Have you ever heard the saying that “comparison is the thief of joy”? With the rise in social media consumption and content, it's easy to find ourselves lost in comparison regarding our bodies, lifestyles, things we own, and ways we feel. Social media seems to constantly be depicting a life you should be living, and it feels as if no matter how far you have come, it's never enough, and you should always be striving for more.
Image Credit: Adrian Swancar from Unsplash
Along these lines, social media influencers, self-defined life coaches, and role models always seem to be selling this lifestyle. It sometimes feels as if you could package up happiness and fulfillment in a supplement, a workout routine, or a self-help book and ship it off to an eager customer. Yet, this isn't the case at all. Social media constantly depicts a false reality and is curated to show you content that will ultimately convince you to continue to participate in consuming content and products.
Social Media is FAKE
During the absolute most transitional periods of growth in my life, I hardly felt the need to be on social media. It was overwhelming to be constantly flooded with information about other people's lifestyles and their own “self-improvement journeys,” and I began feeling isolated, hopeless, and left behind. When I realized that self-improvement, and by extension, people's struggles and issues, were being monetized off of, I felt freed from this unrealistic expectation I had set for myself, which was ultimately hindering my growth.
Self-improvement has become a trend, and like anything else that gains extreme popularity online, it only depicts a very surface-level portrayal of the truth of the issue. Everyone wants to seem happier and healthier online, so they often cherry-pick content that doesn't match with the rest of their lives, so they gain views, followers, and beyond that, prove something to themselves and their mutuals. I see this every day: my mutual broke up with her partner, and within a week, she was posting a new person on her story. My friend broke up with their friend group and quickly began posting about being free of toxic people in their lives. Social media is weaponized in so many forms, and outside viewers don't have the context and perspective to understand that what you are being shown is not always true and does not mean that the person posting is “living their best life.”
Image Credit: Artem Beliaikin from Unsplash
The people I have met who seem the MOST well-rounded, happy, and satisfied overall in their lives do not try to monetize or profit off of faceless strangers on the internet, nor are they constantly talking about how improved they are. That's because true healing means realizing that the work is never done. Self-improvement does not mean you won't have bad days and make bad decisions.
Self-improvement is not linear; failing to react well to a trigger does not mean you're at ground zero again. It's a learning process and its hard and embarrassing, which is why most people who take self-improvement seriously are not posting about it concisely. No one ever reaches this apex of self-improvement where their life is suddenly perfect forever; it is a process that we continue to work through our entire lives, and it takes years. No 25-year-old fitness influencer on TikTok is living a perfect life because she takes greens and does hot yoga - Get real! People who are truly self-improving don't show it by telling you about it. They show it by being their authentic self and letting you feel inspired by how they carry themselves.
Does that mean you should completely cut social media out of your life? I don't think so. I think the internet can be a useful tool in your self-growth journey, but in order to healthily incorporate social media into your life, you need perspective.
Constantly consuming self-improvement content is one extreme, but totally isolating yourself is the other extreme. Time and time again, I have seen people claim that they're “healed” and “protecting their peace” by cutting off people in their lives and self-isolating. In reality, they are not putting themselves in positions in which their wounds are triggered, and they are forced to react in a healthy and self-serving way. Isolating yourself puts you in a position in which you are never forced to exercise important self-growth skills such as conflict resolution and reactionary behaviors, and language. Cutting off the outside world is not the solution - community is an essential part of growth; it's just about how you utilize your community and resources.
Image Credit: Darius Bashar from Unsplash
Self-improvement is a Journey - Not an End Goal
In most cases, you don't need to buy a subscription or a meal plan. The resources you need are usually already available and for free, which is why I say the internet and community found there can be a useful tool. Texts and TED Talks about self-improvement are great and freely available, as is access to research about nutrition and exercise, planning and time management, academic resources, and tutoring.
Most of the products marketed to us by influencers are targeted and hyped up to be seen as “quick fixes” when the sad reality is that there is NO “quick fix” for healing. The long and hard process and the patience and discipline required are a part of the value of undertaking the journey.
You cannot hate yourself into loving yourself. The actions you take to self-improve must come from a place of love for every version of yourself, including the past, present, and future. If you are trying to hate yourself for improving your life, it will never consistently last.
Redefine your Definition of Success
The solution here is not to go to one extreme and drop a few hundred on workout gear and self-help books. Nor is it to delete all socials and lock yourself in your house. The solution is to refocus the lens.
Understand that you should not be comparing yourself to the people or lifestyles that you see on social media, but rather, you should be comparing yourself to yourself. Compassionately look back at the worse versions of yourself and thank them for getting you where you are today. Redefine the term “self-improvement” and the frame through which you perceive and achieve it. You are the only standard - the only bar- that you should be setting for yourself.