Some researchers speculate that mental health issues are on the rise because of technologies that heighten our self-focus. Facebook is about expressing our opinions. Pinterest is about collecting things that we like. LinkedIn is about listing our accomplishments. And the list goes on and on.
Self-focus simply means you pay attention to how you feel, think, and behave—your beliefs, attitudes, and traits. Self-focus isn’t inherently a bad thing. Particularly in individualistic cultures, we value our capacity to be introspective and self-aware. We want to know who we are and why we do what we do to uncover possible ways to improve our lives and enhance our well-being.
Unfortunately, heightened self-focus can have negative effects. When you are regularly focusing on yourself, you’ll notice any dissatisfaction, anxiety, or general malaise that you might not have otherwise. By bringing your attention to these negative emotions, you amplify them. As a result, self-focus contributes to a wide array of mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, and even alcohol abuse.
But quitting technology is no longer a viable solution. Our livelihood, social interactions, and successes are now tied to using different technologies. Instead, we need to learn how to use technology in ways that are less self-focused. Here are four strategies for doing this.
1. Stop asking your questions—instead, challenge your answers
These days, Google will answer any of your questions. But when you ask your questions, you’ll likely get your answers. Is global warming a hoax? Is Donald Trump a con artist? Is technology going to kill (or save) us all? No matter what question you ask, Google is likely to say yes, because Google is searching the web for your words.
Instead of asking your questions—questions that focus on your ideas, opinions, and experiences—challenge the answers that you already have. For example, I could challenge the answers I’m giving you in this article by asking myself, “Why is self-focus a good thing?” By exploring the ideas, perspectives, and experiences of others, you enhance your communication skills and emotional intelligence.
2. Stop humble bragging—instead, share for real
Somewhere along the way, the word “sharing” got co-opted on social media to describe what is really just “humble bragging.” I might post about a cool thing I did, a pretty meal I ate, or a fun party I went to—all things that I didn’t share with you.
Instead of posting about things you did, which focuses your attention on yourself, reclaim the word “share” for what it really means—to give a small or large portion of what is yours to someone else. You could share advice, words of support, or even empathy all from your smartphone. As a result, you’ll feel better, and so will the people around you.
3. Stop focusing on what you can get—instead, focus on what you can give
When we see our friends humble bragging, we start to believe that we don’t have enough, that we are failing in comparison. Bob got a new car. Sherri got a new house. Sonja got a new job. Or, we see false or unrealistic images—models Photoshopped to have perfect waists and abs—and we feel envious. As a result, we become increasingly focused on how we, too, can measure up.
Instead of focusing on what you can acquire, shift your focus to what you can give. Kyra sells T-shirts online to raise money for a good cause. Patrick asks friends to donate to a charity for his birthday. By giving to others, you take the focus off yourself and do good at the same time.
4. Stop taking selfies—instead, take friendies
Do you like to take selfies? It’s easy to snap a quick picture of yourself to show people what you’re doing, how you’re feeling, or even who you are as a human being. But so much looking at yourself can be detrimental. Paying to attention to our features often makes us feel worse and lowers self-esteem.
Instead, try taking “friendies,” or pictures of your friends. Do your best to highlight the awesome things that make them special and celebrate who they are. By finding ways to be kind to others, you won’t focus so much on that bump on your nose or your bad hair day, and you’ll strengthen your personal relationships.
Technology—when used in certain ways—is having widespread negative effects on our mental health and well-being. But if we can learn to shift the focus off ourselves and onto doing good for others, maybe technology can help us thrive, after all.