Words by Jacquelyn Salvador
Earlier this year, I went on a social media detox. It was wonderful. It was peaceful. It made me feel more in-control of my time and attention. I definitely recommend a social media detox if you want to press "reset" on how you interact with that ever-alluring pull of technology.
However, as great as the benefits are, I realised pretty quickly that this detox also limited me in certain ways. I could no longer go ask questions in my trusted groups, which are an incredible wealth of collective intelligence. I was no longer able to easily check in with family members living far away (for me, that's everyone, because I moved away from my home country). I didn't get to see the random cool events and opportunities that come across the newsfeed.
Annoying as social media can be sometimes, one must admit: it also has some pretty useful features. All of this, combined with a job that requires social media, has brought me around to a view that is more sustainable in the long-term: not a full disconnect, but connecting better. Not anti-social media, but rather anti-mindless social media.
If we're honest with ourselves, we can probably admit that the majority of our time spent on social media is, after all, mindless. We scroll endlessly, hoping for something of interest, dishing out half-hearted likes, and perhaps saving some articles with the intention of returning to them later (sure...all 237 of them).
This is exactly the type of social media use that does two very harmful things: it causes addiction (always looking to scroll a bit further, watch one more video, etc.), and it creates a false feeling of connection. After all we see (and like, maybe even comment on) our friends’ posts on a regular basis. But the reality is that this superficial level of engagement doesn't provide meaningful connection for anyone in the equation. It gives just enough to make us feel like we're in touch with these people in our networks, but it lacks any personal, fulfilling type of interaction. The kind that you feel when you hug your favourite family member. Or sit over coffee with an old friend. Or finally have a conversation with someone you've been meaning to call.
So if that’s mindless social media, what does mindful social media use look like? How do we get rid of that harmful, mindless type of use which saps us of our energy, our motivation, and our social ties?
It probably doesn't look exactly the same for any two people. Each of us have our own situations and needs, so there's no "prescription" to follow for healthy social media use. But there are a few guidelines you can use to keep from falling into that carefully-manufactured black hole of scrolling, watching, and losing your precious hours of the day.
1. Filter the noise on your social media (both people and brands)
In this world of constant notifications, ads, and attention-grabbing, it's important to be critical about what voices you invite into your social media space (and your email and mailbox, for that matter). If you don't, you can be sure that they'll start to siphon your attention away from what really matters.
So go ahead, be ruthless with who you unfollow or remove. If you hear a lot of toxicity from a certain person, don't hesitate to "mute" them, unfollow them, or reduce the frequency of when you see their posts. If there's a brand that keep popping up trying to convince you that you need something (but you know you really don't), get rid of that distraction.
If you want to really clear up the distractions and negativity that tends to creep in, try a plug-in like Newsfeed Eradicator for Facebook (Firefox or Chrome extension), which replaces the daily noise with an inspirational quote, allowing you to remain on the platform without getting sucked into distraction. Once installed, you can stay informed on the people and brands that actually matter to you by going to their pages and subscribing to notifications (we hope you’ll consider Balance Garden one of those!)
2. Get intentional about where and how you're interacting
You’re in control of how you interact, so instead of passively scrolling through what shows up by default, how about seeking places where you can contribute to a meaningful conversation? Share your knowledge. Ask someone about that project they’re working on. Invite a friend to a live event, and then actually go with them.
Interacting in groups is another rewarding and meaningful ways to engage on Facebook, because you can connect with people with similar situations, goals, or qualities, and learn from them as well as share what you know. It’s also a great way to learn about local events, places, and opportunities (jobs, volunteering, etc.), to really escape the social media bubble. Try searching by location, interests, or personal qualities, to start discovering groups that might be of interest to you.
On other platforms, intentional interaction might mean limiting your "scroll time" to a certain time of day, only logging on when you're seeking a specific piece of information, setting a timer as soon as you log on, etc.
3. Share when it's meaningful -- and not just for likes
It's not our fault that we feel an urge to post every little detail of our lives -- the social media platforms are custom-made to convince us to do so. Our posts attract engagement from other users, perpetuating the whole system. But we can take charge of our own decisions here, and for our mental well-being, we really should.
Instead of becoming dependent on the social validation that comes with more "likes," when we mindfully choose what's really worth sharing, we gain a little more intrinsic self-confidence. We rid ourselves of that gnawing need for social validation. Even better, we help others escape that vicious cycle of scrolling, by reducing the content clutter in their space.
At the end of the day, social media is precisely what we make of it. It can be a massive time-suck, or it can be a valuable tool for connecting with people who matter, and a way to share meaningful updates in your life. And when you use it mindfully, your friends and followers will be better off for it as well.
For more ways to improve your social connection (and many other areas of life), check out the recommended resources, personal reflection, and research-based guidance in 360 Living: practical guidance for a balanced life (free ebook on Kindle Unlimited and free audiobook for new users on Audible).
Author of 360 Living: Practical guidance for a balanced life, Jacquelyn is a tireless seeker of personal betterment, and she's on a personal mission to help others find their own best version of life. Her own (ongoing) journey of personal happiness started out with years of chasing the perfect approach to "the good life," but she eventually realised she was anything but happy, so she packed life into a backpack and hit the road to find it for herself on a backpacking adventure around Europe. Along the way, she teamed up with the Authentic Happiness Project to help others on their own journey of personal happiness (backpacking optional) through an empowering combination of inspiration, learning, and personal reflection.
Jacquelyn lives and works as a yoga instructor with Affordable Yoga & Fitness in Paris, France, helping others find better health and happiness through mindful movement. She shares her adventures in the art of living a good life on Instagram at @jj_moves.