In this Just Melissa episode, I’m sharing five strategies I’ve used over the years to create a healthy, boundaried, positive relationship with social media. It’s not always easy to feel like your Instagram feed is a happy place. All too often, our engagement on social media makes us feel anxious and less-than; powerless against what pops up in our feed or alerts. If you’re a slave to the ping, can’t stop mindlessly scrolling, get stuck in the comparison trap, or feel like your social media connections are shallow and unfulfilling, this episode will show you how to reclaim your power, curate the feed of your dreams, and transform your time on social media into the nourishing, authentic connections you’ve been seeking.
THIS EPISODE’S GUEST
Whole30 Head Mistress, Co-Founder
MU: 00:03 Hi, my name is Melissa Urban and you’re listening to Do the Thing, a podcast where we explore what’s been missing every time you’ve tried to make a change and make it stick.
MU: 00:20 Today I’m talking about how to make social media work for you and no, I’m not talking grow your follower count strategies. I’m talking about how to create a healthy relationship with social media and your phone in a way that feels energetically uplifting and positive instead of draining and anxiety producing. I’m on Instagram a lot. I spend a few hours a day reading and responding to comments, answering DMs, commenting on other people’s posts and crafting my own captions. It’s part of my business of course, but it’s also a way for me to share my message and voice with an audience I’d normally never be able to reach. I gain inspiration from leaders and community members alike. I continue my own personal growth work through the posts I read here and I get to hear uplifting, moving life, changing stories from your lives too. However, finding a healthy relationship with Instagram hasn’t always been easy.
MU: 01:21 The way I’ve shown up, engaged, and used these tools have evolved a lot over the last five years. I used to spend hours mindlessly scrolling. I’d image craft so you only ever saw the best version of me and I relentlessly compared my real life to other people’s highlights as you might imagine. It didn’t leave me fulfilled, happy, or self-confident. If anything, it only reinforced my sense of insecurity and always left me feeling lacking in something; success looks money or worth. Thanks to tons of therapy. Byron Katie’s work, the careful cultivation of a feed I loved and deliberately choosing to show up here more authentically. I can now say my relationship with social media is pretty darn healthy. I’m still on it every day. I still spend a lot of time in my DM, but it’s different. It’s on my timeline now within my boundaries and 99% of the time it leaves me feeling good about myself, my work and my impact.
MU: 02:23 Of course I still have my moments of mindless scrolling and time suckage but I’m working on that too, as you’ll hear. Today, I’m going to share five things you can do to make social media work for you so you can take advantage of all the benefits these platforms have to offer in a way that doesn’t keep you stuck in the comparison trap, doesn’t take up all your free time, helps you connect more, not less with real people in real life and feels like actual self care instead of punishment and at the end I’m going to challenge you to a 30 day experiment that my friend and psychiatrist, dr Ellen Vora, challenged me to in episode 13 of Do the Thing. Spoiler. I completed it and it was pretty awesome. The theme of today’s Just Melissa episode is empowerment. Remembering that in the case of social media, you are 100% in the driver’s seat of your own experience and how it makes you feel. There are so many benefits to staying connected with friends, family, and total strangers who inspire and motivate you online. And after today’s discussion you’ll have all the tools you need to cut the dead weight from your social media feeds and start growing the kind of online community that brings you comfort, nourishment, and joy. Now onto the episode.
MU: 03:44 All right, we’re going to start with a piece of advice, a guarantee you’ve heard before, but you probably haven’t done it because if you did, you would have a much easier relationship with social media and your phone in general. Step one in making social media work for you, turn off notifications and set some boundaries around when you will and will not be on your phone. So often the mindless scrolling starts with the ping of a notice or a little number piling up on an icon on our phone, but you get to decide when you log in and review your social media feeds. We often, I think, feel like it’s this assault of pings and messages and comments on us, but we need to remember that we’re in charge of our phones, not the other way around. And by the way, you’re going to hear that sentiment repeated frequently throughout this episode because all too often we feel powerless when it comes to the way our social media feeds make us feel.
MU: 04:43 We have to remember that we’re the ones in control. Isn’t that good news? It’s good news. I’ve often said there’s no such thing as a social media related emergency, so why are we treating comments and DMs as if their response is life and death? Just because someone sends you a DM at 2:00 AM doesn’t mean you owe them a response. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned about people, it’s this, they will take as much as you are willing to give and that’s not a bad thing. It’s simply human nature. But what it means is that you have to be the one to set boundaries. So when I get DMs from coaches who ask questions late at night or I get a text message from a whole30 approved partner with a business question on a Sunday, I don’t respond. This is my family time. These are my boundaries and you can talk to me on Monday unless it’s a true emergency, which I can count on one hand the number of times I had a whole30 approved partner related emergency…
MU: 05:41 It can wait till Monday,. but speaking of Monday, it’s not going to happen first thing Monday morning when I get out of bed because I have boundaries around that too. We fill the most out of control when it comes to social media and our phones in general when we act without conscious thought and that’s exactly what we do when we wake up, rollover and check our phones or mindlessly respond to the ping of a notification if you haven’t already turned off all social media notifications do that now. I mean all of them not for an Instagram comment, not for a direct message. I don’t have any notifications on my phone whatsoever except for text messages. That notification is a call to action and we’ve become so conditioned to answer it that we no longer think critically about whether this is a good time for us to read that message or comment.
MU: 06:35 Habit that research shows that resisting technology like the ping of a notification depletes more willpower than other non technology related tasks. So turning off notifications is a great way to extend that willpower so you can stay patient with an overtired child or resist the call of the cookies in your pantry on day eight of a whole 30 turning off notifications works well for all Four Tendencies too. If you’re an upholder like me or especially an obliger, you may feel compelled to answer the call of that notification. Turning it off means there’s no more perceived obligation. If you’re a questioner, you may wonder if there’s something in there that you need to go about your day or at the very least feel compelled to satisfy your curiosity. And I just gave you a good a reason to turn notifications off, which should make sense to your questioner brain.
MU: 07:27 And if you’re a rebel, why are you letting a stupid beep on your phone tell you what to do anyway? It’s almost like the easiest if you’re a rebel for me to convince you to turn off notifications. Next. I want you to think about setting some boundaries around when you will and will not be on your phone and I’m going to give you a hint. First thing in the morning or the hour before I go to bed are the worst times to be on social media. Those are the times when I’m most likely to see something that’s going to throw me off my game and that is not how I want to start, nor is it how I want to end my day. So here’s something I’ve done in my own life that I’ll also recommend for you. Set a specific set of behaviors you’ll engage in first thing in the morning that don’t involve your phone, whether it’s just 10 minutes or two hours.
MU: 08:12 Decide what you could do in the morning that would make you feel grounded, centered, and proactive instead of reactive. One thing that’s worked really well for me is putting my phone on do not disturb at night before I go to sleep and then just leaving it on do not disturb all the way through the end of my workout. That ensures I won’t be disturbed as I complete my morning routine, but it still lets text message notices pop up. So if something important comes up from my son’s dad or his school, I won’t miss those messages. But the Slack stuff that my team is sending or the emails that are coming in or the social media DMS from yesterday, those are not interrupting the flow of my morning and yes I realize here we are only talking about morning but trust me, we are going to get to your use of social media and your phone at night later on in the episode.
MU: 09:01 Step two for making social media work for you actively and regularly manage your feed. Remember your in control of social media. It is as I’ve described it before, a pull, not a push. Brazilian butt models, fitness trainers, influencers who are paid to travel to fabulous places for a living. If we’re seeing those people on our screens, it’s because we’re allowing them to be there. We invite those people into our consciousness. So if your feed is making you feel less than unworthy, jealous or depressed every day, get a new feed. You are 100% in charge of that. So here’s a quick test that I like to use to decide whether or not your feed is actually working for you: Visit your Instagram explore page. Just look at the first screen, maybe scroll down a little bit and see what shows up. If what you see there is truly representative of your interests, then congratulations.
MU: 10:03 You are doing a great job cultivating your feed. If it’s full of people things or topics that aren’t actually serving you, that’s a good sign that you’ve been engaging with content that isn’t in your highest interest. I’ll tell you a story. Just before my divorce, my explore feed was full of fitness, bikini models and other Instagram fitness women with perfect bodies. I had just had a baby. My marriage was falling apart. I was obviously not feeling good about myself and so what I told myself was that these women were there for inspiration and I’m using quotey fingers. Really, it was just me punishing myself for not being enough to keep my marriage together. Oof. Talk about an awful story to tell yourself, but you know, that’s where I was at the time and it required an awful lot of introspection and therapy and getting out of that relationship to be able to see how social media was just a symptom of what I had been going through.
MU: 11:08 I still remember the day, it was after a therapy session that I went in and unfollowed almost all of these women. It felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. Fast forward to today, if there’s a fitness person I follow now it’s because they post great content, they show up authentically and they make me feel good about myself exactly where I am today, which is a far cry from how my old feed made me feel. The first thing I would recommend doing here is set a limit to how many people you will follow. It doesn’t have to be scientifically based, just a number that works for you, but it helps give you a boundary. So I’ll give you an example. I follow no more than 500 people at a time. Coincidentally, I didn’t realize this until we talked about it, oh maybe like six months ago.
MU: 11:59 Brandon follows exactly 666 people. So if he follows two new people, that means two more have to go. I see people on social media who follow thousands of people at once, but there’s no way you can actually keep up with that many people and following that many people. It means the people you actually care about are being squeezed out of your feed. Also that old like follow for follow thing that maybe used to work in the old days of Instagram does not work anymore in terms of the new algorithm. It’s no longer a good way to grow your audience and if you’re not engaging with the posts you truly love and care about, they’re not going to show up in your feed. So take a look at the number of people you follow now and decide what might be reasonable to cull it down to. I almost guarantee that if your number is in the thousands you can cut it in half.
MU: 12:51 And then go in and start unfollowing. I actually unfollow people on a really regular basis. I used to run this unfollow Friday campaign where I would remind you on Friday, now is a good day to go into your feed and unfollow content that is not serving you. I don’t do it weekly but probably once a month either. When I see someone in my feed that I recognize is no longer in my highest interest or if I notice that I’ve gone over my 500 follow count, I will scroll through and relentless unfollow and let me tell you, I do not feel bad about unfollowing anybody. If someone unfollows me, it’s not about me, it’s about them. And I’ve had people, I’ve had friends and coaches and people I consider like close to me say I had to unfollow you for a little while for whatever reason.
MU: 13:44 And I’m like, cool, you know what? I’m just glad that you’re taking care of you and if what I’m putting out there authentically is not serving you in this moment, then I’m glad that you unfollowed me and I never take it personally. So I don’t ever feel bad about letting someone else go based on where I am in my life in this moment. We spend so much time worrying about what other people are gonna think. And these are like I’m talking about total strangers. If you unfollow your mom, you might have some explaining to do but like again, I’m going to say if it’s in your highest interest on follow or you could employ the mute button. So let me tell you about mute cause it’s pretty game changing. I employ the mute button on stories regularly so I want to see what some people in my feet are up to.
MU: 14:26 But for whatever reason I don’t want to see their stories. Maybe they’re talking about something that is painful for me. Maybe their stories are too promotional or sensational. I don’t know. Whatever the reason, I don’t want to see their stories, but I don’t want to unfollow. So if you tap and hold on their story icon, a little menu will come up and you can just hit mute and that cleans. My stories feed up a lot. Now I’m only seeing stories people I love and people I want to comment on and people I want to share in my own feed.
MU: 15:01 So now it would be a good time to talk about comparison on social media. I get so many questions about how not to compare yourself to others on social. I think I touched on this a bit in the judgement episodes where I talked about judgment as a mirror, not a window, but this is a little bit different. The questions you’re asking are such that it’s like I’m constantly comparing myself to other people and I’m constantly coming up short. In the beginning of social media, I could have just said, wait, hold on. I need to make sure you understand that what you’re seeing on social isn’t someone’s real complete life. It’s just a highlight reel. I think five years ago that wasn’t super clear to people on Instagram. Like we would see photos and pictures and we’d be like, Oh my gosh, their life is perfect and magical.
MU: 15:53 But I think now that so many more people are showing up way more authentically, that particular cat is out of the bag, right? Like we already know that nobody is sharing their entirety of their life on Instagram and what you’re seeing is generally the best of the best and what people want us to see. But I can’t just see that in terms of your question, like why am I comparing myself to others? You already know that these people’s posts are just highlight reels, not real life and yet you’re still comparing and I really think this is a therapy worthy question. I can go back to my own experience and say I was following people that I stacked up unfavorably against because I told myself it would be motivating and I wonder if that’s why you think you’re doing it as well. But the question I would pose is how’s that working out for you?
MU: 16:51 I know how it worked out for me, which is to say it only made me feel worse. I think it comes, at least for me, it came from a punishment mentality like I deserved to be shamed and put down by holding myself up against these other people and rating myself unfavorably. So I’ll ask you the same question I asked about myself in that judgment podcast episode. If these people that you are comparing yourself against make you feel so bad about yourself, why don’t you just unfollow them? And if you can’t answer that question or you don’t immediately go through and scrub your feed like I did, it’s definitely worth exploring why in therapy. So if you find yourself stuck in that comparison trap and you logically understand that what you’re comparing is your real life to someone’s highlight reel, and yet you can’t stop doing it, that’s definitely worth exploring with a trained counselor or a support group for now.
MU: 17:49 That’s where you are. I will invite you to do two things to your social media feed. The first is go through and with a really critical eye. Unfollow the people that upon seeing them on your feed give you an immediate sense of unease. You know who I’m talking about? The people you spend the most time like digging through and evaluating every aspect of their life and zooming in on their photos. The ones you try to engage with who never engage back. The ones who feel like they’re basically plastic, you’re not engaging with a real human being. All you’re seeing is a Stepford version. You can find two or three of those people in your feed right now, I guarantee and if you have the guts to unfollow them, like pause this podcast, go find those people cause you know who I’m talking about and click the unfollow button.
MU: 18:37 You will feel an immediate sense of relief. And second I invite you to follow a few new people who make you feel inspired and actually motivated but don’t make you feel bad about yourself. I will share some recommendations in the show notes. I’ve had several of them on this podcast. Jessamyn Stanley is one of those people, dr Nicole La Pera, the holistic psychologist is one of those people, people who motivate and inspire but make me feel really good about myself exactly where I am. You can also find posts to like by going to someone you already like following and seeing who Instagram recommends you follow based on their feed. So when I go to Dr. Will Cole’s feed someone else who makes me feel really good about myself and also inspires and motivates me. There’s a little arrow dropdown arrow and when I click that arrow, it will show me other people who share similarly and have similar mindsets and content to Dr. Cole and that gives me a good way to check out new content in a way that I think is probably going to serve me the way that Will’s content serves me.
MU: 19:43 See if exposing yourself to more of these authentic people helps you see through other people’s highlight reel better and helps you show up more authentically as yourself, which actually leads me perfectly into the very next point. Step three in making social media work for you is to show up as yourself. One of the reasons so many years ago that I felt like social media was making me feel less than and unworthy was the way I was choosing to show up when my relationship was at its worst and we were quietly separating while also preparing to do a book tour together. Every time I opened up my Instagram, I felt sick to my stomach. I was putting on a major show playing up the success of my own life and business while feeling like a total imposter. It went way beyond simply respecting our privacy. There were times when I was deliberately image crafting about how great things were for the sake of appearing put together, and when it comes to social media, what you put out there is what you get back and whether you take that literally or energetically, if I show up inauthentically or I’m unwilling to actually connect with others, of course I’m going to find my experience on social media shallow and lacking and unsatisfying.
MU: 21:08 It wasn’t until I started sharing more openly, allowing myself to be vulnerable and truly connecting with you in comments and posts and DMS that social media finally felt like a nourishing environment and it can be nourishing. I get support and encouragement, good energy and prayers through social media every single day, but that starts with how I show up as me open and willing to connect as my true self. However, I know this can feel really scary to start sharing the tough parts with the good that doubts with the certainty, the challenges with the success. Here are two things that really helped me here. The first thing was setting a boundary around sharing what is personal, not intimate. I did not invent that term. That’s Brene Brown’s by the way, but it’s brilliant and I have adopted it. This helps me understand that some things are not for social media.
MU: 22:10 They are for me, God, my people and my therapist, and it means I’m not using Instagram as a weapon or as therapy. I could have used my platform to talk smack about my ex husband to constantly trash media who gives Whole30 a bad review or to any number of grievances, but remember what you put out, you will get back and that is not the kind of energy I want to put out into the world nor engaged with on my feed. The second rule I have is that I don’t share anything that I haven’t already processed myself that keeps me from over sharing here, putting highly personal things out into public that I don’t yet understand or I might feel different about once I’ve worked through them via Byron Katie or therapy. I think we’ve all seen people sharing things while they’re still so raw and painful and it’s really hard to be a part of that.
MU: 23:07 They feel too personal to intrude on and yet there they are for the whole world to see. It’s really uncomfortable and in my observation, it doesn’t garner the kind of connection that truly serves you. Glennon Doyle once said that she doesn’t share anything until it morphs from being her thing to a universal thing. I’m paraphrasing here. I can’t remember if I read that on her Instagram feed or her book love warrior, but that’s also how I feel. My divorce, my seasonal bouts with depression, my concussion. These are all things that I have and we’ll continue to talk about when the time is, but not until I’ve sat with them long enough to understand them, accept them, and most important make it about something bigger than just me. Authenticity attracts authenticity. People really dig that. Seeing someone be truly themselves, especially on social media, so if you want more of that in your feed, you’ve got to start putting it out there yourself and that goes beyond just what you’re posting.
MU: 24:11 It is also how you engage with people in your feed that matters. Step four, in making social media work for you. Treat social media as you would an in person interaction. You see a lot on social media that rarely translates into real life social conversations. People will ask horrifically inappropriate questions. They will say mean spirited, hateful, or racist comments or without an invitation. They will show you their genitals. At least I hope that doesn’t happen in your in person conversations. I would never do that. You think and you probably wouldn’t, but how you choose to comment, respond and engage with your feed says a lot about what you’re going to get back. Shanna Keller, who runs Whole30’s social media, she and I were talking about this a while back. She’s like, if the only thing you’re contributing to Whole30 is give me the whole recipe, or I don’t like cumin, or where did you get your shoes, then
MU: 25:13 yeah, you’re going to find your experience with us is pretty shallow. She has a really good point. If you want social media to feel like a nourishing, enriching, worthwhile community to visit, start by watering your own lawn. In other words, what you put out, you will get back. Here’s a great case in point. If someone takes the time to type a caption, you should read the caption before you respond. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve left a heartfelt caption on a post sharing openly about a difficult situation and in the comments someone compliments my hair. Now I’m happy you like my hair. I would love to hear about your like of my hair as well, but that is not inappropriate point in our conversation. To drop that comment, imagine we’re sitting down over coffee and I’ve just spent three minutes sharing a really difficult situation.
MU: 26:08 I recently went through. I pause and I look to you for a response and you say your hair looks great today. I mean, ouch. If you want to make social media work for you, you have to treat it with the same courtesy and respect that you would an in person interaction. That means never seeing anything on social media. You wouldn’t say to that person in real life. It means actively listening, responding with thoughtfulness and empathy, cultivating a true relationship. When I ask people, what do you want me to talk about when I talk about making social media work for you? Bunch of people said, how do I get my engagement up? My engagement is down lately. I will ask you this. Do you thoughtfully respond to every comment on your posts? Do you reply to every DM? Do you make sure you leave supportive messages on your favorite people’s pages?
MU: 27:00 If your feed is full of negativity, shallow interactions and tasteless memes, remember what you put out is what you get back. I like memes. I do. I’m not trashing on memes, but memes aren’t connection. And if your feed is full of them, yeah, it’s no wonder you’re unfulfilled. But Melissa, you say, what if someone trolls me says mean things to me or tries to put me down? You are welcome to respond as you see fit, but I will tell you something I learned in spades during my divorce. Responding to flames with flames only makes me feel worse. And if I truly believe that what I put out is what will come back to me. I’m going to think long and hard about how I respond to mean spirited comments and how I deal with those people. Remember when I talked about unfollowing? Blocking someone can be a joyful experience too.
MU: 27:56 You would never let someone sit in your living room night after night and hurl insults at you. So why are you letting them in your social media front door? Employ that block. Remember, social media is your house. It is a pull, not a push. So if you have someone who’s constantly not living up to what you would consider your community standards, as my son likes to say, byeeeeeeee. Now for those of you with thousands of followers, maybe it’s not realistic to respond to every single comment and DM, but I reply to a lot because I realize that’s how I create the kind of social media community that I want to belong to. And because I don’t follow a fafillion people, I’ve got more capacity to connect with the people I choose to connect with. And because notifications are off and I have set good boundaries around my time on social media, I only answer those messages when I have the time and energetic capacity to do so.
MU: 29:00 Which means I never get drained. And because I know social media is a pull, not a push. I never feel bad for taking a whole day off to spend with my kid or a practice self care. Do you see how all of this overlaps? Now we have one more hurdle to cross, which is how do I thoughtfully engage, respond to comments, craft vulnerable captions and answer DMS without spending all day, every day on social media. Step five in making social media work for you. Control, mindless scrolling with a Whole30-esque social media detox. Most of us aren’t spending hours a day on Instagram because we have thousands of comments and DMS to reply to not even me and I get a lot of DMS. No, our time is spent mindlessly scrolling because notifications remind us too and we’re stuck in the comparison trap and we follow so many people. There’s always something new to see, so okay, we already covered some of that, which is a great first step, but I recently took on a challenge from my friend Dr Ellen Vora. That was a total game changer in how dependent I felt on my phone in do the thing. Episode 13, Dr Vora challenged me to leave the phone out of my bedroom for 30 days.
EV: 30:23 The phone is this one intervention. It comes up a lot in my practice. Um, with sleep, I like to get people to get the phone out of the bedroom completely. That I think helps so dramatically with difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep for a number of ways that I could bore you with. But then I’m also just, it’s presence in her life. You basically want to bring so much consciousness to this little wonderful, useful, helpful and addictive problematic device. All these practices chip away at our happiness and our satisfaction in our lives. (MU) I am going to do that. I’m going to get my phone actually out of my bedroom. It’s not out of my bedroom. I put it on do not disturb, but like there are definitely nights where I think there’s something and like I put my book down to order something like 9:00 PM I’m going to do that. I’m going to get my phone out of my room and then I’m going to text you and let you know how accountability, not that you need that as an Upholder.
MU: 31:11 It was harder than I thought it would be. So much harder. I couldn’t believe how anxious I was the first few nights, like what if there’s something on Amazon prime that needs my attention at 10:00 PM but the results completely surprised me first. Leaving my phone out of the room left me more time to read before bed, which is one of my favorite activities. I found myself looking forward to extra book time and I blew through reads faster than ever. Also, I slept better. Listen, I already slept great and I slept even better, so maybe it was the lack of blue light. Maybe it was because I was falling asleep earlier or maybe it was the lack of social stimulation right before bed, but it was a noticeable improvement, which felt amazing. Most important though, after about a week I noticed I was less interested in my phone in general.
MU: 32:09 I would leave it on, do not disturb for hours at a time, responding to texts or Slack messages on my own timeline. It would leave me huge chunks of my day available for creative tasks like recording this podcast several times I forgot where I even had my phone, something which literally never happened before. During a recent trip, I began plugging my phone in right by my bed again as a force of habit. And guess what? Back to the mindless scrolling I went, I picked it back right where I left off on Amazon prime at 10:00 PM. As soon as I got home, I recommitted to no phone in the bedroom and it feels really good. So for those of you mindlessly scrolling, finding that screen limits you set on your phone just aren’t working. I encourage you to try this 30 day experiment. It’s not a no social media for 30 days because for those of us who rely on social media for our work or our business, that’s not realistic.
MU: 33:06 But I invite you to leave the phone out of your bedroom for 30 days, like out, out, out of reach. If you need an alarm, buy an alarm clock. If you need white noise by a white noise machine, but no phone from the minute you head into brush your teeth until your morning routine is done, I suspect you’ll find what I discovered that I don’t love being a slave to this rectangular hunk of plastic and that the world does keep spinning. If I don’t like that photo of your dog right away, I think you’ll find you’ll have a lot more time for thoughtful, conscientious, engaging to cultivate the kind of community you want. If you gift yourself back a few hours a day of previously mindless scrolling. So there you have it. Five ways I’ve discovered to make social media work for me. Now here comes the irony. I want to hear what you think about this episode on social media. Tell me your light bulb moment. How your own unfollow experiment, when or how you feel after 30 days with no phones in the bedroom. You can leave a comment on my Instagram feed at Melissa you or drop me a DM, which I will respond to on my own time within my own personal boundaries. I look forward to connecting with you there as long as I make your unfollow cut.