An excerpt from You Are What You Click: How Being Selective, Positive, and Creative Can Transform Your Social Media Experience.
Confidence and humility are strongly related, but one arises when we focus on self, and the other arises when we focus on others. However, each attribute can become unhealthy when it becomes too extreme, or when we lose the perspective of the other attribute. In the case of confidence, we focus on our worth as a remarkable human being—the fact that we have tremendous potential and deserve compassion and opportunity. But when we lose the perspective of the importance of others, confidence can veer into arrogance—the belief that our needs and value are somehow more important than everyone else’s.
In the case of humility, we recognize that we are just one person within a much bigger world and that all people have value and importance. But the risk here is that, if we lose the perspective of our own value and worth, healthy humility can devolve into self-loathing.
What does all this philosophizing have to do with social media?
A lot, I think. Next time you log on, notice that much of what goes on in the world of social media is a continuous dance between confidence, humility, arrogance, and self-loathing.
We need at least some level of confidence to post anything at all. Every time we post we’re likely to ruffle some feathers, even if we don’t mean to. So, to put ourselves out there in the first place, our self- confidence needs to pass a certain threshold.
I encourage you to reach into that confidence when you use social media. This includes encouraging others during their challenging times, magnifying their accomplishments and good feelings, and engaging in valuable self-expression.
However, we’ve all seen it go too far. We’ve seen people on social media who can’t stop talking about themselves. This happens in real life as well; some people will dominate conversation and demand everyone’s focus. But there’s something about social media—and other digital technologies like Zoom—that accentuates this dynamic. At least if we’re talking in person, we might hear our own voice and realize we’re dominating the room. The next time, we might pause before presenting a dissertation on why we chose one toothbrush over another. But in the world of social media, those auditory cues are often missing. It’s also not easy to read the body language of others, even on a visual platform like Zoom. So, online, it becomes that much more important to temper our confidence, keep it in perspective, and not let it fall into arrogance.
Social media can also breed arrogance because of its connection with celebrity culture. Sports figures and actors have always been—and remain—prone to an exaggerated sense of self-importance. Now the role of “social media influencer” is suddenly on par with these other professions. A 2018 report suggested that an individual with over a million followers can command as much as $100,000 to $250,000 per post. This has led to an arms race in which the number of followers, friends, or fans someone has equates to their value as a human being—and this includes all levels of social media users. It’s a trap we all need to be mindful to avoid as we try to maintain humility.
However, having humility on social media doesn’t mean that we should disappear into self-worthlessness, either. Being a passive wallflower can foster things like depression, anxiety, and loneliness. How do we find and keep the right balance?
One practical and concrete way is to look back over and consciously think about the frequency and content of your posts. That pattern itself can reveal things you didn’t realize at the time. Did you get too caught up in yourself after a particular success? Were you posting about the same event—with unwavering frequency—months after the fact? On the other side, did you retreat into silence for too long after one disappointment?
When things in life seem too chaotic on a broad level, we can find solace in dealing with it in a small, metaphoric way—cleaning out our desk, bedroom, or car, for example. Toward the end of the movie Crazy Heart, Jeff Bridges’s character, an alcoholic country star, cleans his home as a way of getting himself out of a vicious spiral of addiction and loss.
In the same way, analyzing and adjusting your social media life can help you attack larger life issues around confidence and humility. A slow foray back into posting can help build confidence, which can bleed into your offline life. After a break from social media, if you start to comment on others’ Instagram photos, to connect with them one-on-one to see how they’re doing, and ultimately to post some of your own material, it can help pave the way for making similar moves in the offline world. “Practicing” the skills involved in reaching out for help on social media during hard times—and going through some of the associated emotions—can transfer onto other situations. In this way, social media can be a tool to help build confidence when you need to do that.
On the other hand, this same kind of self-reflection can lead to noticing that you’re focusing too much on trivialities in your life without paying attention to what others are going through. This insight can help you develop more compassionate humility when dealing with others.
This process can be more challenging than it sounds. It can be hard to find the time in the first place to consciously look over your feed. Then it can be hard to take objective stock of what you see. Finally, there’s the challenge of creating a new plan and sticking to it.
For this reason, I suggest doing these things with someone else. Another person can help you carve out focused time. Looking over each other’s feeds will help you face difficult realities together. And it’s easier to stick to a plan for change when you have someone providing support.
Of course, choosing the best person for this can also be difficult. This exercise can get quite personal, so it’s important to share with someone you feel comfortable being vulnerable with. Almost like the quarantine “pods” that developed during the Covid-19 pandemic, form this relationship with someone you trust emotionally.
When it comes to confidence, it’s about looking for the good in yourself and celebrating that. There is nothing wrong with touting our accomplishments, posting pictures of ourselves that capture our individuality, and sharing our valuable thoughts. When it comes to humility, it’s about looking for and amplifying those good things in others.
At any time, in any situation, whether on social media or offline, it’s a good idea to be positive—and to let that positivity keep you in the wise continuum between confidence and humility.
Brian A. Primack is a physician and author of You Are What You Click: How Being Selective, Positive, and Creative Can Transform Your Social Media Experience.
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