I wrote earlier this month that my two focus areas of 2019 are contentment and health. These are two areas I’m working on, so anything I share with you is like the blind leading the blind, but sometimes there is comfort in that. Sometimes it’s nice to be at the same point on the same journey together, right? And really, that’s what the heart of blogging is about…just an average person sharing what they are up to.
Soooo… let’s talk about contentment and some boundaries I needed to set up to help me on that journey.
Years and years ago, when I was a newlywed and just starting to develop a love for all things home, I became a shelter magazine and decorating book junkie. I subscribed to all of them and I joined the book clubs… you remember the ones that you would pick 8-12 books for $.99/each when you joined and then you’d have to buy X amount of books over the next two years? I did those. I didn’t even mind shipping back the “do not send me this month’s book selection” cards every four weeks. I loved my decorating books.
When Jeff and I didn’t have money to spend on books, we would go to Barnes & Nobel and I would sit on the floor of the decorating book section and pour over home books. I would make a list of all of the ones I liked and would then ask for them for Christmas or my birthday or I would save up and buy them on half.com. (Remember that site before it was bought by eBay?)
Anyway, what I noticed is these books and magazines were educational and inspirational, yes, but they also fostered a spirit of discontentment. We lived in apartments and then in my in-law’s basement as Jeff worked to finish his undergrad degree. My living spaces didn’t look anything like any home I saw on those beautiful glossy pages. And I found my heart desiring material possessions more than the things that really matter in life.
So, I had to temper it a bit. I canceled subscriptions to all but my two favorite magazines and I stopped joining the book clubs.
Setting those boundaries helped me to gain a proper perspective and to find contentment in what I had. It also helped me focus my attention on learning the skills required to get the looks I wanted for less. Instead of pining over what was out of my reach, I learned to slipcover, paint and refinish furniture, and sew curtains and pillows. I shifted that discontentment, which is an inactive, draining emotion, into productivity and resourcefulness.
Fast forward to now. We don’t need to play the book club games or renew our magazine subscriptions to get a glimpse of everything we don’t have. It’s all there…in the palm of our hands. And you know this and I’m sure you’ve felt some of the same uneasiness about it that I have. I’m sure you’ve experienced the feelings of inadequacy fed by beautiful lives displayed in perfect squares. And even their imperfections look pretty perfect. People are just rolling out of bed with false eyelashes and a perfectly situated “messy” bun.
If you asked me a year ago why I use Instagram, I would’ve answered that I use it as a part of my business (to reach a broader audience and connect with my readers in a way other than my blog) and because it’s inspirational. The first part of that answer is still true today, but the second part? I’ve had to examine and question that one. Do I really walk away from Instagram feeling inspired? Sometimes. I think the majority of the time, though, I walk away feeling like I need to do more, be more, or buy something. That’s all a way of saying I walked away feeling more discontent than when I started scrolling.
I really didn’t like that discovery. Not only because it meant I needed to make some changes in my relationship with social media, but because of what it revealed in me. Why do the accomplishments of others make me feel like I need to do more? Why do their successes make me feel like a failure? Why do I feel like I need to buy something simply because they are enjoying it? Ugh! Don’t you hate that?! What is that in us?
And why does Instagram seem to be the worst of them all?! I don’t feel that way after looking at Facebook. I just want to avoid anyone who is stirring up a heated political debate. I don’t feel that way when I look at Pinterest. I just search for and save ideas and recipes that I like. I don’t feel that way after poking around on YouTube. Usually, I’m just looking for a quick laugh at news bloopers or funny animals or people reacting to ridiculously spicy foods and I walk away feeling better after laughing myself to tears.
So, I’ve identified Instagram as the all-you-can-eat buffet that potentially feeds discontentment. But, I’m not about to delete the app or throw my phone into a lake. I do still recognize Instagram as an important tool for my line of business. I also view the community of followers grown over the years as a valuable and special group of individuals. There are many creatives I connect with on Instagram and I wouldn’t want to give that up.
For those who don’t know, I have two boys who are 10 and 12. They are entering that age where their character is starting to really develop. How are they going to define themselves? As we see them struggling through this, we’ve been encouraging them to use the character traits that are emerging in them for good.
You are fierce. Be fierce for good.
You are a leader. Be a leader for good.
So, I’m saying this to myself…
Use Instagram, but use Instagram for good.
Use it to grow your community of followers and to encourage them. Use it to connect with other creatives and be inspired by their journeys and work. Use it for good.
It’s all easier said than done, but I have set some simple, practical boundaries that have helped a lot! And all of what I wrote above is a long-winded way to get to the boundaries and why I set them!
set a time limit
The biggest and best thing that I’ve done is set a time limit for social media on my phone. It is set for 30 minutes/day. Now, I have the passcode and I can simply give myself more time and I do sometimes, but just having that time limit makes me focus on why I’m there. I do what I need to do and I get out. I don’t scroll and scroll any time I have a minute I need to fill in my day. I open the app with intention.
I also try not to open the app first thing in the morning. I read a devotional or listen to a podcast or start the day with something that is encouraging, motivating, and/or educational.
engage with posts/influencers that are encouraging & inspiring
Now that Instagram uses algorithms to curate your feed, they will show you more of whatever you engage with. If you’re constantly checking feeds that make you feel like you need to do more, be more, or buy something, Instagram will shove more of that down your throat. So, I’m being very intentional to like, comment, and engage only with posts that I find inspirational, encouraging, funny, etc.
inject some variety in your feed
I made the comment to a friend a couple of years ago that there was a sameness that was emerging on Instagram. The same houses, same projects, same clothes, same photo angles, same filters. She pointed out that probably had more to do with who I was following and she was right! I was pretty much only following a group of home bloggers who are all in the same niche. Not only does it get a little boring, but it also is easier to make comparisons with people who do what you do. So, my feed has a lot of variety now and some of the people I enjoy following the most are a complete departure from my style.
The accounts from top to bottom, left to right (like reading a book) are…
@annleefuller, @my_vintage_h_o_m_e, @eastoakstudio, @jonesdesigncompany, @oldhousechic, @jen_art, @sonjacaywoodart, @dighaushizzle, @jen_art, @gustavian_by_k.s.l, @lifeontheshadygrove, @whitecottagefarm, @louisebalaam, @jen_art
It’s refreshing to see minimalist modern and 1980’s-boho fusion and cute animals and abstract landscape paintings. I follow artists, musicians, travelers, photographers, comedians. And if I see that my feed is becoming too much of one thing, I’ll take a few minutes to like posts that are different to mix it up again.
It is so much more interesting and inspiring.
Believe it or not, I have been posting manually on Instagram for all these years! I ended up being on Instagram more than necessary, resulting in being sucked down the social media rabbit hole more than necessary. If it’s ever necessary. I have started scheduling my posts from Hootsuite (although there are many scheduling tools) and it has been so liberating. Not only that, but my captions are more meaningful because I can type them up on my computer and I’m not struggling through it on a small iPhone keyboard.
I was a little concerned that I would be “punished” by Instagram for scheduling posts, but that hasn’t been the case, yet. I’ve actually seen an increase in engagement and I think that’s due to the more meaningful captions and thoughtfully planned-out posts.
So, when I go on Instagram, it’s just about following up on comments and DMs, filming Stories, and maybe doing a little scrolling and commenting if I have the time.
And lastly, and this might sound hokie, but I take a few seconds to make sure I’m in the right mindset to engage on social media. I make sure I approach it in a spirit of love and humility. I’m opening that app to engage with a community of real people who are sharing pieces of their lives. I can control how I approach that. I can be caddy and judgemental or I can be loving, encouraging, supportive, and kind.
When I have taken the time to do that, it makes all of the difference! It’s not that there is a huge change in how I behave online, but it changes how I feel when I leave the app.
I knew all of these changes would help me have a healthier relationship with Instagram and would help me in the area of contentment and it definitely has. But, there have also been some unexpected side benefits. My creativity seems to have freed itself from being pinned down under the weight of comparison and people-pleasing. Writing is easier. Ideas are deeper and coming more frequently.
I’m not distracted by what everyone else is doing in my field, but I’m focused on what I feel compelled to create and send out into the world.
And what inspires and compels the creator needs to be the secret ingredient that drives a creative business, right?
What is your relationship with Instagram? Can you relate to what I’ve shared? Have you made any changes that have made that relationship a healthy one? Do you have any boundaries that have been effective for you that I didn’t already mention?