November 28, 2018

Screens, Self-Esteem, and Creative Confidence

It often goes unnoticed. The steady beat of your workflow going from computer to phone, Facebook to Instagram, back to your work, back to scrolling. Your retinas taking in every glowing pixel it can before it processes each one to form that crippling self-conscious thought: “They’re so much better at _____ than I am.”

Melodramatic? Maybe. But when studies show that people who used Facebook most frequently had lower trait self-esteem that those who used Facebook less or not at all, it’s hard to ignore that there is a clear correlation.

We’ve read the articles and can point to a plethora of other sources and statistics to a very real experience we have while on social networks. We feel the sting of comparison, heightened anxiety and deeper sadness, as the general population.

But how does it affect our work as creatives? As artists do, we can claim that negative feelings or experiences often inspire our designs or written words. But as problem-solvers, how is our self-esteem affected by one of our generation’s most-used resources when we sit down to create? What then can we do about it?

The Creative’s Plight

If you’re in or often around the creative class, we don’t have to do much explaining that this workforce is unique. We’re thinkers and doers. Dreamers and strategists. Heroes and trusty sidekicks. And it’s in the throes of this balancing act that makes collaboration and community crucial to our work. As comrades, we encourage, offer constructive feedback and can brainstorm solutions together. But we can also encounter negative aspects of our co-working.

Results from a University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine study showed that the more time young adults spent on social media, the more likely they were to have problems sleeping and report symptoms of depression. Instagram, Pinterest, Behance, and other platforms often used for inspiration can truly spark new ideas, but for some might cause unhealthy comparison and negative self-esteem.

The term “Instagram-envy” exists for a reason, but we don’t often associate that with our creative roles, social circles among other creators, and our own sense of confidence. Are we congratulating others on their new client work, while also feeling a tinge of jealousy? That might be a sign that we’re putting too much weight on finding our value in relation to others.

Paying Attention to Our Habits

Being self-aware can be a gift and a curse. But there are some things we can be mindful of when determining if our “harmless” habits are in fact causing us to question our abilities and thus our creative output.

How often do we turn to social media when stressed? It’s a mindless muscle memory we’ve learned. We pick up our phones or open a new tab at the first sign of boredom or to drown out stressors through the day. But what are we looking for? To see what our colleagues are working on to stack up our projects against? If we figure out the reason why we turn so quickly to perpetual scrolling, we can start to change the cycle.

When someone else succeeds, what’s our first internal reaction? When creative counterparts we look up to post a new design, app, rendering, photo, or article, do we internalize it and ask ourselves, “what cool things am I doing?” There’s an angle of healthy motivation and friendly competition, but it can teeter the line of negative self talk.

When we fail, do we immediately assume it’s because of our lack of ability, or do we accept that failures are inevitable and happen to the best of us? This one is crucial. Because it’s something that every single one of us–no matter how experienced–will encounter. The way we fail is more telling than the fact that we have failed.

Reclaiming Our Creative Joy

Truly honor others’ achievements

It’s safe to say others are feeling the same effects of social media as we are. So when much-needed successes come after periods of hard work and diligence, those ‘congratulations’ and ‘nice job’s go a long way for others, too.

• Find positive ways to fuel inspiration that doesn’t involve comparison.

Reading books, looking at architecture, talking with trusted friends, or even going for long walks to clear your mind can fuel our creative work just as much, and arguably better than scouring the internet for inspiration.

• Give yourself some grace.

We all have good days and bad days in our crafts. Give yourself a break and don’t fall victim to the “I’ll never be as good” game.

Regularly recognize your own successes, no matter how small.

It’s a sure-fire way to reignite your motivation. Every now and then, when your creativity is feeling dry, think about how far you’ve come, things you’ve accomplished, and the things you’re proud of. We guarantee your perspective will switch its lens from doubt to gratitude. And that’s a much better state of mind to create from.

Scroll less, think more.

Put the phone down and use your best asset, your mind. When we have time to actually think for ourselves without the input from the rest of the world, we uncover our values, beliefs, motivations and preferences. If you’re facing a creative roadblock, take to pen and paper and work out your thoughts and ideas on analog before you get back to the digital realm.

Screens and our long-spent days of perusing through computers and technology is the norm for what we do. It can’t be avoided. But the one thing we do have control over is how we react and use these tools. Here’s to more kind and intentional use of our glowing screens.