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Barriers to long term change (and how to overcome them 4)

External Barriers

While our inner voice may play havoc with our ability to take ownership of our challenges, it’s not the only obstacle in our path. There are many external factors to be considered. Today we'll consider the role of social media in our choices and next week we'll look at how our friends and family help or hinder us.

Social media and its effect on our ability to choose effective change

There has been much research done into the effect of social media use on confidence, self esteem and mood of users. One study by Jan, Soomro & Ahmad, 2017 on the impact of social media concluded that its usage is indeed linked to a decrease in self esteem. “The major findings suggest that approximately 88% people engage in making social comparisons on Facebook and out of the 88%, 98% of the comparisons are upward social comparisons.“ This where the user compares him/herself to someone s/he deems to be superior and possessing positive attributes. In short, heavy social media users are almost constantly comparing themselves with lifestyles they believe to be unattainable and with people for whom they have an unhealthily high regard. The result of this is a marked decrease in the users’ self esteem, measured by a sample group of 150 18-25 year olds. This downturn becomes worse depending on the length of time spent on social media with those users spending 5 hours + reporting the greatest decrease in self esteem.

In defence of this, there have been fads for honesty throughout the short history of social media. Millennials boast of taking selfies without make up or describe their worst kiss but this is still an image of honesty as portrayed by a group of people valuing themselves on the response they receive. As such, it’s a model of frankness and not the unglamourous truth of you bumping into the door because you need the toilet in the middle of the night.

As a result, many social media users may be making these upward social comparisons with fantasy figures, hotshots they will not meet and who would never live up to their own media representation. In the study cited previously, it was remarked that findings by Chou and Edge (2012) concluded that people who use facebook frequently have a very firm belief that other users, who they don’t know very well offline, are living a very healthy, happy and prosperous life. When judging themselves against these ideals, social media users lower their own self confidence.

In addition, these comparisons make it harder to understand when change is required and give a false impression of how easy or hard such change should be. When your search for weight loss tips brings about stories of “How I shed 5 stone in 6 months” it becomes difficult to gauge the effort you will need to make. Similarly, when a perfectly healthy sized person proclaims how whale-like they feel it prevents other users from understanding what a safe and healthy body image looks like.

So should all social media be avoided in the effort to make positive change? Psychologist Pamela B Rutledge states “People who have low self-esteem, poor impulse control or a tendency toward addiction should pay attention to their social media use - but social media use is only one of many places problematic behaviors will manifest. Contrary to many peoples’ fears, social media does not make someone more socially avoidant or isolated. In fact, it can do the opposite by providing access to people and resources.”

The key here, then, is to use social media as a tool to better achieve your goals by understanding clearly what these goals are and the methods you will use to realise them. Joining support groups or following fitness and health leaders can keep you on track while providing a network of like minded people with the same struggles as you. Social media can then give you a tribe of well wishers to fortify your efforts and forgive you any inevitable lapses. Before resorting to Facebook, Instagram or Twitter as a tool for change, consider the ways it can help you and any avoid those sites or pages which will hamper your success.

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