• Rhys Johnstone

How leaders and entrepreneurs can create a more mindful relationship with social media

Here is a scenario which may be familiar: I had set aside a couple of hours that morning to work on a marketing plan, but somehow the time had shrunk by half before I had even started. The siren lure of the little notification icon on my Facebook app had sucked me down a spiral of updates, images and videos. It started with a close friend sharing wonderful pics full of familiar faces, but within 10 minutes I was reading some blog post by a person I had never met about an embarrassingly tangential subject. Then Instagram caught my attention and I was lost in a whirl of pictures of beautiful places, people and inspirational quotes. Soon LinkedIn was bombarding me with news of the latest career moves of people I couldn’t even remember connecting with. I was left feeling ashamed, confused, defeated. Why couldn’t I resist the urge and do my work, which I thought was so important and purposeful? It wasn’t even a task which had been imposed on me - I had chosen to spend that morning on strategy and was looking forward to it. How was it that I ended reading posts from complete strangers about things I didn’t even know interested me? I was left feeling as if my life was missing something: why couldn’t I go to all those amazing places? And I bet I wasn’t earning as much as those high fliers on LinkedIn. The impact of social media on our attention as leaders can be completely debilitating. Latest reports show that the average time spent by adults on social media now exceeds two-and-a-half hours per day (1). That is a lot of lost time. As leaders, we need focused time where we can immerse ourselves in a project. That is just not possible when we are checking our phones every few minutes. And the emotional impact is just as problematic. Excessive social media usage is linked with depression, and a 2018 study found that reducing your social media usage to 30 minutes a day could increase your wellbeing (2). And yet, as leaders, social media can be an important source of information, support and inspiration. Intuitive Ocean, for example, hopes to provide all those good things via my Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts. This blog post will be tweeted and posted on all three! Online groups can be an important place to find connection, support and professional advancement. And although some people choose to disconnect completely from social media and make that work for them, for most of us that just doesn’t seem feasible or even desirable. For all its dangers, social media can be a wonderful way to stay connected to family, colleagues and valuable media. So what are some things we can do to create a more mindful relationship with social media? An approach that is intentional, skilful, kind and supportive of our wellbeing, relationships and vocation. We’ll talk about three helpful approaches here. Firstly, we’ll outline a process you can adopt in setting up how you approach your relationship with social media, and what to do when you realise you’ve been hijacked. Step 1: Be intentional. Decide what you want to achieve in your interaction with social media, and exactly when and how you will engage to achieve that (More of that in “Batching” below). Step 2: Be vigilant. Notice when you have departed from your pre-determined boundaries. Step 3. Notice how it feels in your body when this happens. What emotions come up? Are there any triggers, cues or behaviours that precede the distraction or deviation from your plan. Step 4. Be kind to yourself. Don’t make a big story about it. Gently ask yourself: is this what I want? How does this relate to my intention? Step 5: Re-set. You can use this Three-Step Breathing Space, which is a free brief guided meditation to help you. Step 6: Continue with your intended work or activity, and try to remember the pattern that led to the distraction - maybe you will catch it a little earlier next time.

Secondly, a really helpful practical way to set a boundary with social media is to batch your time for catching up and interacting in predetermined blocks during the day. This prevents you from constantly dipping in and scrolling through your timeline, looking for new content. The time you give to each batch and how many batches you do will depend on how important social media is to you, and how much you actually need to achieve online.

For example, if social media is not really important for your life and work, you may decide that you are only going to check your accounts once a day for 15 minutes. But if social media is really crucial for your work, you might decide to go on for an hour, twice a day or even three times. What is important is that you create a schedule and try to stick to it.

Lastly, think about your ratio of consuming vs creating content and engaging. Studies show that the most debilitating effects of social media come from endless consumption, scrolling through your feed, looking for something that can make you feel good (2).

On the other hand, actually engaging with people you know - commenting, chatting and providing feedback - is associated with some beneficial effects on social media. And by uploading content that is from the heart and is authentically representative of your thoughts and experience, you gain many benefits, including the value of expressing yourself and working out your emotions, as well as building relationships by making yourself vulnerable.

Of course, I am not advocating spewing very personal life details all over social media, nor am I a fan of the negative, emotional rant. Each to their own though… In summary, social media is itself neither good nor bad; however, our relationship to it can be problematic for us as leaders and individuals. Creating an intentional, mindful approach to our social media usage, and trying to stay aware of our thoughts, feelings, emotions and behaviours when we engage with social media may be very helpful for our productivity and wellbeing. References: 1: 2: Hunt, M. G., Marx, R., Lipson, C. & Young, J. (2018). No more FOMO: Limiting social media decreases loneliness and depression. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 37(10), 751-768. Links: Download your free guided meditation now

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