22 May 2020

Instagram vs reality and the pressure of productivity

Instagram vs reality: it’s a well-discussed topic. We know there’s a vast difference between the two, yet it doesn’t really stop us from comparing our own lives with those polished, perfected and well-edited squares. And not only that, when thinking of our own lives, we don’t consider our highlights or our own Instagram-worthy moments to make this comparison, we often focus on the more mundane, day-to-day parts of life, comparing a normal Tuesday afternoon to someone’s two week holiday in Bali (although not right now), just to ensure we feel as hard-done by as possible. We allow ourselves to conveniently forget that that person also has to separate the darks from the colours, empty the bins or spend 45 minutes on hold about their gas bill because they’ve been overcharged and they JUST WANT TO SPEAK TO A HUMAN BEING.

And now there’s a whole new level of comparison to be made – how we’re spending our time during lockdown. An intense, worldwide and very focused subsection within the world of social media comparison. And its defining characteristic? Productivity. Bringing with it a whole new wave of competitiveness, self-imposed pressure and self-criticism. People may not be posting about their exotic holidays at the moment (except with the hashtag #takemeback) but there’s no shortage of content to help us feel bad about how we’re spending our time.

It’s hard to know how to feel in this confusing time – one minute you’re reading a post telling you it’s okay to just be surviving at the moment and the next, someone is telling you that if you can’t write that novel now, it’s not that you’ve been short on time, it’s that you’re short on motivation (an actual thing we’ve read). Ouch. And it’s not enough that we feel bad about ourselves, there’s also that ugly, knee-jerk reaction that we want to try and make other people feel bad about how productive they’re being, as a way to make us feel better. Kind of like those kids who make you feel bad for doing your homework at school because it’s not cool.

Everyone’s dealing with this time in different ways and that’s because everyone’s lives up to this point have been vastly different. What the world is going through at the moment is a shock to the system, which people all react to differently. Someone who is normally hyper-productive may fall in to a rut because they don’t deal well with change; some snap in to action as a way to distract themselves from worry. Maybe that person on your timeline who’s using this time to really get into exercise is doing it after one of the worst years of their life and this has given them the kick up the rear they needed to start taking care of themselves again. There are infinite variations of personalities and circumstances that create an enormous spectrum of behavioural responses to something like this.

Maybe at the moment, a good day is one where you’ve managed to take yourself around the block for a walk and you’ve done that admin task you’ve been putting off for weeks, but in a few months’ time you could have the kind of day someone else deems to be ‘productive’, making them feel bad about what they’ve achieved that day. But it shouldn’t; if we must judge ourselves on our productivity, then it should be viewed on a sliding scale and with context; comparing any two people on any given day or period on how productive they’ve been, completely ignores all the factors leading up to that point and anything that might happen afterwards. If you’re going to compare yourself to someone who’s run 10k that day and you’ve never run a day in your life, then yes, you’re probably going to feel bad. Has that person been more productive than you that day in the very specific terms of running 10k? Yes. But you also don’t know everything about that person and what they’re going through and maybe there’s something you’ve achieved that day that feels a world away to them, under their circumstances. Your productivity is specific to you. Apparently Isaac Newton discovered gravity in quarantine, but to give that some context, he was a mathematician, physicist and astronomer, who dedicated his life to science. That achievement was relevant to a normal kind of day in his world. But you can bet he probably hadn’t exercised or maybe even showered that day.

The point being that we should be kinder to ourselves. But also, and just as important, we should be kinder to others too. If we can practice viewing other’s achievements with a broad approach of ‘good for them’, as well as accepting our own achievements, however big or small they might feel, as enough, not only would the world be a better place, but you’ll probably feel better too.

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