“Social media should improve your life, not become your life.” ~Patrick Driessen
The summer after college, my best friend and I had many a girls’-night-in, largely to accommodate her new life as a single mother.
These nights consisted of drinking wine and Facebook stalking anyone and everyone who went to our high school.
One night we went as far as creating a false page representing a popular local bar so that we could peer into the lives of anyone our hearts desired without revealing ourselves as grade-A cyber stalkers.
We spent a lot of our downtime that summer focusing on what other people were doing, and none of that focus prompted any kind of personal growth or increased self-worth on our ends.
I know there are people out there who are masters of self-discipline when it comes to their devices and social media pages.
These people put their phones down during dinner, turn them off to go to bed, and only check their social media pages during specified times during the day; they may go days or weeks without accessing their online profiles. I, however, am not one of them.
I often find myself torn between the practical benefits of engaging with social media and the detrimental toll these same tools can take on my inner self.
On the one hand, I rely on being able to access certain private pages for work, and I enjoy keeping in touch with long distance friends. On the other hand, compulsively checking my profiles on various devices often prevents me from living in the now.
Over the years, I have deactivated and reactivated my social media accounts time and time again in an effort to break myself of my bad social media habits.
For me, deleting my accounts helps me focus on the present moment and the goings on in my own life. However, I missed connecting with my friends and risked alienating myself from an ever-more-technological professional sphere.
When I began a position with a company that all but requires the use of social media, I realized deleting and reactivating my accounts was no longer a solution to my social media problem.
I found myself faced with the question: how do I use social media in a way that helps me grow, both professionally and personally, while minimizing the negative effects of overuse?
Over the past year, I developed some strategies for increasing positive content presented to me through my social media accounts, while decreasing the material that leaves me feeling bad or distracted and creating greater awareness around my usage habits.
1. “Follow” the blogs and websites you like to read.
Your favorite blogs and websites often have social media counterparts to which you can subscribe. If you don’t have a running list of blogs and websites (I didn’t until about a year ago), spend an afternoon searching for content that interests or inspires you and then continue to add to it over time.
I created a folder on my favorites bar containing links to literary journals, professional and personal development blogs, online learning websites, recipe guides, fitness videos, etc.
As you scroll through your newsfeed, you’ll pause to read articles related to your interests that may help you grow, cause you to pause and reflect, or inspire you to begin a new project.
Instead of spending an hour cyber stalking your ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend, who you saw in a picture with a mutual acquaintance, you may end up writing an article (like this one), bookmarking an interesting recipe, or sharing a funny video with a friend.
2. Unfollow or block people who distract you.
Do you find you criticize yourself after viewing your beautiful friend’s daily selfies? Do your brother’s travel photos make you lament your office job? Does your aunt’s constant complaining clog your newsfeed with negativity?
Unfollow people whose posts—for whatever reason at all—typically make your mood take a turn for the worst or cause you to lose focus on your own goals. You can still access these people’s content by intentionally navigating to their profiles, but you remove the spontaneous mood killers throughout your social media usage.
If the person isn’t someone you care to maintain any kind of connection with, you might want to think about blocking him or her. My Facebook block list is a mile long, and here’s an example as to why that is:
I recently blocked my boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend on Facebook.
Blocking her was not something I needed to do to prevent her from contacting me; I have never interacted with this person firsthand. However, we share many mutual friends (both on Facebook and in life), and I realized that her comments and Facebook activity became distracting for me in a negative way.
Blocking her prevented me from seeing comments she makes to mutual friends, prevented me from stalking her profile during insecure moments, and removed from my vision any pictures that she previously tagged my boyfriend in while they were dating.
This was not an attempt to erase my boyfriend’s past, just a measure prevent me from returning to it in the present.
The unfollow and blocking features are not indications that you do not like someone; they are tools you can use to filter content that you don’t need to see on a routine basis. Remember, you can always unblock a person or decide to follow him or her again later.
3. Delete the mobile app from your phone (or at least put mobile apps in a folder).
Use the web app instead of the mobile app. This requires you to open a web page and intentionally login to a social media account versus mindlessly checking the same profile you’ve viewed twenty times today already.
If you cannot (or will not) forgo the features offered by the mobile app, group all your social media apps into a folder, and move that folder to the last page on your phone or tablet.
Increasing the time and effort it takes for you to access for your social media accounts helps to create awareness around your actions.
4. Create separate pages for different purposes.
I have three different kinds of social media profiles. One I reserve for personal use; this is private profile I use to keep up with friends, follow celebrities just for fun, and access my favorite blogs on any topic under the sun. The other two profiles are public: one I use for business purposes, and the other is dedicated to art.
Having different focuses for each of your profiles gives you a direction for your social media use. Instead of using three different profiles to keep tabs on your friends and share photos of yourself, dedicate one or two profiles to your professional or personal growth.
If you’re like me, you may spend a considerable amount of time perusing social media pages each week. Turn this time into an opportunity for personal growth by practicing social media habits that nurture your interests and promote positive connectivity.
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