How Comparison Robs Joy: 2020 Edition

Back in AP Psych class, we learned about a cognitive bias called the Framing Effect.

A term coined by psychologists in the 80s, the Framing Effect plays on decision-making skills in stating that our choices become what they are due to making them based on the way a situation is “framed,” or distorted to an audience through pointed messaging, context or ideas — influencing our perspectives in a way that is largely unbeknownst to many, unless you’re vigilant about viewing all information through a critical lens.

Quarantine has left us with ample time on our hands. Are we repurposing these newfound hours to build useful skills, find jobs, learn to play instruments or improve our careers? Maybe. But are we also finding opportunities to spend excessive time on social media and comparing our lives to others — much as we did in the days before coronavirus — but the intensity magnified by ten? Probably.

If an idle mind is the devil’s workshop, then the last few months has Satan working overtime. Advanced technology has already shifted us into a digital-centric society, but we’ve reached new heights and this time, there’s isn’t an escape to reality button: people are left to rely entirely on technology.

Industries like small businesses, restaurants and events, whose ethos rely on the presence of humans, are collapsing. Media corporations like Twitter and Facebook have announced plans to operate staff permanently remote in the future. Educators are forced to transfer lesson plans online, with many unused to the sudden transition. Inequalities that have long existed across communities from varying socioeconomic and racial backgrounds are exposed more starkly than ever.

And so, many of us are left staring at screens for unhealthy periods of time. Bombarded with content. Plied with advice. Mindlessly scrolling, catching glimpses of perfectly curated lives on Instagram. Before long, the anxiety that was already induced by the dynamic coronavirus is compounded by our endless consumption of information of all kinds.

But before becoming a victim to the pitfall of content overexposure, consider this: are you interpreting all that information after considering the full context, or simply absorbing it through the way in which it is framed for you?

For instance…

The LinkedIn Rat Race. This one is particularly fascinating to me because it seems to apply mostly to corporate America. LinkedIn was originally built for job-seekers to share their resume and network with one another. Overtime, it became another social media platform in which people use strategic messaging and exaggerate their work for the purpose of — what, exactly? Self-importance? In anticipation of the next gig? The trend on LinkedIn has evolved to sharing each and every accomplishment, every new course taken, the skills we’ve learned in this time to highlight how productive we’ve been, and presently, it seems to have morphed into Twitter 2.0.

Raise your hand if you’re tired of seeing the phrase “now more than ever” now more than ever.

The Perfect Life (on Instagram) Ah, Instagram. The platform built specifically for vanity under the guise of sharing our “authentic lives.”

Recently, I made the decision to deactivate my personal account after becoming intensely aware of the growing dread that manifested every time I picked up my phone, which still didn’t prevent me from dedicating the next umpteen minutes doing nothing productive at all.

We all know quite well that the people we follow do not have perfect lives, nor are they all motivational speakers, experts in their fields, or doing some incredible things that you can’t compare to – but sometimes you just need that proverbial slap in the face.

Toxic Twitter Culture. On Twitter, everyone’s opinion matters. Which is great — until it’s not and you find you’re cancelled. I’m lookin’ at you, J.K. Rowling.

— — — — — — — -

Here are a couple of pitfalls to watch out for on social media before you go beating yourself up:

The Consistent Achievement Sharer — those that share every ‘win’ on social media. Overcompensating? Possibly.

The Grass is Greener Syndrome — seeing what others have and wishing for it, without considering the good in our own lives or what they may have experienced to reach that achievement.

The Un-Meritocracy — the idea that everyone who has found success has earned it through pure merit.

The Forgetful Memory (time to remind yourself of your last ‘win’) — the idea isn’t to laud ourselves for every minor success, but to realize that though you are looking all shiny-eyed at someone else’s life, someone else is looking at your life that way too!

The Rumination Stage of Isolation — Good God, I can’t be the only one whose metaphorical self has taken refuge in the deepest and darkest parts of the mind. You know — where the most pitiful, negative, and most un-useful of thoughts roam the land. If you find yourself nitpicking every stage of life from birth to puberty to the present for where you could have improved, bemoan the mistakes, the errors, the what-ifs, you will always lose, because your frame of reference is hyper-focused on the past, which can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy: failure.

This year is will forever be seared into our memories and history books, and not just for obvious reasons.

The collective experience of shut-in — both physically and mentally– is bound to force our varied day-to-day to confront the ugliness of the inner workings of our minds. Comparison culture is not out of the norm — we naturally do this on a day-to-day. But compound fleeting thoughts with isolation and being stripped of your regular life? It’s an easy recipe for disaster for your mental health. By repossessing awareness of some of the oldest tricks in the playbook, you can prevent yourself from caving in.

*Please note that this blog was drafted in late April before historical events that transpired.*

thriving in chaos is a double-edged sword.

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