Something Even Better | A Coaching Podcast

Mimetic desire, the social media comparison trap, and why it matters for your business

March 28, 2022 Stacie Mitchell Season 3 Episode 14
Something Even Better | A Coaching Podcast
Mimetic desire, the social media comparison trap, and why it matters for your business
Show Notes Transcript

On today’s episode, Stacie talks about mimetic desire – how we desire what we see others desiring and/or having – and how it impacts our businesses in a BIG way.

Stacie deep dives into:

  • What is mimetic desire?
  • What does mimetic desire have to do with the social media comparison trap?
  • How social media and its inherent risks for mimetic desire influences our businesses and lives – and usually not in a good way
  • How to overcome mimetic desire so you can stand out from the crowd in your business - and live true to your values
  • How an “anti-social media”  content strategy can help grow your thought leadership

This podcast is for you if you’re a bit sick of the “lemming effect” of social media marketing: where every business starts to look and sound the same!

Check out the resources from this episode over on the blog: Mimetic desire, the social media comparison trap, and why it matters for your business

If you’re curious about SEO keyword research, I created a SEO cheat sheet and two super short video tutorials on the tools I use to make every piece of content work harder for me. You can grab it over at staciemitchell.com/seo

Read this episode over on the blog!: Mimetic desire, the social media comparison trap, and why it matters for your business

One of the best parts of not having social media as such a big part of my life is that I am now reading much, much more than I was just a few months ago.

And because I’m slowly training my brain to focus, I can actually sit and read for longer stretches, and take these new-to-me ideas and synthesize them better, and ultimately, apply them to other concepts I’m studying.

And to be honest, this is what I’ve always wanted: To think deeply, to create podcast episodes that look at something through a new lens, to create more thought leadership pieces for my business vs. sharing every idea I have with the world without taking the time to reflect. I have to say that slowing down and lowering my expectations for how much I can produce, so I can do less, but better, has been incredibly freeing and rewarding. And I suspect it’s why I’ve had more requests for podcast interviews in the last couple of months than I’ve had in my many years of business!

But let’s get back to the point at hand. While doing more reading and deep diving into new topics of interest, I came across a podcast episode of The Minimalists where they talk with Luke Burgis about his new book called “Wanting: The Power of Mimetic Desire in Everyday Life”, which dives into a concept called mimetic theory and mimetic desire.  

Now you might be wondering…
What is mimetic desire?
Mimetic desire is a concept that was developed by René Girard, a French anthropologist who believed that human desire doesn’t come from the individual, but instead, from the collective or the society around us. Mimetic basically means imitation – so mimetic desire is wanting what you see others having.

This type of desire emerges when your basic needs – for food, shelter, sex, and safety – are met. And part of mimetic theory is also that the more people want something, the more others want something, which immediately makes me think of how some influencers have bought followers. Because when someone sees that big number of followers, they think, “Oh, other people like this!” and they click follow too.We want what others want, and we follow what others follow, whether we’re aware of it or not.

I won’t get into the four stages of mimetic theory right now, but the main point here is that individuals, like me or you, only want what we want because we see that others want and have it. We can’t help but imitate each other’s desires. Our desires aren’t actually our own, but it’s very hard for us to see that. And it made me think about how social media impacts our desires in a way that never used to exist, potentially making us more desirous than ever before, and keeping us locked on the hedonic treadmill which I’ve discussed in past episodes about the arrival fallacy and unhappy achievers. 

Something that really surprised me about decreasing my time on social media was not just the focus I began to get back, but the sudden lack of longing for more that I used to feel in my life. It’s a bit hard to describe, but taking time away from social media has given me the space I didn’t know I needed to better examine what I really want for my life and my business. I stopped feeling like I was behind, or like everyone else was doing better than me, or like I needed to chase my goals. 
What does mimetic desire have to do with the social media comparison trap?
I think we’ve all had moments where we see a friend’s Instagram story, where they’re surrounded by friends, doing something super fun, and thought to yourself, “Why isn’t my life like that?” It’s a classic case of “compare and despair.”

Or when you see an entrepreneur friend killing it in their business, and then you spend the next hour politely stalking their feed and their website to see what they’re doing that you’re not. 

And this social comparison is absolutely normal. Social comparison theory has been around since the mid 1950s, and describes how we evaluate ourselves by comparing ourselves to others around us. Unfortunately, social media creates a potential non-stop cycle of compare-and-despair – setting us up for constant comparison traps – that didn’t exist previously.

As we all know we turn to social media to showcase the best of our lives, our best photos, our best vacations, our most flattering angles, and our biggest successes. But when you consider mimetic desire, what happens is that not only do we compare ourselves to what we see, we also begin to desire what we see.

And it can keep us locked into a way of living that is highly unsatisfying, because you can’t help but always desire more. And while, of course, you still have desires when you quit social media, from my personal experience and what I’ve read of others’ experiences, I believe that reducing your time spent on social media can reduce the suffering of desire. Because it’s no longer in your face for 2-3 hours a day.

Buddhism teaches that desire leads to suffering, and even talks of Hungry Ghosts with intense desires that can never be filled. And I wonder if social media has caused more and more of us to become hungrier and hungrier, and to thus chase these desires in a never ending journey to “enough” while also causing us to become more and more of the same. We see what others have, we desire what others have, we go after what others have, and then we have what others have. 
How social media and its inherent risks for mimetic desire influences our businesses and lives

And this is where I see an even bigger problem with social media, especially when it comes to our businesses. Just as an example, it’s widely taught that to create an Instagram reel that is likely to go viral, you need to use trending audio. I remember when I had Instagram on my phone, I’d watch a few reels in a row and hear the same audio over and over and over again. In many ways, the algorithm rewards you for sounding and looking the same as the reels that are already popular. The same is true for feed posts too – I took a course that basically said “just copy what’s working for others!”

But what this ends up creating is a sea of sameness. I mean, just look at the sea of iPhone notes screenshots floating around Instagram right now. And when we are constantly consuming content, which social media is designed to make us do, we are unintentionally increasing our mimetic desire, which subconsciously causes us to copy what we see as successful. This is why I think social media can be so damaging to our own thought leadership; it’s really hard to be a thought leader when you are constantly consuming and never allowing yourself time to process, integrate, and apply information in new ways. 

And it’s not just copying that’s a problem, it’s also feeling the increased pressure to produce. When you see the success that seems to come from the constant production of new stories, reels, or feed posts, your desire to keep up increases, and thus you feel more pressure to produce more and more. 

And while creating isn’t necessarily always a bad thing, it can lead to burnout and, let’s face it, putting out half-baked ideas that don’t grow your expertise. And even worse, that content you create lasts anywhere from a day to a week, and then its impact is typically gone unless you’re one of the lucky ones that goes viral. But even going viral, it’s unlikely to stick forever. It keeps you stuck in a hamster wheel of creation that doesn’t always have the long lasting impact you’d like.

And this mimetic desire can also lead to the perils of wantrepreneurship, which we discussed in the episode about working for yourself vs. working for someone else. Wantrepreneurship is less about wanting to be an entrepreneur and owning a business, and more about wanting the identity and perks of entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship looks really cool on social media, and thus your desire for it increases, but it might not be the best fit for you and your life. But it’s really hard to see that clearly when you’re bombarded with the entrepreneurial lifestyle every day on social media.

And many marketers use mimetic desire to impact your buying decisions. You know when you’re on someone’s website, and you see the little bubble float up that says “‘so and so’ in Pittsburgh just bought this course”? That’s playing on your mimetic desire. “If others want it so badly, I guess I do too!” 

Many of you don’t know this, but I love watching QVC to relax, and they use this too – “There’s only 100 remaining in the red tunic in this size! You definitely want to get this today!” This plays on our competitive nature to get what we desire. 

In fact, I just listened to True Crime Obsessed’s episode on Beanie Mania, and it’s the same thing. The collective created a mania of desire for beanie babies!
But how do you overcome mimetic desire so you can stand out from the crowd?

This probably won’t surprise you all, but I think this is the most important factor: spend less time on social media. 

I know, you might hate me, but social media marketing is just one way to market your business. And while it tends to be the go-to marketing technique because it’s believed to be the fastest way to get clients, I have to disagree.

I personally think the fastest way to attract the best of the best clients is to get super clear on what you want to be known for, how you help your clients, and then to put deep thought into your specific viewpoint of the problem you solve.

This may sound simple enough, but I actually think it’s one of the hardest things you can do as an entrepreneur, and that’s especially true if you spend all day glued to social media. As much as we’d all like to believe we’re above mimetic desire and social comparison, they influence our thoughts and actions so much that it becomes almost impossible to stand out and be original.

When I was a burnout coach, I tried not to follow too many other burnout coaches or read too many books about burnout because I didn’t want them to influence my own content. I didn’t want to risk unintentionally copying and sounding like every other burnout coach on Instagram. Instead, I intentionally read books about overlapping or completely separate topics so I could create my own framework for burnout. And instead of reading books or following influencers talking about burnout, I went to Google Scholar and read research articles that I could use in my framework too. I wanted to be a thought leader around burnout, and that required looking at it differently.

You’ll hear me talk about thought leadership quite a bit in this episode. An article in Business News Daily describes it best: “A thought leader is someone who, based on their expertise and perspective in an industry, offers unique guidance, inspires innovation and influences others.” I believe that focusing on becoming a thought leader helps attract higher quality clients, because you’re naturally putting out higher quality content. 


I believe that you need two things to become a thought leader in your industry: (1) The ability to think deeply – and the focus and time that deep thought requires. And (2) Looking at your topic through an altogether different lens than others. 

In order to have both, reducing your time on social media or really – anything – that increases your distraction and ups your consumption of “fast” content – is crucial. Because too much consumption, especially of super digestible, easy-to-over-consume content, takes away from the deep thought needed to produce content that really matters and makes a difference – to create that content that actually says something different from everyone else.
How an “anti-social media”  content strategy can help grow your thought leadership

As I said earlier, by removing social media apps from my phone and spending less time overall on social media, my brain has been able to focus better, to learn more deeply about topics I’m truly interested in, and to start making new connections between ideas. 

I used to believe that I needed to create lots and lots of content to draw in new clients, but what I’ve learned is that creating less, but better content is the best way to grow my thought leadership and expertise. I don’t need to put out a daily mini-training on Instagram or post to my feed every day. I’m better served by putting out well-thought and well-researched content into the world for my potential clients. 

And in case you’re wondering, “But does that really work?”, since I’ve slowed down and started putting out a podcast every other week instead of weekly and staying off social media more, I have been invited to guest on podcasts and signed two clients without selling much at all. Every one of these opportunities came from my new podcast content.

An example: I sent a former client a podcast I was proud of and that I thought they could really learn from, and they immediately responded saying they’d love to work with me more and how intriguing my ideas were for them. That’s the power of good thought leadership content!

This type of slow, quality content engages your ideal audience while growing your expertise without feeling like you’re on a hamster wheel of content creation. Quality content combined with SEO allows for this. And bonus: you don’t have to dance on reels or put out something new every single day to keep up. In fact, your reach naturally grows over time, without putting in a ton more effort. 

And when you’re strategic about the content you put out, focus more on quality, and then mix in SEO keyword research, you’re setting yourself up for organic traffic and potential new clients without having to constantly create more content. You are creating a more sustainable foundation for your business – and this is true whether you want to quit social media completely, or you just want to rely on it less overall. 

While I think there are lots of cons to social media, I also know there are pros too. I’ve made great business friends through social media. I love my Facebook groups. But I also have decided I want a more peaceful relationship with social media – one that doesn’t require me to perform my life every day to sign clients. 

This new approach to combining SEO with content strategy specifically focused on growing my thought leadership allows me to live truer to my values for my life. As a coach, it’s important that I practice what I preach, and what I preach is being present, slowing down, and allowing things to flow vs. forcing things to happen. 

This strategy allows me to do that, without worrying that I’m giving up on my business or that I’m not doing enough. If anything, I feel clearer about what I want for my business than ever before, which I attribute to not being bombarded by what everyone else is doing every single day. I can better hear my own voice, I can think more clearly, and because I’ve stopped numbing out by scrolling on social media every day, I can also connect more easily to my feelings and intuition. It’s all a win-win! 

I talked a little bit about this approach on the episode about marketing your business without social media, and in case you haven’t noticed, you’ll start hearing more and more about this over time. I love this new approach to marketing my business so much, and just finished helping a coach with SEO research which was so much fun, that I’ve decided to move my business in that direction.

The podcast won’t change that much. There will still be guest interviews about finding your Something Even Better and all the twists and turns to finding it, but many of my solo podcast episodes will be focused on living a more present life, and how to have a business that allows you to do that. Basically, I am combining the mindset of quitting social media with the practicality of how to do that if you need to use it in your business – I’m super excited about it! 

Funny enough, I hadn’t planned to talk about this in today’s episode, but as I draft the script, I think it’s a perfect opportunity to talk about it. If you’ve followed me for a while, you know that I’ve always loved creating content. And I finally found the perfect intersection of where I can best help folks in my business: content marketing plus SEO strategy focused on growing your thought leadership. This allows you to slowly step away from the hustle of social media, without losing your ability to sign clients. Basically, I combine your best ideas with SEO keyword research to create content that never stops working for you.

If you’re curious about SEO keyword research, I created a SEO cheat sheet and two super short video tutorials on the tools I use to make every piece of content work harder for me. You can grab it over at staciemitchell.com/seo

In the meantime, there are some fabulous episodes coming up on the podcast about quitting what no longer fits – careers, businesses, and more – and I thank you all so much for listening and for supporting the podcast. If you loved this episode and know someone who needs to hear it, please share. Sharing and leaving a review are the best ways to support this work and I appreciate it so, so much! Thanks again!