Turn “Mindless Scrolling” into a Powerful Asset for your Life

Social media is so powerful. But you can’t mindlessly let it control you. Here’s how I made it a powerful asset in my life.

If you want to grow toward some goal, being mindful of your downtime is so valuable.

You know the phrase “You are the 5 people you are closest to,” your entire social media print is worth at least 1 or 2 of those people.

Downtime is such a huge portion of your life. In 2022, the average so far is 144 minutes daily on social media. Over time that will add up to be A LOT, so it’s of ever growing importance for us to turn this time into an asset. Here’s why:

  1. This downtime is how you learn languages. More than just the pure knowledge we can get in many fields, this immersion is really how you gain fluency in speaking languages. I’m not just talking about actual languages, this includes also the financial language, tech language, the language of NFTs, sports, self-care routines, and anything else really.
  2. We are so prone to mindless scrolling these days. As much as you should maximize mindful scrolling time, sometimes it’s just impossible and you will more often than not have fallback moments. But try as much as possible not to make those mindless scroll sessions a mental energy leech, and rather a source from where you can effortlessly learn and grow. It’s 100% possible and something that I genuinely believe gives me a cheat code in my life. I don’t advocate for excess social media by the way, it’s mind numbing, bad for your brain, and an energy leech that steals your time and energy that could have been spent in more productive things. I’m talking about how to optimize the time you do spend in it.
  3. Done right, it’s enjoyable and is a large part in determining your identity. Jim Kwik always talks about state-based learning. We learn best when we enjoy it. Social media was a choice. You weren’t forced to spend your downtime on it. More than just how digital consumption is one of the most dopamine inducing activities where we can spend hours scrolling on, it is also the source from which you can grow to like specific niches and integrate them into your identity. I am MUCH MORE passionate about music, basketball, personal care, fitness, tech, smart living, content creation, and entrepreneurship (among many mothers) because of social media. There is just so much inspiration and learning by example to be found in this digital space.

I’ll share my 2 step approach below in this article: Diversify and Curate. But before that, a little story on why I suddenly thought of writing this impromptu article.

An infographic I made to help you visualize how to rethink your content consumption. To be more precise, “your recommendation algorithm” here really refers to shifting the average of all your specialized recommendation algorithms across all platforms that you regularly use on a regular basis.

It all started from this Tweet:

Meta had terrible earnings. They erased $251 billion in value and in what is the biggest wipeout in their history, leading to a share beatdown of 26%.

They attributed it to TikTok and iMessage (which Marques has a great video here about why Apple is so psychologically sticky).

I never really have used TikTok. But this Tweet got me thinking, TikTok is the fastest growing social media app of all time. They gained 3 billion downloads and market penetrated a third of social media users in less than merely 4 years.

Is it simply just a better product than Instagram? The answer is: not really. But in many ways, yes. I experienced a large chunk of it in just my first hour using it:

1) It reset my recommendation algorithm (more on that later). 2) It has a different culture. 3) Just like YT Shorts and Instagram Reels, it’s entire platform promotes short form videos — and I’m a general fan of this movement to optimize value and engagement per second. 3) From a Creator Perspective, it generally has more and better built in video editing and production tools (although there’s a problem with monetization). 4) It’s recommendation algorithm and other parts of the app is AI powered.

TikTok fills a void that Instagram is missing, vice versa. I believe in efficient markets (not always), but eventually if the value proposition of Instagram wanes and users migrate, there will be a reason for that. Instagram still is king for a lot of things, like sharing my personal life. I’m not going to get into if one platform is better than the other, but one thing I would like to point out that I experienced having a clean reset of the recommendation algorithm by using multiple platforms — and somehow that was a refreshing experience.

Let’s dig deeper. The title of this article is how you can leverage social media, so let’s explore the reason for why social media has the potential at all to be beneficial. Let’s look at social media from a creator’s shoes, then move to the consumer’s shoes.

A lot of creators don’t know why they post on social media (everyone has their own valid reasons, and it’s good to brush up on them). But fundamentally, every serious creator subconsciously follows the incentive to gain as much followers and engagement as they can. Even better, they will try to give as much value as you can in the world. Value giving is highly correlated with followers and engagement — in fact, in my opinion it’s the single best reason and strategy to create content (documentation being the second best reason).

Now let’s put our consumer shoes on. From a consumer perspective, there are so many creators out there that are working hard to add value to your life. This is done at scale, so at this day and age, it’s getting increasingly likely for you to get value in your life in the specific areas that you really need by some creator.

Here’s a random example. So I’m a bad driver. I suck at parking, but am trying to improve. Within the first minute of TikTok, I see this video:

This video actually gives me a better sense of how to park. It’s in Indonesian too. Which brings me to the fact I am trying to improve and immerse myself in Indonesian culture, and there is no shortage of Indonesian TikTokkers that make engaging content. Over time my consumption can have a powerful compounding effect on my Indonesian culture and fluency. Digital content is a powerful tool to easily and effortlessly immerse my mind in anything.

Two aspect’s make social media’s value creation particularly powerful:

  1. There are so many different types of value. One is personal value, to know what other people in your circle is up to. Another is educational value that you can gain in nearly any space or topic. You are free to set your feed up however you want to be able to ingest what’s most personally valuable for your life and goals. (Notice that relaxation and to be entertained is a goal as well).
  2. In the social media space, engagement and likes are a proxy for what is widely accepted, and it’s actually a powerful thing that can help you filter valuable content from the rest. (Also important to note: a proxy just means a proxy, it’s important to be aware of what the word proxy means. Hint: It doesn’t mean you can blindly trust in it — tons of content out there are underrated or overrated).

Okay, so far I’ve been writing about understanding how a cool way of looking at social media is an army of creators trying to give you value. But what are the actionable steps we can use to better take advantage of all this value as a consumer? Here are two:

Step 1: Diversify — Rebalance your Accounts + Platforms

To broaden your mind and increase specialization of your value ingestion process, we should diversify. Explore multiple platforms (and accounts if necessary) and proactively subscribe to valuable stuff that will get you closer to your goals. Back when I only had Instagram, I am more prone to the mindless scrolling because it was my only option. Then evaluate how much time you spend on each, what types of content you encounter there, and rebalance your times spent on each in accordance with your goals.

Remember: One platform and account means one recommendation algorithm.

I have more than 5 Instagram accounts. One for chess, music, entrepreneurship/finance, table tennis, fitness, and my main account. That’s 5 algorithms. I’m free to follow as many accounts as I want — that’s much better than if you combined it all into your main account. Many times that just confuses the algorithm and you have less control over it. On each, I can document my progress on each aspect of my life and I can “mindless scroll” more mindfully as I can choose which recommendation algorithm I would like to scroll at any given time. It also opens more doors because you can go much deeper in from both a creator or blogger and a consumer. Maybe some restaurant has a giveaway or some important conference has a value packed event they are marketing for that you wouldn’t have known if you only had 1 recommendation algorithm. These algorithms are so good, you should take advantage!

That was diversifying accounts. You should make sure you diversify platforms too. Each platform have their own strengths and weaknesses. The entire point of showing TikTok in the beginning of this article is to show some ways it is potentially better than other platforms — more broadly to show that you can get things out of one platform that you couldn’t get the same way from another. Each platform will have their own content funnel where you “mindless scroll” in — and one that you customize via how you personally program the recommendation algorithm.

Even within a platform there are so many ways to customize and experience different sides of the world. Be aware of these two variables in customizing your feed: platform and account.

I always strive to have a broad perspective of the world. Having multiple accounts and platforms for different specialized things — taking advantage of the strengths and weaknesses of each platform — is powerful. And this also includes other apps that are not traditionally called social media! It’s even better when you have more control over your recommendation algorithm (like in Medium — and fortunately more platforms are jumping on this boat).

In each platform, I would encourage you to think of what specific purpose does that platform serve for you in your life? Currently for me, here’s what my diversification and specialized platform usage looks like:

  • I use Twitter for insights from CEOs, world leaders, finance people, entrepreneurs, companies like the Notion team (amongst many others), and people in the Web 3.0 and NFT space. It’s a great platform I consider to be a database for condensed insights shared as bitesized, lightweight Tweets. I try to follow only the smartest people (spoiler: there’s a lot of them).
  • I use Instagram to document my personal life events, give value to my followers and friends, and interact with my friends (most of my friends have and regularly use Instagram) — also to discover and save music
  • I don’t use FB (I just use Messenger for texting) — it’s an easy platform for video calls and casual screen sharing too. I personally don’t like the consumer side of FB, I feel like I don’t have control over its recommendation algorithm.
  • YT is my most diverse platform. I learn so much from it every day about so many topics. It ranges from how to make engaging videos, financial education, as a news source, music theory, performances, music, all the way to simply being my primary source of entertainment.
  • Seeking Alpha and Economist for economics and financial news (I get enjoyment out of reading their articles and opinions)
  • With Medium, I found that on average the content is more digestible. Medium also has an enjoyable UI and a recommendation algorithm you can customize a lot. It’s a great place for me to gain new insights (especially on more complex topics) from first principles since the language is dumbed down, and that’s a great thing. Complexity often clouds the real arguments being made; simplicity makes it significantly easier to tell apart great insights from straight up bad ones. That’s why I write too: to simplify my thoughts and make them high fidelity for myself and others.
Here’s an amazing example of a “High Fidelity” Tweet. Tons of value packed into a short read.
  • Books that I’ve saved as PDF on my books app
  • Now I am going to use TikTok to immerse myself in Indonesian culture and get other bits of knowledge (see below for two examples). This means I will be proactive and careful with who I follow and what comes up in my feed; mindful of my purpose in being in the platform.

How much time do you spend on each platform respectively? If you spend 95% of your mindless scrolling on Instagram, you’re going to be getting 95% of content exposure on one recommendation algorithm — which for you could be a lot of dog videos, life updates on friends, and non-stop memes. These things are definitely okay — nothing wrong with them (in case you felt personally attacked there) — but just ask yourself if you want to spend 95% of your downtime exposure on that.

Try to make this same list too of the platforms you use and what the content in each of these platforms can help you do — and what your typical time spent on each platform is. A little mindful planning goes a long way.

Reflect on your digital usage. Are you diversified? Or are you under the control of a single recommendation algorithm? As a data nerd, I think I’ve been able to be more aware of this because content recommendation is actually just a data science problem that many companies like Netflix even used to outsource to the community.

Social media in excess is definitely bad — it drains your mental headspace and is actually bad for your brain. It’s so easy to spend a lot of time on social media. But it can also be a good thing when all that time goes toward something that helps you grow and you are self aware.

Step 2: Curate — Rebalance your Feed

Set yourself up for success by putting in the upfront effort to maximize your chances of running into and being positively impacted by these people who work hard to give their value to the world. In other words, your goal should be to make it as likely as possible that you are exposed to content that are likely to give value to your life.

It’s okay to mindless scroll occasionally, but there is a difference between a mindless scroll on a feed you didn’t control, versus a mindless scroll on a feed you purposefully curated to increase the probability that it will add value to your life. Does your distribution look like the left, or the right?

Also notice that I put things that traditionally wouldn’t be associated with “high value” like sports clips on the right. That’s because there is indeed value to get from NBA clip of Steph Curry’s first ever buzzer beater or seeing Nadal’s insane 40 shot rally against Medvedev on the 2022 Australian Open.

I’m also not saying that the things in the left are bad. In fact, each one of them provides a lot of it’s own genuine value propositions. There can even be value found in dancing videos: you can view it from the producer’s lens to learn about production of those videos, learn about new trending songs, or just marvel at the beauty of human kinesthetics and dancing. Actually, something that has fascinated me recently with social media is trying to crack the code of why something is so engaging, so that I can apply those principles to my content and life too.

But the point is, you have to be aware of your distribution. Reflect on your goals, because what you feed into your brain is what you will become. Don’t mindlessly outsource this to an algorithm. The algorithm has gotten so good these days at suggesting relevant and engaging content — it’s actually one of the things I am grateful for that we have. Let the power of the algorithm work for you, not against you.

Don’t be controlled by your digital consumption, you need to take the pilot’s seat and proactively be in charge of your digital consumption to turn it into an asset rather than a liability.

Because if you do, it’ll be an incredibly powerful asset that genuinely compounds and makes you better every day.

I like easy to remember mantras, they’re pragmatic. So if there’s one thing you can takeaway from this article to apply to your social media consumption, it’s this: Diversify (rebalance your platforms) and Curate (rebalance your feeds).

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