In February I decided to take a break from social media. No Facebook. No Twitter. No blogging. Prior to this, I was posting and tweeting daily, and writing a blog every two weeks. As an avid user of social media, I was nervous that my February Facebook Fast would result in some serious withdrawal symptoms.
I’m happy to report, however, that my detox actually went quite well.
I didn’t experience enlightenment. Nor have I come to believe that social media is the devil. But I did notice a few interesting patterns that inspired me to change several habits and make a general call for increased authenticity in social media.
Here are a few of my habits and changes:
Habit #1: Posting When I Don’t Feel Like It
I have two Facebook pages – a professional page and a personal page. I typically post on my professional page daily, which is recommended as a general practice to keep your audience engaged and grow your platform. However some days I used to struggle to find something to post. This often resulted in me wasting time seeking out an inspirational nugget to share.
Solution: Only Post When I Have Something True to Share
From now on, I’m only going to post on my professional page when I truly have something to share. It might be something directly from me, or a quote, or an article, but I’m not going to force myself to post every day. This might mean that my number of followers decreases, or that I don’t grow my platform as quickly, but at least my posts will be coming from a true and inspired place within me.
Habit #2: Facebook as Distraction
In the past I typically only checked Facebook once per day, however sometimes I would linger, trolling through my newsfeed out of boredom or as a method to distract myself from how I was currently feeling. Or, like many people, I often trolled through my feed while waiting for public transit or an appointment.
Solution: Get Into The Moment
Now, when I feel the urge to go on Facebook as a distraction, I avoid logging in and instead bring myself into the present. If I’m waiting for the bus or subway, I take a deep breath and notice the people, animals, trees, and sky around me. If I’m at home, I take a moment to check in to see what (if anything) I’m distracting myself from. If it’s a feeling, I pull out my journal or put on some good music to dance it off. If it’s a conversation, I go have the conversation. If it’s a task, I do the task.
Habit #3: Constant Notification
I’ve never been a fan of receiving instant notifications from email or Facebook (or any app) on my cell phone, so I never turned on these notifications. However, I was receiving Facebook notifications via email. So every time I logged into email, my “social” tab would be full of Facebook messages that I felt pressure to answer. I thought that by not receiving these notifications instantly on my phone, I was giving myself some healthy separation from social media by allowing myself to choose when to check these messages. But I realized that even just seeing that I had new messages under my “social” tab in email sometimes felt overwhelming.
Solution: Turn Off Email Notifications
I turned off all email notifications from Facebook. What this means is that I don’t receive an email every time someone comments on one of my posts or sends me a Facebook message. Instead, I choose when to log into Facebook, and then I check my notifications center to see if anyone has commented on my posts or messaged me. My inbox has never been happier!
Habit #4: Leaky Boundaries
I’ve always loved taking photos, and I post a lot of photos on my personal Facebook page. This habit has increased since I moved to Prague, because photos help keep my friends and family back home updated on how I’m doing. However, during my Facebook Fast, I noticed a sense of space and relief that emerged as I no longer felt I had to take a picture of every single thing I was experiencing. I realized that, while I wasn’t posting about every intimate detail of my life, in many ways I had leaky social media boundaries. I was posting about most of my social activities, including who I was with, what I was doing, and even what I was eating/drinking. This often resulted in not being fully present doing what I was doing, because I was trying to snap a perfect photo of it.
Solution: Plug the Leaks
I’ve decided to pull back from posting so many details about my life – particularly on my personal Facebook page. Instead, I’m making an effort to be more present in the moment by just being in that moment – and realizing that some moments are, in fact, sacred. Don’t get me wrong – I intend to continue posting photos about my adventures, I just plan to be more selective about what I post. This has already resulted in feeling like I’m more physically present in my actual life as it is happening, instead of having one foot in reality and the other foot in my “cyber-life.”
Habit #5: I’ve Got Something to Prove
I never saw myself as someone who posted on social media to show other people how awesome my life is compared to theirs, however my Facebook Fast made me realize that there are times when I fall into this trap. I seem especially likely to post in this way after I make a big decision in my life, like when I left Harvard to live in the woods or when I left the woods for Prague. Part of me wants to prove to others that I made the right decision, even when my decisions seemed risky.
Author Gabrielle Bernstein once told me about a technique she uses that helps her be more present to the needs of others. Whenever Gabby finds herself dominating a social situation by talking too much, she uses the WAIT acronym, which stands for “Why am I talking?” In other words, she takes a step back and assesses her motivations for saying what she’s saying. She pauses and lets other people have the stage.
I’ve decided to adjust this acronym slightly for social media purposes by calling it WAIP, “Why am I posting?” If, when asking yourself this question, your answer has anything to do with trying to show superiority, put others down, or be cruel, stop and consider deleting your post. Any post that feels like it could include the hashtag #mylifeisbetterthanyours or #imrightyourewrong probably shouldn’t be posted anyway.
A Call for Authenticity
The main thing that my habits, and proposed changes, have in common is that they all relate to being more authentic – both in my real life and my social media life.
I think we’re all craving a dose of authenticity in social media. Take, for example, Essena O’Neill – a teen instagram star with more than half a million followers who recently deleted many of her posts and/or edited her captions to give viewers a more authentic glimpse into her online presence. She ended up deleting all of her social media accounts and came clean about situations where she spent hours taking selfies to get the perfect “candid” shot, or times she restricted calories to look thin.
An authentic approach to social media makes a lot of sense, both personally and professionally. Think about it. Who do you most enjoy reading about on your Facebook feed? Is it your “perfect” friends who constantly post about how #mylifeisbetterthanyours? Or do you appreciate the friends and professional figures who admit their imperfections? Of course, everything should be shared in moderation (see point #4 above), so I’m sure you don’t enjoy seeing posts from people who constantly complain. But in general, there is a sense you get from reading about people who are real – really real – on social media. And it feels good.
It’s time we stop trying so hard to capture the perfect selfie, use the perfect filter, and share about our perfect lives.
The beauty of life – the place where we are most likely to grow – is the place where we share our underbellies.
It’s the place where we share us, as authentically as social media will allow (which, of course, has its limitations).
So the question becomes, who are you? And do you want to share this authentic you on social media? If not, that’s totally cool. Social media isn’t for everyone. But if you do want to have a more authentic social media presence, you have to start by digging into the who behind the authentic you.
Your profile picture might be a good place to start. Right now your profile photo might be a contrived selfie, or a photo of your child – sorry to my friends who do this, but it is a pet peeve of mine. Newsflash: you are not your child! If you want to use a photo of your child as your profile photo, try to at least make it a photo of you with your child. Or, instead, try using a photo of you during a time when you felt most natural or happy, regardless of whether you’re wearing makeup or looking your best.
Personally, I’m going to continue to try to cultivate an authentic social media presence. I’m sure I’ll mess up at times, but at least my Facebook Fast helped me become more aware of my blind spots.
Would you like to see more authenticity in social media? Care to join me on my authentic Facebook quest? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!
Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. is an author, speaker, researcher, and yoga teacher who helps people create a life they love. Check out her book, The Antidepressant Antidote, follow her on Facebook and Twitter, and join her whole-self health revolution.
If you’d like tips on how to create a life you love, plus some personal instruction from Bethany, check out her online course, Creating A Life You Love: Find Your Passion, Live Your Purpose and Create Financial Freedom.
Image courtesy of Snappa.io.