The Slippery Slope of the Highlight Reel

June 22, 2020

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Written By : Aisha R. Shabazz, LCSW

The mind is constantly taking in information; assessing, judging, and making conclusions. The mind processes data – what we see and don’t see; what we want and don’t want; what we have and don’t have. We’ve all certainly had those moments where we’ve seen or heard something and thought, I wish I had what they have. Striving for better, bigger, stronger, smarter. There’s nothing wrong with self-improvement. The problem occurs when we follow-up that simple thought with self-criticism. 

Worthless. Inferior. Meaningless. Inadequate.

How did we make such a broad leap from noticing differences to putting ourselves down?

Slippery Slope of the Highlight Reel

Social media reinforces our relationship with the global world. It gives us a chance to reconnect with so many people from our past and introduces us to strangers from all over the world. There are so many social media apps to scroll through until we reach our heart’s content and thumb’s anguish. Some would argue that social media is the root of all our problems; however, for better or for worse, social media is here to stay. 

How many times have you scrolled through your social media feed and mid-scroll felt a pit in your stomach, your heart rate jump, or had racing thoughts of ‘ I’m less than’ enter your mind’ almost as if an auto-populated checklist appeared spelling out all the SHOULDs of how to be different than who you currently are.  

Curse of Memory Lane

For others, the Highlight Reel begins as we reflect back to the pleasantries of the past. When your sentences start with ‘back in the day’ and ‘remember when’, that’s a clear indication that you’re traveling down memory lane. 

Do you ever wonder why longing for the past slowly turns your present moment into a nightmare? You start to think about the days when you could eat anything you wanted without getting heartburn or gaining a pound. Reminisce about how you could stay up all night and be fresh as a daisy for work the next day. Or maybe you recall all the friends you had with endless choices of where to go, what to do, and who to spend time with. 

Whether you’re viewing the highlight reel of life via social media scroll or memory lane stroll, do you have any idea how your mind shifts from taking in data to pushing you into a self-criticism avalanche? 

Self-criticism Avalanche

The self-criticism avalanche is the point of no return. Just a slight shift in word choice and thought process and there goes a wave of criticism. A kind word from your mother or a gentle reminder from your friend doesn’t stand a chance against the self-criticism avalanche. 

When does your criticism avalanche begin? Is it after you notice that all of your friends are engaged and you’re not? Is it after browsing everyone’s weight-loss challenge posts and you’re noticing your current weight? Or perhaps it’s after you see your best friend live streaming from a party, and you start to wonder why you weren’t invited? Your mind is doing what it does best, noticing details and yet your inner critic kicks it into high gear and takes over to lead you down a path of lies and misinformation.  

No one will ever want to marry me.

I’ll never be happy with the way I look.

I’m always left out of everything.

This thought process is not productive. Any confidence that you may have had is destroyed by the weight of every harsh word that you think and say to yourself. To say such harmful and untrue things to yourself day after day continues to enhance the voice of your inner critic and has the potential to push us into an insecurity hole so deep, that we’re not sure how to get out. Some of you have been in this hole of insecurity for so long, that your whole world view becomes blocked. Everything you do revolves around the lies and misinformation that your inner critic whispers to you; keeping you away from so many beautiful things that life has to offer.  

Lies We Tell Ourselves

You might be thinking to yourself, but seeing others do well motivates me to do better. Okay. I’m inspired to do better by watching successful people live their best lives. Sounds good. My vision board makes me feel like I’m manifesting my best life. My true self. The Real Me. Excellent. If what you’re doing is working, by all means, keep at it.


If at any point in time, while competing with others and comparing yourself to a higher standard, you feel worse about yourself; I would argue that your strategy is not working. Many believe that competition breeds innovation, however within the context of human relationships, competition often breeds resentment, jealously, and insecurity. None of which are the building blocks of sustainable and kind confidence. 

Try Something New

If any of these thoughts and behavior patterns sound familiar to you, try stopping the patterns before they start. If social media sends you into a self-criticism avalanche, try reducing your screen time. If you open Instagram before hopping out of bed in the morning, try getting dressed and ready for the day before scrolling through your feed. If you’re saying sweet dreams to Facebook, try giving yourself a social media bed-time. Research shows that reducing screen time at least one hour before bed will help improve the quality of your sleep. 

If you find yourself in a time warp and you can’t stop thinking about how the past was so much better than your current life, try creating new memories. Yes, some days are so unbearable that traveling down memory lane will provide a quick solace. However, if your pattern is to permanently relocate to 123 Memory Lane, you’re neglecting the present moment for all it has the potential to offer.

Breaking old routines and creating new habits can be difficult but there are many methods to help us counteract the thought and behavior patterns that lead us to feel insecure and overwhelmed. 

Disclaimer: This mental health blog is for informational purposes and is intended to help destigmatize mental health. It is strongly discouraged to use the information contained in this blog in a coercive manner. This information is not intended to diagnose or serve as a substitute for treatment from a licensed mental health professional. 

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