Aug 13, 2020

How to stop seeking External Validation

As we pursue our journey towards digital minimalism, we encounter two key obstacles along the way.
  1. External validation
  2. Instant gratification
Both are related to some extent but there are also subtle differences. In this post, let's focus on the first obstacle - external validation.

In simple words, external validation is the feeling we experience because of the reaction we get from others. We feel good when others appreciate our words and actions and we feel bad when others don't approve of it or criticize the same. 

While growing up, we experienced external validation in the form of tests, exams and competitions in schools and on occasions when we met our relatives during social gatherings where we were appreciated for our good behavior.

Such instances didn't occur every day for most of us growing up in the 70s and 80s. As a result, I notice that most of us born in those decades do not associate our self-esteem strongly with external validation. It is only my general, biased observation. I might be wrong here. Social media usage might have changed the thought patterns of this age group as well.

As I thought more about external validation, I also realized this -
The more we get external validation, the more we seek or crave for it. 
If we don't get enough validation on a social media platform, we lose interest and drop off. BUT if we start to get validation, we invest more energy into the platform - more time, more check-ins, more posts. And we eventually get fixated on validation metrics such as likes, hearts, thumbs up, comments, retweets, followers count, subscribers count etc. And slowly we start to associate our identity with these metrics. It is a vicious cycle, in which we can get caught if we are not aware of the repercussions.

A question all of us need to ask ourselves, irrespective of the decade we were born in - 
Is our self-esteem dependent on external validation? 
If you don't know the answer, here is a sure-shot way to figure that out:

Answer this question honestly:
If all social media platforms decide to shut down today, what activities would you continue to do and enjoy?

If the number of activities is higher, then your self-esteem is not determined by social media vanity metrics.

As I thought about this question in the context of my life, these are the activities that popped up in my mind.
  1. Yoga - except for one post that I shared on International Yoga Day in 2019, I haven't posted any other picture of mine on social media. Yes, I do write about my Yoga practice now and then in my blog posts but I don't talk about how many rounds of Suryanamaskars I complete every day.
  2. Walking - I don't post about the number of steps I take or the number of kms I walk daily. I don't use a step counter in the first place. 
  3. Cleaning - I enjoy cleaning but I don't like to post pictures of various clean corners of my home. I think I might have only shared 1-2 pictures so far on Instagram.
  4. Cooking - this is a tricky one as my Instagram account is mainly filled with pictures of food. But there are so many dishes which I have cooked and I haven't clicked a pic of all of them to share on Instagram. I don't feel the need to share pics of every single dish I cook.
  5. Writing - this is a happy realization in the past 2 weeks. I have been consistently writing on my blog but I haven't shared the links on any social media platform. This could be because I'm currently on a break from Instagram. Whenever I resume using the platform, I'm gonna make sure that not all my blog posts need to be shared. I write because I enjoy writing. 
Take some time to identify those activities in your current life that you do for the sheer joy of it, without the need for external validation through social media. Keep adding more to this list. 

A richer, fuller life can be lived outside social media. Let's aim for that.

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