I’m going to admit something to you. It may shock you, so please sit down.
I am the last person in the universe to sign up for Facebook. I began actively using it in 2015. That’s right, folks. I lived a reasonably normal life without social media for many years. I’m a bit backwards that way.
So you won’t be surprised that before I began using Facebook, I thought it was a blather-fest. I failed to see the value.
Now, with one whole year of social media under my belt, I realize that my experience has been much richer and more colorful than I expected.
For example, I’m now in touch with someone that I met years ago, in Paraguay. When I discovered her profile online, I actually forgot to breathe.
It was a moment of pure magic, that only those who remember life before the internet will appreciate. Connecting with someone through the decades, beyond the continents, is miraculous to me. I am awed by the incredible power at our fingertips.
Facebook has also become a useful tool for me to share information about my new business, Primavera, where I offer my services as a professional coach and development consultant.
I’m sold. I get it. Social media is here to stay.
But despite my mostly positive experiences, there is still a dark side to social media. It has an addictive quality, and it plays on our insecurities, as we compare ourselves to others who are presenting perfect lives.
Let’s Look at Some Ugly Truths
Research shows that social media impacts self-esteem, empathy, social skills, and academics.
- Frequent users of social media are 2.7 times more likely to be depressed than those who use it more moderately throughout the week, according to a study at the University of Pittsburgh School of Health Sciences.
- In England, almost 200,000 children who started school this year are unready for the classroom. They lack social skills or have speech problems. It appears that parents’ immersion with their smart phones has left their kids unable to have conversations.
- Habitually trolling social networks causes people to be more shallow and immoral (according to research conducted at Canada’s University of Windsor). Those who incessantly checked their accounts were less concerned about how to be a good person, and more interested in their looks and pleasure.
Being more shallow and immoral may explain the following ugly truth. . .
- Wild animals throughout the world have died painful, unnecessary deaths because people insist on talking selfies with them. There are many incidents, and they are just too depressing for me to highlight now. This is a new low.
Harming ourselves with social media is one thing. Harming innocent animals for bragging rights is appalling.
Research by Joseph Grenny and David Maxfield shows that 58% of the respondents missed out on life experiences to capture that perfect image for social media, and many admitted to behaving in immoral or bizarre ways during their trophy hunt.
It appears selfies go further back in history than we might think. I heard Eckhart Tolle, a writer and philosopher, speak during a webinar about consciousness. He shared a clever insight.
According to him, the Greek myth of Narcissus describes the first selfie. Do you remember Narcissus? Here is a depiction, painted by John William Waterhouse.
Imagine this. A river god and a nymph enjoy conjugal relations and have a boy named Narcissus. He is a good-looking kid, and he grows into a stunning man. Let’s say he has thick, wavy hair. Broad shoulders. You can imagine whatever eye color suits you.
Echo, a mountain nymph, falls for Narcissus because he’s HOT. Unfortunately, he doesn’t reciprocate. He’s too busy mooning over his own reflection in the river.
“Oh. My. Zeus.” Narcissus croons to himself. “That fellow in the water is the most beautiful person I’ve ever seen.”
Narcissus is unable to leave his reflection, he’s so in love. He’s completely obsessed. When he realizes his feelings for his own reflection will never be reciprocated, his heart breaks, and he kills himself in desperation.
He loved his own image to a fault. This myth shows the beginning of the human ego.
Social media allows people to present a façade to the world. We take on a persona, or worse, we hide our authentic selves behind a mask.
Deepak Chopra, another writer and philosopher, also participated in that webinar, and he said that technology is inevitable. It is unstoppable.
Technology is part of human creativity.
With this in mind, how can we use social media as a force for good?
It’s time to reframe our relationship with social media. This is an important step to feeling good, and it can be one of many ways that we thrive after feeling overwhelmed or burned out.
Four Ways to Make Social Media a Force for Good
1. Be more authentic
Rather than letting ourselves be controlled by our egos, we can choose to be more authentic when we use social media. What might this look like?
More authentic messages might include personal stories that let people understand that your world isn’t perfect. You demonstrate through your posts that there is value in your struggle.
More authentic images would include photos that don’t put yourself, other people, or animals in danger. You understand that the rules in National Parks and other public places apply to you. While there is a time and place for a fun selfie, you understand your motivations for posting one. Authentic images help your friends to better know the real you, instead of the façade you might create.
Authentic images are taken during real-life moments, rather than re-creating the moment for Facebook. And ideally, you’re not missing real-life events (your baby’s first steps, intimate time with your boyfriend, the winning goal in the game) in an attempt to capture an image for social media.
Sometimes, it’s hard to know if the person you are projecting is your true self. Coaching can assist you in resolving this discrepancy, by helping you understand your core values and live more authentically.
By being more genuine in our social media interactions, we give our kids, friends and strangers permission to do the same. We also give them the opportunity to connect in a meaningful way with the real us. We model authenticity even when it’s cool to be fake.
2. Be mindful
When we focus on the present moment, we are being mindful.
This is tough in the world of social media, where we can become addicted. We may use it to regulate our emotions, and yet find ourselves feeling even worse. Those who are mindful recognize that the emotions they are feeling are temporary, and will pass.
How can we become mindful?
Meditation is a great tool to help us be mindful. You can also be successful with a simple exercise like this one:
- Consider your intentions as you open your favorite social media site. Are you more interested in connecting with friends? Or are you trying instead to disconnect and distract yourself?
- As you read the first post, ask yourself how you are feeling emotionally. Also, pay attention to what is going on in your body. Breathe deeply. How do you want to respond to this post, if at all?
- Practice this for up to five minutes, as you have time, each time you use social media.
You’ll be able to make better choices about how often to visit different sites, and the specific ways that you want to interact, as you become more aware of the emotions you feel when on social media.
3. Share positive messages
Witnessing acts of goodness helps us to feel connected to each other. Witnessing acts of violence creates distance.
Are you sharing posts that will inspire, encourage, and motivate? In a world where 24-hour news spews images of nonstop suffering around the world, how can we promote kindness and integrity?
Whether you have a personal account or manage your nonprofit’s social media, posting positive messages will engage your readers.
In my own Facebook timeline, I shared the story about Cecil the lion, who was killed by Walter Palmer, the American dentist. I was overcome by emotion when I shared it, and now I wish that I hadn’t. It brings me down every time I see it.
I wish instead that I had shared a story about a nonprofit that was helping animals like Cecil. I leave this post on my timeline as an uncomfortable reminder about the type of messages I am committed to posting.
4. Time away from the screens
Are you wondering if your own online behavior has an addictive quality?
Signs of addiction include using the internet to relieve stress, preferring to interact online rather than face-to-face, not being able to control your use of social media, or experiencing problems such as missing out on real-life events because you’re busy recording them for social media.
I had the opportunity to see a screening of Screenagers, a documentary about the effects of digital screens on the developing minds of adolescents. Fascinating stuff! They talked about having contracts with your kids that outline when and how screens can be used.
To help the kids, we first have to empower ourselves. If we’re asking them to turn off all digital screens in the evening, then we should be doing the same thing.
Taking a break from our phones, tablets, and computers helps us to rejuvenate, and to connect with each other in real life. We can do it for a few hours in the evening, or designate a full day to disconnect. We’d benefit from leaving behind the screens during a tech-free vacation.
And nothing is more important than creating an authentic and meaningful connection with our family and friends – a bond that is built in real life, not in the ether.
Nonprofits must encourage employees to have a healthy relationship with their phones and social media. By allowing staff to disconnect at appropriate times, nonprofits can create a culture of wellbeing where employees are cherished.
I’m excited by the opportunities we have with social media. Together, we can use it as a force for good. By being authentic and mindful, promoting positive messages, and taking breaks from our screens, we can help ourselves and others feel good and create change.
We Can Do It!
P.S. Are you interested in reframing your relationship with social media? This is an important component to wellbeing, and to thriving after burning out at work. I offer Saving Your Sundays, a 90-day coaching program to overcome burnout that takes you from dreading Mondays to living the life you really want – including having a healthy relationship with social media. Click here for details!