FOLLOWING NOBODY – AN EXPERIMENT IN FINDING CALM

This post is not ground-breaking, it may not even be helpful. I’ve nothing to sell here, I’m not a self-help/self-improvement guru…these are just some experiences I’ve had whilst trying to be more purposeful with how I live.

Social media, when used without crystal clear intentions, can lead to a feeling of inadequacy, uncertainty, frustration and anxiety. This mainly comes from:

  1. Comparing yourself to others
  2. Being overwhelmed by information

Comparing yourself to others can lead to a compensatory desire to grow your own ego and self-worth, which may involve doing something you don’t enjoy in order to pursue these desires. Alternatively, it can suck some enjoyment from things you do enjoy doing, especially if you share your passions online.

There is a fine line between sharing passions and seeking external validation. The followers, retweets and likes are the external things that come as a result of the main aim, if you shift your focus to the external things, anxiety is just around the corner.

It is worth noting that this is totally natural, we are built to compare, it’s how we make sense of our surroundings, and let’s be straight nobody’s ego and desire for external validation is fully disappearing anytime soon, but it’s helpful to recognise when your ego might be your enemy, as Ryan Holiday puts it in his book: Ego is the enemy.

When we compare ourselves to others, through the vast monster that is social media, it becomes exhausting and overwhelming. Yes, we will compare ourselves to people in the street, or in a pub, but the moment usually passes, on social media it seems to linger. To paraphase the subtle art of not giving a fuck: ‘Scrolling through social media, at times, can be like reading a self-help book that highlights all the things you are not, instead of giving actual useful advice’.

I will say, any insecurities I, or anyone else has, are not the fault of the things people post or the people who post them, they are a reflection of an internal struggle, rather than an external struggle with someone else. The humble brag brigade may trigger insecurities, there’s nothing wrong with these types of posts per se, if it makes you feel shit that’s your problem to reflect on. My issue with posts of this nature is that I just don’t see the value in them, and if something provides you no value, it’s meaningless noise…which brings me to information overload.

Information overload is the second part of social media that can exhaust and overwhelm. This, along with a desire to use technology more intentionally, was personally my biggest reason for the unfollow experiment. I didn’t have any major insecurities to worry about, but the information overload and anxiety that came along with it, was certainly a struggle. With the amount of research, opinions, news and other noisy content (humble brags) that get put out every day, it’s easy to lose focus, feel like you don’t know enough/aren’t enough, are missing out on something or need to catch up on something else, the list goes on…

I have to constantly remind myself that I will never know enough, that there’s no lost time to make up for or catching up to do. Sure what would I be catching up to anyway, and how will I know if I’ve caught up?

Is this a reason to ask what’s the point and just give up trying? It’s a good question, some might argue one of the most important you can ask, but I choose coffee instead, and crack on doing the best I can without being overly critical.

Why didn’t I just delete twitter if it was causing me issues? because twitter wasn’t the problem, how I used it was the problem.

In the past I tried limiting my time to 5 mins per day, using apps like freedom or stayfocsd. However, when I logged on it was still way too noisy for me and the habit of mindlessly logging on was still there. Unfollowing everyone killed the habit of logging on mindlessly. With nothing to see in my feed it became a pointless task very quickly.

So now, when I log on, there’s a clear intention. I use it as a search engine and to share my own thoughts, with the main aim of providing value to others instead of tooting my own horn (hopefully anyway!). I got my current job through twitter and have met so many good people on it, so I always knew it provided value, now I’m just maximising that value.

In summary, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this and have noticed that using the tool with a bit more intention helps shut out the noise, keeps me focused on more important things, reduces my own anxiety and slows things down. Am I a productivity machine because of it? Nope, I’ve just one less thing vying for my attention and energy, that’s all. It might seem hypocritical to write about this and want to share it on twitter. I get that, and I’m fully aware I’m encouraging everyone to unfollow people, even me. But give it a try, I would love to hear if anyone else finds it of value.

Books that have shaped this post:

Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck by Mark Manson, Essentialism by Greg McKeown and Ego is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday.