“I think Instagram has something against me,” I told my brother on a recent phone call. “I mean, my posts used to get 400-plus likes. I deleted a bunch of old posts and now my new ones are only getting 50 likes. I think my IG is broken.”
I said this jokingly, but at the same time, felt frustrated and a bit discouraged. The quality of my work hadn’t changed, but the exposure of it had. In a way that was out of my control.
I thought about this a bit. So the number of little red hearts I received for a post could affect how I felt about myself and my writing abilities?
Thankful at least for the self-awareness, I knew that if I was starting to find self-worth and approval in the opinions of people I’d never met and an algorithm I had no control over, then something had to change.
Susie Moore, in her book Quit Checking Your Likes: Shake off the Need for Approval and Live an Incredible Life, writes: “Likes have become the current measurement of external approval. Of fitting in. Of how good we are allowed to feel.”
But why? I wondered. Could our brains become wired to seek positive feedback from others?
Yes, absolutely – if we’re not careful.
Brain performance expert Jim Kwik explains that external approval provides a serotonin rush. Serotonin is increased by events in our external environment that stir up feelings of self-worth and connectedness to a whole – the approval of others can deliver both.
External approval (social media likes, compliments, positive feedback) actually boosts the levels of feel good chemicals in our brain. And this can wire our brains to seek more and more of this high – especially in women.
To learn there was a recurring chemical reaction in my brain when an IG post received a lot of likes was eye opening. No wonder I craved more. And no wonder “likes” have become a modern measurement for so many of how valued, accepted or wanted they feel.
So how do we shake off that need for approval? I decided awareness was the first step. But what about action? What could I do daily to stay centered, free from needing external approval, and true to the “real me?”
Here are 5 ways to overcome (break free from) the need for external approval:
1. Vote for yourself daily
In his book Pivot and Go, life optimization coach David Nurse says, “You are who you tell yourself you are daily.” Let me repeat. You are who YOU say you are. There’s power in this because you can ultimately choose what voices you listen to and believe. When you vote for yourself daily, you plant positive messages in your subconscious brain.
If you tell yourself daily, I am a good writer, speaker, photographer, (you fill in the blank), then your subconscious brain begins to look for ways to confirm this is true. Nurse suggests even posting written affirmations like this around your home. As you change your mindset, outside approval no longer confirms your worth, your positive beliefs about yourself do.
2. Build intrinsic self-worth
Life coach Elyse Santilli says, “No one is you and that is your superpower.” Truth. You are here for a reason and have a unique purpose. You can make a difference in this world that others cannot. But not by being someone you’re not and not by wishing you were someone different.
Take time to get in touch with what you’re passionate about and then develop your life’s mission, purpose, and vision around it. Talk to friends or a mentor who knows you well and let them help you identify your strengths and talents. Develop a clear sense of self-purpose and you won’t have to look outside yourself to find your self-worth.
3. Trust your inner guidance
Take a good look around your home, at your social media posts, and at your life choices. Are the decisions you’ve made based on you or someone else’s influence on you? Are you striving for the “American Dream” because that’s how you were raised, even though it doesn’t sit with your core values? Are your social media posts an attempt to draw approval from others or are they a true expression of yourself?
Trust that deep down you know who you’re called to be. Take the time to get in touch with that inner guidance (through prayer, meditation, journaling). Then, the next time you make a decision, see how well it lines up with the real you. Let staying true to yourself be your measurement of success and determine how you feel about your action.
4. Be okay with criticism and rejection
Get in the habit of asking yourself this question: “What would I do if rejection wasn’t possible?” Avoiding suffering at all costs stifles our ability to take risks – and ultimately to grow. Accept that suffering and criticism are parts of life and allow them to happen. Realize that, although they’re not fun, they always pass and you’ll still be okay. Often, hard moments leave us stronger and more confident. You have the ability to choose how to handle rejection – either as a setback or as no big deal because something better is coming. And that ability to not fear rejection is powerful and freeing.
5. Counter approval-seeking thoughts with action
Practice watching your thoughts and catching those that are approval seeking. Say you post on social media and soon begin second-guessing yourself. You wonder if a slightly different post would have generated more likes and even begin ruminating on this. When you catch yourself doing this, it’s time to take action. Your brain is craving a serotonin hit, so find a way to get that boost. Go for a walk in the sunshine, call an uplifting friend, find a way to serve someone, or identify 3 things you’re grateful for. This will break up your approval-seeking thought patterns and will leave you with the positive feelings you were seeking.
During the coronavirus pandemic, social media app use has increased significantly, according to new data from a Nielsen study. While social distancing, we are immersing ourselves in social media as a safe way to connect with others.
Never has there been a better time than now to work on overcoming the need for external approval.
Take time today to do a self-awareness check and really notice how you’re affected by other’s approval. It could come from social media, family, friends, or co-workers. But if it’s got a grip on you, now is the time to break free.
Life is too short to live it trying to impress others. Be true to yourself – your life will be better unmeasurably for it.
About the Author: Julia Ubbenga is a freelance journalist whose teachings on minimalism, simplicity, and intentional living have reached thousands of people worldwide through her blog www.richinwhatmatters.com. Julia practices what she preaches in her Kansas City apartment home with her husband and two extremely lively young daughters.