The last time you were on social media, what kind of content did you see? Perhaps you scrolled by the perfect family photo, the dream vacation, the insightfully written prayer reflection, the deliciously crafted gourmet meal, or the impossibly balanced lifestyle. How did you feel when you saw these images and read these captions. You might have felt inspired, uplifted, and motivated. But you might also have felt a twinge of unease. It’s the unease that happens when you start to compare your life to the life of others and find your own falling short.
It’s the dreaded comparison trap.
I recently participated on a panel with other authors about friendship in the digital age at SEEK19, a Catholic conference, and the workshop attendees shared their struggles with comparing themselves to others on social media. One college student shared how when she sees how accomplished the individuals are that she follows on social media, she immediately starts to experience self-doubt regarding her own skills and progress in the field she is studying. She explained that she will start to feel discouraged and think that she will never reach the levels she aspires to. I think it’s safe to say that many of us have felt the same way at some point in our lives.
While most of us have learned to recognize that we see a very filtered and aspirational view of the lives of the people we follow on social media, it’s still so easy to fall into the comparison trap. Those curated and edited images show the life you wish you had or perhaps the life you think you should have. When you fall into the comparison trap, dissatisfaction creeps in and suddenly your house looks messier, your family seems less wonderful, and your self-worth takes a nosedive.
So how do you avoid the social media comparison trap? Here are three tips to help you get started.
Tip #1: Don’t Cut Out All Social Media
First of all, the answer is not completely cutting out social media. Social media can be an important form of communication and connection when it’s used in a helpful way. Avoiding it all together means that you are cutting yourself off from social connections that might not be possible without that medium. It is important to note that some people do find it valuable to completely leave social media but it isn’t the only option. It is very much possible to use social media in a positive and healthy way.
Tip #2: Purge Accounts That Don’t Help
Secondly, it’s helpful to reflect on how you use social media. Are you using it as a source of connection and a place for uplifting and inspirational content? Or is it a source of division and dissatisfaction? If it is the latter, this is likely contributing to your comparison trap experience. For example, if you are following accounts that showcase an impossibly curated lifestyle full of constant travel, lavish meals, a dream job, and an expensive wardrobe, you might find yourself constantly comparing yourself to that lifestyle. When this comparison starts to trigger dissatisfaction and even resentment towards the life you have, social media is no longer an uplifting place for you.
To combat this, take the time to do a little spring cleaning on your social media accounts. Go through the accounts you follow and ask yourself, “Does this account encourage me to become a more authentic person or does it hold me back from becoming more authentic?” If it is helping you, keep it! If it isn’t helping you, hit the unfollow button. For example, if you struggle with body image, it might be helpful to follow accounts that support self-confidence and to avoid those accounts that promote disordered eating or exercise. Or, if you are struggling with self-confidence, try to follow accounts that foster collaboration and community and avoid those accounts that breed competition. It is important to note that this is different from creating a “social media echo chamber”, so to speak. You are simply cleansing those accounts who make it difficult for you to practice gratitude and joy in your life.
Tip #3: Check Your Mindset
Another helpful strategy is to reflect on your mindset when you use social media. If you find yourself falling into the comparison trap, you might be using social media with a scarcity mindset. In other words, when you see someone else being successful, you feel threatened because it seems like another person’s success means you have failed. A scarcity mindset means you believe there is a finite amount of “success” in the world and this fosters a sense of competition. A growth mindset, on the other hand, is focused not on competition but on community and collaboration. With a growth mindset, it’s easy to be happy for the successes of others and to be inspired and motivated by them instead of threatened by them.
With simple strategies like these, social media can become an uplifting place and a source of inspiration and growth instead of a source of dissatisfaction and resentment. Remember, you are in control of the way you use social media and you are free to use it in the way that is the most beneficial for you. Free yourself from the comparison trap and you will make room for experiencing joy and gratitude in your real and unfiltered life.