No matter what your poison is, whether Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook, if you’re on social media it’s likely you’ve experienced addiction to notifications.
This is not accidental. These notifications are billed to us as analytical, logical numbers which we can and should use to improve our content. So we think there’s no harm — or that it’s even beneficial — when we obsess over these numbers. More notifications equals moe likes, shares, comments, which means our content is good. Less equals bad, which shows room for improvement. That’s how it works in theory, of course.
In practice, of course, we don’t use them like that. Time and time again we refresh the page to see how many likes our tweet got, to see how widely it spread, to watch it flow across the internet. We persist in using notifications as a way to validate ourselves. They let us see that other people like our stuff, which triggers an instant dopamine rush it’s all too easy to become addicted to. Your moods become inextricably intwined with the spikes and dips in your numbers.
That’s not a rational feeling. Despite being numeric in nature, notifications are designed to appeal to our emotions. Look at their aspect — they pop up on our phone without our control, indicating urgency. They show up in bright red badges, triggering an instinctive need to check them.
That’s not a bad thing in itself, as long as we recognize that’s the case — it just makes it really difficult to tell when notification-checking becomes harmful.
Because you can keep thinking of it as a useful thing to do, you might not realize that continually checking your notifications bringing you more unhappiness than joy, even when someone does share your Facebook post, or comment on your most recent Insta. Especially because it’s so easy to compare with other people who have higher numbers, and feel better (or, more often, worse) as a result.
I struggle with this myself. Even though I turned off notification badges and updates on my phone, I still can do the rounds of my social media, checking Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, seeing which content is giving me more dopamine hits today, and inevitably feeling awful when they fail to deliver the promised validation.
I’m especially vulnerable when I’m tired, hungover, or just in need of a pick-me-up, and this morning I’m all three. I’m drinking my coffee and fighting the urge to go check Instagram just one more time. I’m unwillingly putting myself at the mercy of other people’s opinions of me.
But this morning, I’m not going to give in, and neither should you. Here are three things you should do instead of checking your statistics.
1. Bake something.
There’s something truly magical about baking. I know at its core, baking is just chemistry, but there’s an undeniable beauty in molding individual, disparate ingredients which, with your help, become a cohesive (and delicious) whole.
It’s something tangible that you create with your hands. Unlike big spikes in your notifications, which only other people can give to you, baking is something you can do for yourself that instantly gives you something valuable. A gift from present you to future you (and friends, if you’re feeling generous).
The meditative process of kneading, mixing, stirring, whisking — it’s all something which will take your mind away from your latest post, and at the end you will have created something solid, delicious, and good.
Give your mind a rest and do something physical. Treat yourself, make a cup of tea, and do something constructive with your hands.
2. Read something.
I love to lose myself in books. Especially with high fantasy, where there are entire worlds the authors have created, crafted in a way that feels they’ve done it especially for me, books give me a way out of my own head.
But sometimes I don’t just do it to escape whatever thoughts I currently have. Sometimes I do it in order to analyze what I like and what I don’t like about that content.
The reason we obsess over our notifications is because we think they can give us insights into how we can make stuff people will like. They can, but only up to a certain point.
Instead of hitting refresh for the thousandth time, do something that will actually help you identify quality.
Pick out what makes the book good to you. Is it the character? The emotion? No matter what kind of social media you use, there’s something you can learn about how the written word affects us, and deconstruct what makes you feel so strongly about it, whether in a positive or negative way, and apply it to your next post.
That’s something constructive you can do to improve your content, rather than looking at your notifications yet again.
3. Do something you’re bad at.
There’s nothing like stretching rusty skills to give you a bit of perspective. Like deconstructing and analyzing written works to find what resonates, practicing a skill you’re not great at is an excellent way to remind you that hard work pays off, not number-checking. And it can show you that you don’t need to be good at something (or more importantly, perceived as being good at something by others) in order to get enjoyment or worth from it.
For me, I persevere at painting. It’s something that brings me a lot of joy, even though it’s not something which will ever earn me money, praise, or widespread fame.
Like a lot of other things in life, I’m not naturally talented, but with (a lot) of practice, I can tell I’m improving. Painting is a way to give myself internal self-worth without being reliant on others giving it to me. It makes me happy in a stable, consistent way.
Even when I’m bad, which is most of the time, I still have a lovely time trying it. I don’t take it too hard when it comes out terribly — I don’t mark it as a failure the same way I would when my notifications aren’t as many as I had hoped.
And when it’s good? That’s just a bonus.
Practicing something you’re bad at stretches your mind and brings you back to the fact that the worth you give to yourself feels much better than that which comes from others.
I’m guilty of checking on my notifications. A lot. Even when I post a picture on my personal Instagram, I’m checking it endlessly in those first 24 hours, and if it doesn’t get as many likes as I was expecting, I’m devastated. It feels like a personal comment on my lifestyle. Other people witness what I choose to put out there, and deem it as not good enough.
It’s so easy to waste time watching the little numbers on your screen, assigning your sense of self-value and your mood to how well you’re performing. It’s hard to pull your head out of that mindset and remember that you’re worth more than the validation other people give you.
If you too have noticed you’re looking at the analytics over and over again in the hopes of getting the little burst of dopamine that means someone’s liked something you’ve put out there, consider trying one of these three things instead.
This morning, I’ve baked cookies, read half my book, and painted a little, too. I haven’t checked my notifications for Medium, Instagram, or Twitter, despite publishing new content on all recently. I’ve taken the important step of realizing it doesn’t make me sustainably happy, and noticing that it makes me prone to comparing myself to others and feeling jealous.
These solutions remind me: even though I put content out there for others to look at, ultimately I do it for myself, not them. I can improve and feel good about my value without needing others to give it to me, because I’m learning that I can give it to myself.