As a person living in the year 2015, you are an innovator, a traveler, and a cultural pioneer.
You’re also probably viewing a lot of life through the lens of your camera, touching up and cropping your experiences before instantly sharing them with thousands of your closest friends.
This “Instagram mindset” can make you feel connected to the whole world at once. But when you’re looking at the world through a lens or screen, especially when you’re on new adventures, you’re denying yourself much of the full experience, which can’t be captured by words or images.
Photographs can never be as potent or magical as the memories of the real senses, scenes, and events of your life. Remember your first great kiss? Could an Instagram post even begin to portray the elation? It would be pretty dull as a photograph because an image can’t capture your hormones going crazy, your flushed cheeks heating up, the feeling of clumsiness building, or the sound of your friends laughing as they listen outside the door.
How, then, do we resist the temptation to constantly take and share photos for immediate connectivity? How can we rise above that powerful feeling that we’re missing out somehow if we don’t share all of our adventures?
1. Take a leap — the scarier it is, the bigger the payoff
In 1996, after grad school, my wife and I decided to leave our jobs and go backpacking for nine months. Many of our friends thought we were crazy, but we knew we needed to get out into the world in order to discover new things and shake up our old patterns. Was it scary? Yes. Was it awesome? Yes.
As soon as we made the choice to detach from the common routines of our busy lives, we cleared space for new experiences and memories, as well as improvisation, creativity, and expression. We saw for the first time how full the world really was, and we started to feel more deeply connected to ourselves, each other, and our fellow travelers than we ever could have through today’s social media.
All it takes is making one momentous decision.
2. Share something other than a JPEG
It’s easy to excuse yourself for being stuck in the Instagram mindset while traveling. You convince yourself that you’re sharing beauty and excitement with others. Be careful of sharing to brag — it can be a temptation, but you know a humblebrag when you see one, and so do your friends.
Sometimes, there are better ways to get in touch with your own creative side or express what you’re experiencing than posting a photo on social media.
Rather than share a picture, send a small souvenir via the local postal service wrapped in brown paper with exotic stamps and strange addresses. Why not share a poem, write a letter describing what you’ve seen, or post an inspiring sentiment to heal or uplift a friend? You might find that your trip feels richer, longer, and more meaningful.
3. Break the Instagram pattern
The Instagram mindset is all about patterns: You get caught up in routine behavior, constantly capturing, editing, and sharing. Getting stuck in this pattern can prevent you from truly experiencing what’s around you. My personal estimate is that you miss over half of the experience (perhaps even 90%) by trying to “capture it.”
Many great minds have said, “Be present.” Eckhart Tolle has exquisitely said, “Realize deeply that the present moment is all you ever have.” The key to a bright future lies in embracing the great here and now. How is that possible if you’re always trying to capture now for a future reminiscence as you’re experiencing it? It’s not — period.
Just as hazardous to your appreciation of the wondrousness of now, as well as your enjoyment of this memory in the future, is not being present with the person you’re traveling with in order to share every moment with others who aren’t there. This important person may even be yourself.
Stop it. Make up your mind to break the pattern.
Rather than reach for your phone when you see an exotic lizard crossing the road, leave it in your pocket and call someone over to watch the creature with you. Make a conscious choice to savor that experience; see the real colors, smell the bouquet of the wilderness, and notice the flicker of the animal’s tail in the dust. Observe how you feel.
That is the ultimate Instagram — observing your own experience as it happens. Such experiences will be all the more vivid when you recall them with your travel buddy later or when you describe them to your captivated friends back home.
4. Set a serendipitous challenge for yourself
To free yourself from the clutches of your Instagram ritual, try setting a challenge for yourself.
For example, a game called SERENFLIPITY helps you take your travels to much deeper levels of joy and adventure by encouraging you to see whether you can spend only one dollar the entire day or go out and find the oldest, happiest couple around to find out their secret.
Interacting in a new way with the brand-new world around you will force you to be present and appreciate every moment for all it’s worth — which is immense! To enhance your perspective, try a new route on each walk you take and breathe in all you see, making it a part of your soul from that moment on — rather than filtering the sights and sounds around you through a photo editor.
5. Give; don’t take
You’re taking photos all the time these days, especially when traveling and seeing new sights: Here’s the Taj Mahal, and here’s your wife in front of the Taj Mahal. Here’s the reflection of the Indian sky in the fountain water, and here’s a homeless boy sitting in the dirt of an Agran street.
When you’re only thinking about finding moments worthy of photographing, you miss out on the true beauty and power of the experience — like looking through a rearview mirror at your journey down Route 66.
If you stop looking for Instagram-worthy moments, you’ll start seeing opportunities to give back instead. Make a human connection, and spend a little time or money giving something to someone needy you meet on your travels or playing with local children. This will inspire more profound joy than any reaction you could receive to a post.
To understand the remarkable power of staying in the present moment rather than snapping photos to share with the rest of the world, consider this: My wife and I once went on a hike with our children to a waterfall. For the kids, these 20 short minutes of time became an integral, formative part of their existence that fundamentally propelled their love of nature, walking, and adventure.
Later, when something familiar prompted them, they would excitedly recall the six of us doing these things. “Remember when we used to go to that waterfall? And go hiking? And climb on rocks? And remember when you fell into the stream that one time?!”
Listening to our kids, you might think that we did this all the time; in reality, it happened only once — but those 20 minutes will live eternally in their hearts and memories. This is the way life works and is created: in our mind’s eye and in our hearts through our shared experiences. Real life is not two-dimensional, nor cast in pixels.
Creating your own memories and experiences, just for you, and storing them in your mind (rather than on your hard drive or in the cloud, rarely to be seen again) helps you remember those things as being imbued with more beauty, adventure, and power — as you want them to be. In your mind’s eye, they will always be much more vivid than any photo.
It’s great to be connected to the world through images, but when you find yourself stuck behind the screen, the real joy and sensations of your adventures can pass you by. The most important follower of your travel adventure is you. Give yourself the richest portrait of the experience by breaking the Instagram mindset and experiencing the vastness of each moment, with full faith that you will remember and share glimpses of those powerful moments with the right people at the right times later in life.
Paresh Shah is an experienced entrepreneur, strategy and innovation expert, business professor, yoga instructor, life coach, and dad of four kids. He’s the founder and CEO of Glimpulse, the Human Expression Company that creates products to challenge, inspire, and equip people to be happier and healthier by sharing the giving, loving impulse we all have.
Follow Paresh on Twitter @pareshLA