No one likes a Debbie Downer.
Yet, everyday millions of us engage in behaviours that routinely mess with our mood.
Here’s what you do:
1. You login to Facebook or Instagram
2. You mindlessly scroll through your feed
3. You repeat this behaviour several times a day
It seems harmless, right? You’re just checking social media. But every time you go on social media, you run the risk of entering the Compare and Despair Cycle. You can fall into the comparison trap.
The Comparison Trap on Steroids
Humans have been playing this comparison game for thousands of years. It’s nothing new. But thanks to modern technology (i.e. social media and television), it’s now so much easier for you to make comparisons that are harmful to your wellbeing.
Consider this …
When you watch commercial television, what sort of lifestyles do you see?
You’re not exactly seeing the Kardashians struggling to put food on the table. Most shows on commercial television present the lives of the middle to upper-class.
Now think about social media …
What sort of things are your friends posting?
Generally, it’s the most exciting parts of their lives. The best bits of their lives. So what you’re seeing is a highly curated feed.
Can you trust your social media feed?
Is it a solid platform to base comparisons on?
Any comparison you make on these platforms is likely to be way off the mark. It’s not going to be grounded in reality.
So what’s the solution? Do we just stop comparing?
That’s like saying ‘Stop breathing’!
What you need to understand is that it’s human nature to compare. We’ve learnt to play the comparison game from a very young age. So it isn’t that easy to just give up the game.
But here’s the good news …
You can train yourself to compare less and to compare in ways that boost your wellbeing.
Here are some strategies I use and highly recommend:
1. Limit your dose of social media
The less time you spend on social media, the less exposure you have to all those highly curated images that make you feel like a loser. If you restrict your access to social media, you’re going to dramatically reduce your comparison count. It’s as simple as that.
But you and I both know that staying off social media isn’t that simple. Social media is like junk food. It’s addictive. Once you start consuming it, it can be really hard to stop.
As Emma Markezic states in her book Curveballs:
“… it probably won’t be easy at first. You might discover you have real withdrawal symptoms and find yourself wondering what to do with your hands.”
But trust me, within a few days, you’ll readjust. You’ll start to feel less jittery. In fact, you’ll most likely feel a tremendous sense of calm wash over your brain.
2. Perform reality checks
If you refuse to cut back on social media, then you must perform reality checks on what you see online.
Because here’s what a lot of us don’t understand…
It’s in our biology to trust what we see with our eyes. This makes living in a highly curated Facebook/Instagram world a little bit dangerous.
Here are some questions I use to perform reality checks:
Reality check #1: Does this image reflect real life?
Because maybe it doesn’t. Maybe the image has been photoshopped or has had a filter applied to it.
Super model Cindy Crawford has famously said, “I wish I looked like Cindy Crawford”. Pictures of Cindy are airbrushed and tweaked to the point where she no longer recognises herself.
Reality check #2: Is this person posting excessively?
If they are posting a lot about their life, it’s an indication that they’re not fully enjoying the present moment. Perhaps something is missing from their life?
Psychologist Nancy Colier states in her book The Power of Off: The Mindful Way to Stay Sane in a Virtual World:
“We are spending far more time than ever before reporting on ourselves, who we are, where we’ve been, and what we’re doing, but that also means we are spending far less time actually being with ourselves, inside our own attention, inquiring, and investigating our own experience.”
Reality check #3: Am I being sold something here?
Many social media influencers feeds are not true representations of their lives. Many of these influencers are paid to glamorise their lives and promote particular products.
So remember this …
If someone’s existence looks too good to be true, then it probably is.
3. Avoid advertising
Just like many social media posts, online ads are also highly curated. But what makes them even more dangerous than your average social media post is that they usually have a damaging underlying message, that message being:
“You’re not enough.”
But you’ll see the ad offers a simple solution:
“Buy this product and you can be happy and beautiful like the people featured in the ad!”
Sadly, 99% of the time, this is a lie.
What makes a person have a happy and beautiful life?
According to research, these things make a difference:
• Feeling connected to other people
• A good night’s sleep
• Physical movement
• A healthy diet
• Learning new skills
• Being interested in the world around you.
New shiny things won’t cut it!
It’s for this reason, I’ve limited my exposure to ads by:
• Installing an adblocker plugin on my laptop to stop online ads
• Getting rid of my television
• Not reading women’s magazines (research shows these make girls/women depressed)
Despite my best efforts, I can’t avoid all ads (hey, they’re everywhere!). So here’s how I deal with ads on buses, radio and the back of public toilets doors:
I fight back.
I vocally reject the message that’s coming at me.
For example, I was riding my bike home the other day when I saw an ad on a bus stop promoting some greasy fast food. Without even thinking, I blurted out, “Type II diabetes? No thanks!”.
It sounds crazy, but this is a brilliant strategy to protect your psyche from the harmful effects of advertising. Try it out and see for yourself.
4. Create your own metrics for success
How do you define success? By having lots of money? Lots of stuff?
Put your creativity cap on and think again!
There are many other ways you can measure success.
• The number of books I read each month
• The number of healthy home cooked meals I make each week
• The number hours of sleep I get each night
• The number of times I go to the gym each week
I challenge you to come up with your own metrics.
5. Compare you to you
If you’re going to compare, start comparing yourself to yesterday or last week’s version of you.
“Compared to yesterday am I a little bit smarter? Stronger? Wiser?”
Professor Joshua Smyth from Pennsylvania State University recommends saying to yourself:
“I don’t have everything in my life done yet. But I’m a little bit better today than I was last week. I’ve made some progress. I’m working towards my goals and I’m feeling better about it.”
6. Cultivate a curious mindset
If someone looks like they’ve achieved success in a particular area, instead of feeling jealous, ask yourself:
1. What can I learn from this person?
2. What skills or behaviours have allowed them to do so well?
Perhaps it looks like the person is an overnight success but upon closer inspection, they’ve been plugging away at their craft for years!
Find out the person’s secrets and see if you can emulate what they do.
7. Focus on your actual needs
What do you actually need to live a good life (i.e. to be happy and well)?
Go back to basics. For example, here’s what I know I need to live well:
• My morning smoothie
• At least one hour of physical movement each day
• 8 hours of sleep every night
• At least 30 minutes to read, relax and explore ideas
• Time with my family and friends
• Projects that stimulate my mind and expand my world
• Healthy, plant-based meals
I find that I’m happiest when I focus my time, energy and attention on getting these core needs met.
To sum up
The simplest way to lift your mood and boost your confidence is to limit your comparison count and start comparing in better and more constructive ways (e.g. What can I learn from this person?)
Instead of looking at highly curated images, listen to interesting podcasts, TED talks, etc. Make an effort to absorb amazing ideas and images.
Remember, it’s in our biology to trust what we see with our eyes. Whatever you put into your brain shapes your entire worldview. So what will your inputs be today?