Internal Validation vs. External Validation: Social Media and Beyond
I think there is no better time to discuss this than now. Our world is fast. Tweets get released in seconds, one pull down to refresh your timeline gives way to the release of 20 new opinions, expressions, pictures and adverts. Exposure. Constant exposure. To a whole lot of things.
We are in the social media era, we get it. It's a huge part of our lives. It's our means of communicating with people we'd be unable to communicate with on a daily basis, it's a means of seeing the news in real time, seeing how people express themselves and a means of expression for us too. And it comes with a whole lot of metrics - numbers. Likes, retweets, favourites, thumbs ups, followers and views, have now become so integral to our lives that people place their whole sense of value on them.
This is external validation. Placing the value of your innate feelings, actions and opinions in the hands of those metrics and the people who give them. And unfortunately, it means a lot of people lose their sense of self. Don't get me wrong, those hundreds of likes on important content to you isn't a bad thing, in fact psychology identifies a relationship between dopamine production (a chemical thats released in the brain when we do something pleasurable) and positive metrics on social media (we see an increase in likes, retweets e.t.c., and our brain releases dopamine because its pleasurable). But the addiction that comes with the unpredictability of not knowing if that tweet, post or picture is going to get x amounts of likes, or 'just knowing it's going to do well' and waiting for it do so, can prove problematic. Posting in the name of getting those likes, retweets, favourites or whatever is a huge means of externally validating your life, and eventually you only post for responses, feeling inadequate if they're 'low', and you won't even be able to tell yourself why.
There are problems with social media, the psychological studies that show the relationships between depression, anxiety and social media are just few of the sources that highlight this. But that doesn't mean a huge majority of us don't use it, in fact some of us need to use it to access consumers and people we wouldn't usually access on a normal day. Social media as a whole aside, there is also a problem with the way we use social media, and the shift towards external validation is just one way of seeing how it adversely affects our personal development.
One of the best examples I can use is visiting a new country. Before taking in the scenery for yourself, you're automatically thinking of what angle would be best to take that one picture or snap, (if you haven't captured it through your lens already) and you completely forget to live in the moment - to really take it in. At this point, I don't judge those who choose to live their life this way, but I do ask you what taking a minute to live in the moment takes away from the likes or blue boxes you'll receive on posting it?
Externally validating your actions becomes a never ending marathon towards finding your sense of self, because the finish line moves further away from you, the closer you get to it, and as you can imagine, there will come a time when you just can't run anymore. Basing our lives on the demands, needs and opinions of people who's demands, needs and opinions are ever changing based on trends, consensus and 'what's in', is a voluntary means of giving up your happiness.
So how to stay happy yet still engaged? Internal Validation. It doesn't mean you don't care about what other people think or that you are inconsiderate of how your actions affect the people around you, it means that before you even think about how what you do will be taken in by those around you, YOU give YOURSELF the YES you require. You take the scenery in in that new country with your own eyes first, and then you decide to take that picture with no care in the world about how many likes it gets because YOU think its simply beautiful. Internal Validation doesn't take away from the public engagement that comes with the things you do, it just makes that public engagement secondary to your engagement with you - as it should be.
It's not just social media metrics that we use as a means of external validation, it's the people around us in general, even the ones we don't talk to. How? When you do something, the first person/people you consider when doing it is who you validate it by. It's different to compassion because compassion it's a form of care - you place value on how you can cater to the emotions of other people. External validation is a form of acceptance - you place value on how well you'll be received by them. It's not a question of 'how will they feel?', it's a question of 'how will they like it?'. And you can't always predict or even cater to that.
Internal Validation stems from confidence. It's giving your yes the strength of 100 men. It's not just saying yes to yourself, but doing it in a way which is unwavering. And trust me when I say it radiates, because as humans we admire confidence, it makes us feel safe and assured. So how can you build this internal validation? This being able to say yes to yourself?
- Do things with you in mind: What makes you happy? What makes you feel fulfilled? How does this best show your levels of understanding and/or creativity?
- Accept yourself: Accept yourself as a fluid being, you are how you are currently, but this is always liable to improvement.
- Allow yourself be Authentic: You weren't made to be like anyone else, you are allowed to do things differently. When you're accepting that you are who YOU are, how people respond to that doesn't really phase you. You know who and what you are.
- 'Why not?': No seriously. Why not say yes to yourself? Because you're not yet where you want to be? Because you feel you could be doing more? Then do it. Stop moaning about what's not changing and do something to change it.
Internal validation is the process of giving yourself your own yes before waiting for someone else to give it to you. Your yes has the power of 100 men, remember that it matters.