We all want to feel more alive. We want to live vibrant, socially active lives, where we build connections with others and live with purpose.
Nowadays, most people are too busy scrolling through their smartphones, using too much social media instead of forming real, face-to-face connections.
How much is too much social media? If you have a problem with too much social media, how do you take back your time and start living a life outside of your newsfeed?
Social media isn’t really about “being social.” It’s a way to pass time that becomes an addictive activity. It feels good. We receive validation from each “like” or thumbs up. Research shows how we’re addicted to our screens. We have the illusion of a social life and illusions of relationships carried around in our handheld devices.
How many friends do you have? When you think of the number, do you count all of the “friends” on your Facebook page?
For most of us, “friends” are people we spend time with and those we share deeply personal connections with. We may have acquaintances, coworkers, and old college buddies, but there are probably a limited number of people we would count as true friends, and even fewer we would count as allies.
That’s because building friendships take time. It requires emotional connections, openness, energy, engagement, and work. Casual relationships, on the other hand, simply require us to click a friend request. Suddenly we’re inundated with the details of someone else’s life. We see what they ate for breakfast, where they go on vacation, and what they did last weekend.
Social media is easily considered a soft addiction. It’s a way we use up time that mimics productivity. We may feel we’re learning new ideas as we read articles, share posts, and like the comments made by our friends. Socializing online may feel like vibrant engagement.
It even lights up the pleasure centers in our brain. We may feel a little rush when someone likes our post or comments on something witty we said. This makes social media a highly rewarding and addicting phenomenon. We become addicted to the power of likes—all the confirmation our friends are passing on to us.
But when all is said and done, are those relationships online really genuine? Chances are, some might be genuine, but most probably aren’t. We may closely follow and use up valuable emotional bandwidth processing comments made by a person we’ve only met once or twice.
It’s one thing to get a like or a comment, it’s quite another to sit across from someone who is empathizing with your challenges with your parents, your partner, or your kids. Having someone understand you and help you to problem solve is nourishing human interaction. Social media simply gives us a format for putting our complaints out there and having someone identify with our complaints. In the end, it’s not doing much but helping you continue to become a complainer.
One phenomenon I discovered on social media and found interesting was that whenever I talked about pain and problems, people were all over it. But when I talked about my victories, no one had anything to say.
Years ago, this would sound ridiculous, but now it’s become the norm. It’s changed the way we view others and the way we view ourselves. Privacy has changed as well. We may share details of our lives with strangers (a swimsuit photograph on the beach, for example, or intimate worries about the ways our daughter is parenting our grandchild) we would never share with most people in the past.
Judith’s first book was called There Must Be More Than This, because what she discovered in her research was that people were engaged in addictive activities leaving them feeling empty. These activities didn’t bring fulfillment and satisfaction like other, more meaningful activities.
Meaningful activities, like supporting friends in their career or relationship or offering difficult feedback to allow them to change directions in life, brings us nourishment. We learn and grow; we’re engaged and fully experiencing each moment. There’s not a screen between us.
But with social media, we’re putting up a screen that only allows us to see the superficial. Sure, it’s nice to stay in contact with friends from high school, but how many of them are we really meaningfully connected with? How many of them are going anywhere in life? On the other side, how many of them present a polished, glossy picture we compare ourselves to?
I recently saw a headline, “The Most Instagrammable Spots in New Zealand.” Now, can you imagine visiting a location, not to experience the culture or take in the beautiful sights, but simply because it was great to share on social media? Our experiences in our real lives are becoming less important than curating a certain image online for our followers.
What does this all mean?
Well, in short, it may mean we need to put down the phone and start engaging in real life. It’s difficult to conduct in-depth discussions when you’re limited by the characters of a Tweet or only using photos on Instagram to express your point. How do you share and connect with others in real and genuine ways?
I was president of my senior class in high school and I recently led the effort toward my 50th reunion. It sure was fun to see people again. One of the beautiful observations I had about this group was, although they may use social media to stay in touch, they also engage in other, more direct ways. Many of my classmates enjoy frequent phone calls, meet for face-to-face coffees, or get together with their grandchildren. Social media can be used as a vehicle for social engagement, but we can’t leave our engagement up to social media alone.
Do a gut check—are you replacing a social life with social media or are you facilitating a deeper social life?
Come up with an answer you’re not happy about? Read on.
As I discovered about my classmates—you can use social media to facilitate deeper engagement. If you only post about your children or grandchildren, like, and share, it doesn’t really mean anything. It’s nice to see happy photos, sure, but what do you really get out of it other than a distraction from the areas of life where you aren’t so happy? After all, it’s easier to brag about your kids or grandkids than it is to talk about the challenges of your marriage, singlehood, relationships with children, and more.
One of our suggestions to break social media addiction is to turn off social media for a while. Try an hour, then go for a whole evening. Feeling brave? Turn it off for a day. Could you even make it a week? A month!?
As Judith explains in The Soft Addiction Solution, we can’t simply swap one soft addiction for another. If we quit social media without exploring the underlying cause of our addiction, chances are high we’ll replace it with something else instead.
Think about what it’s like to stop an addiction. Why do you feel drawn to social media? The real goal is to get to the root of our social media fixation. What are we not gaining from our real life and how do we get it from our everyday interactions instead of seeking it out online? What are you really looking for in your connections with others? Is your engagement deep or simply shallow?
Most of the activities on social media are meaningless. People that get the most out of it are engaging from a deeper place, meeting a deeper yearning, and at the highest level, working through their life purpose. While sharing about your children and grandchildren is fine, you should look at the purpose beyond it. Think of social media as hollow calories—it’s like eating cake and never getting nourished. Sure, it’s delicious and enjoyable for a moment, even appropriate at times, but ultimately it doesn’t bring you what you need, and it doesn’t contribute to your greater purpose.
Each person has a purpose. You’re an important piece of humanity. Will you become as much as you can become, or will you use social media as a weigh station and a stall from what you need to do in your life?
So, try a social media fast. Many people can’t go beyond a day. Can you go further? How serious are you in really having a nourishing social life? Start with a day, then challenge yourself to a week.
It may mean beginning to face the emptiness you could instead fill with meaning rather than the distraction and social “illusion” of social media. As a matter of fact, there are people at the Wright Foundation who are living extremely meaningful lives and find they simply don’t have time for social media. They’re too busy living vibrantly.
So, if you’re ready to live with more purpose and more attention, give social media a break and opt for real social interaction! You may be surprised at how little you miss social media once you aren’t focused on it.
For more ways to live with purpose, visit the Wright Foundation. Join us for an upcoming More Life Training weekend, where you’ll learn to instill more meaning, more engagement, and more satisfaction into your life each day!
Dr. Bob Wright is an internationally recognized visionary, educator, program developer, leadership and sales executive, best-selling author and speaker. He is a co-founder of Wright and the Wright Graduate University.
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The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential is a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Living performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.