During the coronavirus pandemic, social media use has increased significantly, according to new data from a Nielsen study. While social distancing, we are immersing ourselves in social media as a safe way to connect with others.
And this is fine, if we control our need for external validation.
When I check and recheck the metrics on my blog to see how many page views and subscribers I have, that can be a search for information, or it can be an unhealthy need for external validation. When I start to doubt my abilities as a writer, or to doubt the value of my message, based on how broad my readership is or on how many people choose to comment, I start losing my sense of motivation and direction.
And it's okay to be excited when one of my articles is published on No Sidebar, but I shouldn't let that rush of serotonin become something I need in order to keep writing every day. If I'm starting to find self-worth in the opinions of people I've never met and an editorial agenda over which I have no control, I'm going to flounder.
Susie Moore, author of Stop Checking Your Likes: Shake Off the Need for Approval and Live an Incredible Life, writes "Likes have become the current measurement of external approval. Of fitting in. Of how good we are allowed to feel."
We acknowledge this every time we add a thumbs up or a little red heart to something a friend has posted on Facebook or Instagram. I even feel a certain obligation to respond, because I want to let my friends know I'm paying attention and that I think their posts are moving, accurate, important, thought-provoking, funny, valuable.
That they are valuable.
External approval, whether in the form of social media likes, compliments, or other positive feedback, boosts the levels of feel good chemicals in our brains. Serotonin, for example, is increased by events that stir up feelings of self-worth and connectedness.
And we need those feelings of value and belonging. But when social media likes become the measure of how accepted and welcome I feel, then a post that receives fewer or negative responses is going to make me feel ignored and unwanted. I will soon have no sense of my own worth unless someone else gives it to me. And that's dangerous.
5 Ways to Overcome the Need for External Approval
1. Remember your uniqueness.
There is no one like you. You are here for a reason, and have something to offer the world that others cannot. But you can't do that by pretending to be someone you're not or by wishing you were someone different.
Take time to ponder your interests, and talk to a friend or mentor who can help you identify your talents and strengths. Develop a clear sense of purpose and you'll be less likely to seek external validation.
2. Consider reducing your presence on social media.
Social media is wonderful for staying in touch with friends and loved ones. But it's possible to do that with email, phone calls, even good old snail mail.
When social media is twisted into a venue for comparison and competition, it quickly becomes toxic. When you spend hours creating Pinterest boards and longing for the perfect wardrobe, home, or vacation, you're squandering the time and energy you need to craft your own life.
Examine the way you use social media, and make sure it's really a positive means of connection rather than something that increases envy or dissatisfaction. Remove yourself if you need to.
3. Trust your gut.
Look around at your home and your life choices. Are the decisions you've made your own or based on someone else's influence? Are you chasing career goals and home ownership because that's how you were raised, or are you following your own values, even if they lead to different outcomes? Are your social media posts designed to draw approval from others, or are they a true expression of yourself?
Take time to get in touch with your inner self through prayer, meditation, or journaling. The next time you make a decision, let it come from the real you. Let being true to yourself be your measure of success and of how you feel about an action.
4. Learn to live with criticism.
Journalist Julia Ubbenga reminds us "Avoiding suffering at all costs stifles our ability to take risks – and ultimately to grow. Accept that suffering and criticism are parts of life and allow them to happen. Realize that, although they're not fun, they always pass and you'll still be okay."
Hard moments can teach us about ourselves. Sometimes we learn that we were wrong, that we need to change and ask forgiveness. Other times we'll be confirmed in our convictions, and ultimately emerge stronger and more self-confident. The people we most revere, like Jesus, Martin Luther King Jr., and Nelson Mandela have stood firm even when they were rejected.
5. Boost serotonin in other ways.
When you notice that you're seeking approval, increase your brain's feel good chemicals.
- Take a walk in the sun.
- Do some yoga or ride your bike.
- Get a massage.
- Find at least three things to be thankful for.
- Look at photos of past happy events.
- Help someone else.
With social media use on the rise, it's the perfect time to overcome your need for external approval. Realize that you are valuable, just as you are.
Photo by Aziz Acharki on Unsplash