life, to someone else’s curated high point. But what you see when you open up Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, Bereal, and so on, are other people’s high points. And even if you try to do it differently, who cares about your boring hours?
Who cares about you sitting in front of your computer and working? Or when you’re walking your way home after buying groceries? Or when you’re crying or anxious after a fight or argumentation with someone you love? Yes, someone might care, but that’s not why they’re on social media scrolling.
Our brains have been trained to be addicted to dopamine kicks, serotonin releases, and anxious feelings. Most people’s attention will get caught by something much flashier, and such boring posts won’t gather any attention or positive feedback, which pushes users to avoid posting such things – further skewing this unhealthy cycle of unrealness.
Quitting social media?
So, what’s the solution? Is it to quit social media entirely?
I recently read a book called Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport. He is a smart man in his 40s, and according to him and other people he’s interviewed, we can all just quit social media. Or at least quit using social media how we have been using it. He calls it digital minimalism because what he’s teaching is to minimize your use of technologies and software to the bare essentials.
The thing with Cal Newport and others like him is that they are right. But people in their 40s, 50s, 60s, etc are also not in the same realities as someone in their teens, 20s, or 30s today. They did not grow up with social media in the same way as I did, so the results of them quitting would not affect their social lives as much as it would someone who’s in their early 20s.
Truth is that for many young people today, social media is essential to keep a healthy, active, and fruitful, social life. It is how we communicate, how we keep in touch, and how we socialize before even meeting in real life for the first time. It’s how we find our identities and models, keep up with fashion and trends, get invited to parties and events, and how we show public support to our friends and acquaintances.
In conclusion, no, I don’t think quitting social media entirely is a viable way. At least not if you care for and want to keep up a “normal” social life as someone in their teens to 30s.
Digital minimalism & curated content
Even though I don’t think quitting social media is viable, I do think Cal Newport’s idea of digital minimalism is fully doable and great. And I would advise anyone who feels they may get any bit of negative consequences from social media, to try out digital minimalism. Here are three methods that have worked very well for me, and activities I’ve replaced the new free time with.
1. Delete all social media apps on your phone
For me, social media minimalism means deleting all social media apps on my phone and only allowing myself to access feeds from the mobile browser. This has directly and drastically lowered my use of social media because the browser apps simply are not as good.
Browser apps are not as addictive, they don’t function as well, and you won’t get the same ease and pleasure of use – which makes you use it less. But you will still have access to see things so that when and if you truly want to see or update your social media, you can. And you can still add new friends and check direct messages.
2. Install social media blockers
I have also installed social media feed blockers on my desktop browser – which are plugins for browsers such as Google Chrome that block out any content that I don’t want to see on Facebook or Instagram
- On Instagram, if I go in through a browser on a desktop, I have blocked the feed (what people post), all stories, the explore page, and even followers/following. I only have easy access to Instagram direct messages to answer messages from friends
- On Facebook, I have also blocked the feed and stories. I only have easy access to Messages and Events, which are the only two things I need
3. Curate who you follow & what you see
In addition, I have curated what I follow and see. I have unfollowed, muted, and hidden many accounts. I have also used Instagram’s and Facebook’s built-in features of asking them to stop showing or recommending me certain posts.
You can do this yourself by going through your following list and either unfollow or hide/mute users or pages that affect you negatively.
- For example, if you have a challenge with self-image, then unfollow and hide accounts that post things that trigger your insecurities
- If you have problems with shopping, unfollow or hide accounts that are too materialistic and make you want to consume
- If you feel lonely, block and hide feeds and stories on weekends so that you can’t see other people hanging out and follow accounts that promote solitude
I know sometimes unfollowing someone or something can be seen as rude and can create social conflicts, and in such cases, you can do it more discreetly by muting or hiding the content without anyone knowing.
What to replace all your new free time with
Chances are that if you drastically minimize your use of social media, you will suddenly have a lot of additional free time on your hands. If you don’t fill this time with something more productive to do, you will most likely revert back to your mindless social media scrolling.
So, my best recommendation for you at this stage is to replace your free time with something you’ve always said you wanted to do!
Suggestions on activities to do instead of social media
- Read a book! Explore the great classics, learn something new, explore travel literature, or pick up a self-improvement book
- Paint, draw, or sketch
- Explore new types of music
- Take up an instrument again, or learn to play a new one
- Learn a new language or deepen your existing language skills
- Spend more quality time with family, partner, friends, or acquaintances
- Exercise! Go to the gym, take a walk, practice some yoga
- Watch a documentary
- Look at interesting Wikipedia pages and follow topic after topics
- Journal! Write down a recent memory you don’t want to forget, reflect on how your ideal self would be, think about how you could improve yourself, and write down what you’re grateful for
- Put together a healthy, nutritious, and good-looking meal
- Look at beautiful art – Go to a museum, pick up a picture book, or google about the 100 top most famous art pieces in the world
- Clean your home! You might as well use the time to keep a tidy, beautiful, and fresh home
- Take care of your hygiene and boost your appearance! Take a long shower, moisturize, brush your teeth, floss, haircare, skincare, shave, etc whatever you want!
- Write! Write an article, start on your book, or write a beautiful message to a friend/partner/family member
- Create. Design, compose, build
The best way to fill your time is to first ask yourself who you want to be. How is the ideal version of you? What does that person do, how does that person spend their time, and what thoughts fill their mind? What skills have they mastered and developed? According to these answers – which only you can know – fill up your time with actions that fit the person you choose to be.