It seems like these days, there's no shortage of articles and social media posts that seem to be purposely written with the intention of making you feel bad. I believe most people write and share these with no purpose of causing anyone to feel horrible, but they do so without realizing that they can actually do more harm than good.
The articles that I'm talking about have headlines like "10 reasons why you should be waking up at 5:00 AM", "4 things you need to do at work to become a better person", or "If you're not doing _______, you're doing it wrong." Many major websites, even formal sites from news institutions, have recently been publishing lots of content like this.
Due to so many of these pieces popping up everywhere nowadays, I'm guessing that they're popular for a reason - everyone has an inherent desire to become a better version of themselves. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that - the very reason websites like Practical Good exist is for that reason, for us to expand and use the abilities and talents that we all have.
However, despite the good intentions that the authors of this content may have, I genuinely believe that more bad than good comes out reading them.
Don't be subconsciously tricked or bossed around
For starters, most of these articles are nothing more than feel-good pieces designed to get people to not only click on the headline for the poster's intent (generate more traffic to their site, gain ad revenue, etc.), but also to make the reader believe that they're actually doing something when there are no real actionable steps to take.
Mostly, you're spending too much time learning without actually doing anything, which tricks your brain that you're actually moving forward. You get a small hit of dopamine and feel great, thinking that you got something done. This can be more dangerous than not doing anything at all. It can frustrate you by making you believe you are working hard and haven't moved a bit, wondering why you're stuck in place.
There's also a more profound, subconscious message in these articles that can affect you significantly. The real issue with content like this is that it's basically telling you that if you're not doing these things, you won't be successful or you're a lesser person than those who are. Sometimes this manifests itself in feeling guilt or shame. But more often than not it happens deep down your mind without you realizing the adverse effects that it has on how you think. That's where the real danger lies.
You are where you are for a reason
Recently on Twitter, a new meme began to make the rounds. An article by a financial news website indicated that by the age of 35 you should have twice your salary saved, and it began to spread on the social media platform. Some roasted the article, and it also spawned many "By Age 35..." responses that were comedic and relatable, like my favorite: "By age 35, you should have a box of cables that you can't throw out because you're sure you'll need one but don't know which."
However, I noticed many people took the opportunity to do two things: gloat about how they've been able to accomplish what the original article indicated or point out what they have done already even if they came up short. Both have the underlying message - either intentional or unintentional - that if you're not at those points in your life, you've failed.
I understand that the purpose of the spread of this meme was to point out that the original article was mostly out of touch with the vast majority of people in the world. But it still can make the self-esteem of plenty plummet. If you were among that group that felt bad, you shouldn't because you are at the place you're supposed to be right now.
There's a reason for your place in life at this moment. Most of the times it's because of decisions you took that led you to where you are. Other times it's because of decisions that are out of your hands, like the conditions you were born under, the way you were raised, and so on. Regardless of what it is, that's all in the past. The best action you can take now is to focus on what you can do now to improve the rest of your life's journey.
Just like snowflakes, we're not alike
Besides avoiding reading content like this altogether (and cleaning up your social media accounts), what can you do to avoid falling into the rabbit hole of not feeling up to par with others? The main thing you can do is to stop comparing yourself with others. Many people spend far too much time analyzing what they have with what others have. Those comparisons are exactly what these articles make you do. They make you think "If I did these things like the author, I would be so much better off."
That's not true at all because no two people are alike. Everyone has a different path in their lives. If you take two people and try to put them through the exact same situation for any period of time, both of them will have different experiences. It might go well for one person and horribly wrong for another.
Let's take a typical example that I see every few weeks: waking up early. It's commonly been written over and over that successful people wake up earlier than most. The concealed message with these types of articles is that if you don't wake up early, you won't be successful. That's completely false. Many people wake up relatively late and are still as productive as those who wake up before the sun comes up. If you are unable to get out of bed early in the morning, you should not worry about it - always do what works for you.
(By the way, I wrote about this topic before, but I hoped that I could provide information about why waking up early can be beneficial and not make it seem like you're missing out if you don't.)
You get to write your own ticket to success
After going through all of the reasons why content that tells you what you should or need to be doing to be successful are harmful, that's not to say that you should entirely avoid these articles. There's still some worthwhile content available out there in the world. It sounds counter-intuitive given all the things that can affect you mentally. But some articles can contain useful, actionable advice that you can take and apply with good results.
The key is not to dwell on the things you can't do, which is what causes the feelings of inadequacy to pop up. Even before you mindlessly click on a link to a new article, carefully read the headline and see what feelings it evokes, and skip reading it if you don't feel like it's going to serve you. But if the headline genuinely sounds interesting, continue on. Whenever you find something that you think is worthwhile, add it to your arsenal of skills. And if you see it doesn't work, discard it. You're never obligated to latch on to things that aren't right for you.
Always have in mind that you control how you feel. No one has the power or the right to make you feel bad, so never let someone else's words bring you down. Trust yourself and your instincts whenever you are doing any type of reading online - including this article - because your path is your own to forge.
Small steps for your Practical Good
Take a step back from all the noise that's thrown on your lap whenever you're online, and use these guidelines to help steer clear from clutter and replace it with useful information that will guide you to your goals:
- Whenever you read anything online, take a moment to notice how you feel. The best indicator for knowing if something is going to be helpful to you or be a detriment is to pay attention to your internal reactions. Always trust your gut feeling. If the content makes you feel anxious or like giving the biggest eye roll ever, it won't serve you to keep on reading. On the other hand, if you begin to feel excited and your head begins to swim with possibilities for growth, keep at it.
- Take action with the activities that aren't serving you by minimizing or eliminating them. Most of the things that make you feel bad will typically be concentrated in a single area, like your social media accounts. If you start to notice that those areas are doing more harm than good, begin minimizing or eliminating them from your daily routine. As a side note, Practical Good has an email course to help you clean up your social media feeds, which will help here.
- Take further action by taking the things that excited you by putting them into action. If you found an article with solid, encouraging advice, use it as soon as you can. If you only read something that makes you feel good yet you don't do anything to implement that in your life, it's possibly worse than never reading it at all. You'll be losing a valuable resource that can be the difference maker for achieving your goals.