You are scrolling through Facebook one day and see a photo posted by a fellow colleague of yours on vacation. She stands on a paddleboard next to her boyfriend, set against a backdrop of palm trees, white sand beaches, and blue skies.
She rocks a bikini with nice abs and sporting a cheeky grin. Although you just wanted to mindlessly flip through your feed for a moment, an undeniable surge of jealousy rushes over you.
You think, "I wish my life was like that."
Welcome to the game of social media comparisons, or as game theorists would call it, an example of zero-sum thinking. Zero-sum thinking is the theory that one person's gain is another person's loss, and it's easy to see why this comparison trap is easy to come by.
Whether you are on Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, or one of the many other social media sites, it is difficult not to be swept up in the feeling that you are "less than" or "not good enough." Social media toxicity begins to seep into your life.
We live in a heavily filtered world where we want others to see the best version of ourselves, but the flip-side of that coin are the feelings of fear and self-doubt when we see others living their best lives.
Although social media is a relatively new phenomenon, this type of thinking is not new–zero-sum thinking has been around almost as long as humans have been.
Zero-sum thinkers see life as a pizza pie, and if their friends eat all their slices of pizza, they will be left hungry. But life isn't like that. If one person is happy, successful, just became a new mom, scored that job promotion, etc.–that has no bearing on you, your personal happiness, or your life choices. But that is easier said than done though, right?
What if we could learn to act more cooperatively and intentionally, instead of seeing the victories of others as a potential threat? With the right tricks in your tool belt, you can learn how to identify these harmful feelings and use them as fuel to learn how to live your best life in abundance, not detriment.
1. Cultivate mindfulness
What does envy look like to you? Does it cause a physical reaction, such as feeling flushed, itchy, or nervous? Or do you begin to fall down into a negative mental talk rabbit hole, hearing yourself confirming your worst feelings of not being good enough?
When you begin to feel envious, one of the best ways to combat it is to simply notice it. Like any muscle, the mind can be trained to think positively or negatively. By simply taking note of your feelings, you can use mindfulness as a tool to help notice patterns in your feelings, work to identify the causes, and help rewire your brain to think more positively.
Theodore Roosevelt once said that, "Comparison is the thief of joy. " It's easy to think about all the things you don't have and the way you wish your life could be–but how about thinking why your life is great?
Work against negativity by jotting down a list of attributes you are lucky to possess (be it health, wealth, or otherwise).
3. Create What You Crave
Let's go back to seeing the vacation picture earlier. Perhaps you felt jealous because you haven't been on vacation in a while, or maybe you just got out of a relationship and crave the companionship of being in a couple.
What steps can you do to put yourself in their shoes? Maybe it's working a little harder to save up some vacation days. Maybe it's finally signing up for that online dating website. Maybe it's even hiring a personal trainer to get some six-pack abs!
By identifying the cause behind the envy, you can start to create the life you want.
4. Social Media Detox
If you work through these steps and still feel self-doubt, consider whether being on social media is causing you more stress than enjoyment. Despite what your family or friends might say, you have zero obligations to be on any social media site.
If you can't seem to break the cycle of negative thoughts, try doing a self-imposed digital detox. Start by deleting the apps off your phone and see how you feel! It just may feel like a weight has been lifted off your shoulders.
Although zero-sum thinking is something that is hardwired into human brains, it doesn't necessarily mean we have to live our lives thinking that if someone gains something, we lose it.
Our potential is limitless, if we can learn to cultivate an attitude of gratitude–on both social media and in real life!