Life Coach is an advice column on how to be an even better version of yourself in every capacity. This week's special guest is Naomi Shimada, a model, activist, and author based in the UK. Find out how to go about maintaining a healthier balance on and offline.
By now, we're all aware that social media has altered the course of our lives so extremely that it is affecting mental health to the point where some people have developed an addiction. (This summer, a Republican senator from Missouri advocated for more serious tech regulation with the Social Media Addiction Reduction Technology Act which would provide restrictions on a variety of social media features.) Naomi Shimada views this bond that we've developed as a relationship, but in order for it to remain healthy it's vital to establish boundaries and rules to follow, as well as having some sense of independence outside the apps.
As a professional model, Shimada been exposed to both sides of it. She's witnessed the gradual shift in how perceptions and ideas around success have changed as social media continues to evolve and influencers rise into relevance. "My career, my job, runs alongside social media," she explains over the phone. "I earn income through lots of different ways so it's not like my be-all, end-all, but it is my portfolio. Everybody wants to work with someone now that has an Internet profile. It's important and I understand that it is."
A few months ago, Shimada collaborated with writer and editor Sarah Raphael on Mixed Feelings: The emotional impact of our digital habits. The book deeply provides an "anthropological glimpse" on how social media "magnifies the human experience." Shimada points out how the "pre-existing human condition" has always revolved around comparison and competition; this natural sense of curiosity for what everyone else is doing is practically programmed into our DNA as we fight for survival.
Here, she provides us with some more mindful approaches for all the digital drama in our lives to maintain a healthier existence on and offline. Scroll down for the full manual.
On overcoming imposter syndrome
"I've really realized that my own experience is really valuable. We're all experts in our own experience, in our own life. None of us are invincible to [imposter syndrome]. I'm not, but I also think like do we owe ourselves, our whole selves, to the internet? Do we owe our real selves? That's, for so many of us, the badge of honor, right? Do we owe that to the rest of the world?
I always feel like that was my thing, I am who I am online as I am offline, but that's not true for any of us because it's a curated feed. Even though we can intentionally try to make it represent us in the best way possible, some of the most diluted people think their social media represents who they are as a person. It's all relative and as much as it's a fragment of me, it's not my whole me because I don't owe that to the internet. In the past, I felt like I owed that. I had to live up to my real me persona where I always was the real me on there.
When I was actually really struggling at times, especially last year I was going through super bad anxiety and had a bout of depression, I was just like, 'Oh no, but people think I'm this happy person on the internet. I have to tell them that I'm going through a depression.' Then I was like, 'Do I have to, though? Do I? What's more important? My mental health is so much more important...' I was like, 'Naomi, you can explore that at another time.' I wrote about it in the book and if people ask me I'm honest about it and it framed my experience... At that moment in time I was like, 'I'm being dishonest to the internet.' That's crazy that we feel that pressure now, the lines are so blurred."
On unplugging from the grid
"I completely unplugged to just go back to base level, to be able to make healthier choices, at the time when I was really going through it. But even for the writing process, I couldn't have any distractions and I also wanted to tune out. [The Internet is] this space where there's sometimes too many voices and too many opinions, and I really wanted to log out to understand how to check back in with how I felt about these things, not how everyone else felt about these things all the time. So, purely for practicality, while I was writing, I was not on social media most of the time because I just wanted to be quiet, be by myself, and reconnect so I could write from a really honest place. The irony is not lost on me that now I have a book to promote so I can't be off the Internet.
I have another phone that's a work phone that sometimes I'll have Instagram on that and not my personal. So if I leave the house then I'll leave that at home. But these are extreme measures, right? Sounds crazy, but these are extreme times. I want to be part of the world, but it's like exercising self-control which has been interesting... My rule this year was trying to read a book a week. I wanted to retrain my brain. Now I have a book with me all the time so I don't have to stare at the screen. I am relieved.
I try not to be on my phone for the first hour of the day. I go to bed early, I wake up early so I can have more time to just chill before everything starts. Alongside those rules, what can you introduce more of to balance it out? Can you go outside? Can you take a walk? I dance, I love to go to dance classes because it makes me not be on my phone all the time. So now I'll do three hours of dance in an evening and that means I've cleared out my head, I've had to use my brain to pick up choreography. That's brain training in another way.
I've been finding things that are just richer to me now. I think we have to talk about more ways that we can have wholistic, more mindful approaches to technology because it will control us. The thing that I always go back to is as humans, are we evolving the technology or is the technology evolving us? It's evolving us right now. The way we interact with each other, the way we start romantic relationships, all of these things... Most people don't know how to go ask anyone out on a normal date anymore if it's not app related, for example. What happened to asking someone out, or putting your number on a fucking receipt?"
On how to stop seeking validation through others
"We have access to way too much information about each other. I wrote about it a little bit, but especially for me, when people ask me that question, it takes that moment where people think of me differently, that sacred moment, that now whether they like me or not is based on my popularity or my social validation. I don't want to meet people on that level anymore. I went through so many stages of looking at my own self and thinking and comparing, under the lens, who am I without all of this stuff?
So many people's whole ideas of their selves are based on this now. Their ideas of how they feel validated, their sense of self, it's based on these apps. I realized going through my life, I make my life rich on a day-to-day basis with every small interaction that I have which is how I value my life. Talking to strangers, making eye contact, seeing cute people be cute on the street... There's so much in the world that makes me feel good that isn't based on an app. I know that I give myself to the world and it's so much more than how I am perceived on social media or whatever."
On breaking away from the algorithm
"It's healthy for all of us to figure out what our value systems are and what we consider to be success and happiness that isn't based on a really formulaic version that you see of it on Instagram because social media makes us feel that success and happiness are intertwined... We are all so different and varied as people, we shouldn't all be chasing after the same dreams. I feel like we have to ask ourselves that to understand. Otherwise, we see thousands and thousands of these images every day, but that conditioning, we fall into it because we are absorbing this information through these images. That we should all be yearning for this.
You've got to break away from the algorithm. We all know, we've all been in that position, whether it's graduating from a specific school or getting that job you wanted or so many of these big life moment things that don't feel the way that you thought there were going to feel because you've put too much into that thinking it was going to be the moment that changed your life. But every day slowly is our lives changing. It's not just the big Kodak moments which is what Instagram makes it seem like."
On maintaining a "healthy" following
"If I think about it for too long it is weird. Like it's a lot of people... Obviously, I don't have the most followers of all, but it's still like the population of a small city so who are all these people? It's still crazy to me, but honestly I've never really had anything super negative on there. It comes with a lot of responsibility if anything, I feel like it does. I feel like I care about it, especially because I can see through my insights that I have an almost 80 percent female following. I can see the age bracket and I feel connected to everybody. I feel like some kind of big sister for people I don't even know.
I want that to relay the fact that, if they're receiving any messages from me, I hope that message is not to be like me but to be themselves. Because whatever I do in my life I know I have to stay true to who I am as a person. Whenever I try to do anything mildly conventional or be like anybody else, it does not work for me at all. It always fucks me up.
When I started in Instagram in 2011, that wasn't my intention. I recently scrolled all the way back to start archiving stuff because I realized I don't want my family photos from almost 10 years ago on the Internet anymore, things that I want to be private. The spirit of my Instagram has not changed. I'm still fascinated by the same things, but it was a lot less work-focused... There was an innocence to it which I still think there is."
On rewiring your perception of time
"I never want to use [Instagram] when I don't feel like it, that's my golden rule. If I don't feel like being on the Internet, I'll try not to do it. If things have to wait, then they have to wait... When did capturing a moment become more important than being in the moment? When did uploading a moment become more important than being there in your moment? Or when did posting about friends become more important than being with your friends?
We're all guilty of it because social media makes us feel a certain way about time. Everything goes back to his idea of time. We're losing time, we're not further enough in our careers, we don't have the perfect partnerships, and time is running out. To me, that's what it used to feel it was shouting at me about time. I had to restructure my relationship to it, and set my own rules around how I want to use it. If I think a moment is so valuable and I want to post a year later, then I can. Because to me, the moment is valuable. I don't care if it's valuable to other people."
On the etiquette for muting, blocking, and unfollowing
"It feels so personal to other people, but I think the muting button is important. We are what we absorb. Sometimes you don't even understand why you feel a certain way and then you realize it's because you are absorbing so many other people's moods on a daily basis. Traumas, experiences, everything... The mirror of the world is on there and we're absorbing, looking, and taking it in. For example, during the height of #MeToo, where so many stories were being shared, these traumatic stories were coming out all the time... I was definitely triggered, let alone I know so many women in the world must have been.
Finding those fine lines between wanting to stay informed, but also knowing if something's going to hurt you, how would you deal with that? Do you need to be triggered in this moment in time? I think following certain people that trigger you is a form of self harm. Or people checking on your exes when you know it's going to hurt you, but we do it anyway. There are a lot of people who have real issues with social media. If it was a substance we would be obviously having very different conversations around it. But maybe we do have to have certain rules around it just because absorbing all of this information all the time can't always be a good thing.
I've definitely unfollowed people or blocked them. It's not like I'm doing it all the time, but if something is coming up and making me feel bad, I'm not afraid to do that. I think you have to sometimes. You just have to. I think blocking sometimes can be a powerful decision. Blocking sometimes is for ourselves as well as restricting access to us."
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