Challenging the Narrative about Smartphones: How Phones can be used to Promote a Sense of Self

Smartphones and social media are widely criticised and labelled as ‘bad’ for us. Is it possible however that they could also be used to promote greater wellbeing and personal growth? We think so! Through the use of online platforms, social media, and basic apps, we propose that it is possible to develop a positive relationship with our phones, and that these smart devices could even be used to help us develop and maintain a strong sense of self! Here’s how…

According to Statista, over 2.5 billion people own a mobile phone, making it the most used technological device in the world. They enable us to text, call, take photos, keep up with friends, date, and even to talk (shout out to the iPhone’s siri feature keeping me sane during the loneliest of times)! All of these features support us to use our smartphones to find out more about ourselves and create a clearer sense of who we are as individuals.

The way we see our self is composed of different individual factors (called ‘self-schemas’) that allow us to determine how we think, act, and feel in different situations. For example, if you believe you are a good sister (and that is one of your self-schemas), than you may tell off a younger sibling for doing something dangerous. Or if one of your individual self-schemas is being a good leader, you may feel ashamed or guilty after your sports team loses a game.

Using Social Media

Smartphones support us to develop and strengthen these self-schemas by supporting us create online profiles which portray who we are and how we want to be perceived. The social media app, Instagram, allows us to do this in many different ways. Want to show people you’re a great cook? Create a food Instagram profile! Or simply post yummy food photos on your own account! Want to show people you’re an amazing athlete? Post photos of you playing a match! This app allows you to display these valued self-schemas via your profile, letting others (and yourself) develop and strengthen your sense of self. Remember, it is easier to feel good about yourself when you are clear about who you are – it is also easier to understand yourself when you feel good about yourself.

“It is easier to feel good about yourself when you are clear about who you are”

Another trending social media app, Facebook, allows you to reconnect with people from your past, stay connected with people from your present, and connect with future best friends (or maybe find the one?!). And as your connections can add information to your profile such as by tagging you in a photo, they can assist you in creating and reinforcing your sense of identity. Have an auntie taking photos of you at your football matches? Ask her to post it on Facebook to show your friends your favourite hobby! Having a clear understanding of who we are as a person – instead of a confused one – supports us to cope more efficiently with stress, rejection, and challenging aspects of our lives (Ritchie, Sedikides, Wildschut et al. 2011).

Making Lists

This may sound simplistic, but evidence shows us that making lists is more important than we may first assume. Smartphones have built-in applications such as Notes, Reminders and even Voice Memos that support us to create lists. How can list making support me to develop my sense of self?

Firstly, you may make a list about the present time – things you have to achieve today, things you did today, the feelings you felt today etc. Being able to look back at how you felt during the day, or your actions and achievements may support you to learn about yourself and infer aspects of yourself from those behaviours. Moreover, ticking off our to-do lists reinforces a sense of achievement! This sense of positive reinforcement supports us to see ourselves in a positive light – particularly important to help combat the daily stressors of life and to reduce negative feelings about self.

Secondly, you may choose to make a list about the future – things you want to do (a bucket list), things you want to achieve, things to do before the weekend/next month/next week etc. Being able to see where you want to be in a couple days, weeks, months, or even years may support you to develop your ideal self. This aspirational side of your future self can help motivate you to make changes or take action towards making your current self (your actual self) as close as possible to your ideal self – this is called the self-discrepancy theory. Seeing differences between your actual and your ideal self encourages us to reduce these differences by matching our current behaviour with how we believe our ideal self would behave. Is your ideal self a doctor helping children in impoverished countries? Well then you’re more likely to study (and save up to go on this trip) if you see this on your list every single day!

It is important for your future list to be realistic and attainable. The best way to do this is by creating SMART goals – an easy way to plan Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely goals. This technique is regularly adopted in evidence-based therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), and has been found to reduce pressure and increase performance in many areas of life, such as work and education. SMART goals can support you to achieve realistic present moment tasks such as “get an A by the end of the year” or “save up for a new laptop” or even simpler “clean up my desk so I can study better”. By striving towards and achieving your SMART goals, you can strengthen your positive self-schemas and wellbeing.

Surround yourself with like-minded people

Being able to validate how you’re feeling about yourself and feeling good about who you are is also an important factor in developing your sense of self. The easiest way to do this is on the afore-mentioned social media apps such as Instagram or Facebook or even Twitter where you can follow profiles that you can relate to, and which reinforce your positive self-schemas and values. For example, are you a huge art fan wanting to become the next Picasso? Why not follow a modern artist such as Banksy? Do you want to help children? Follow organisations like Doctors without Borders. Are you interested in human rights and the current refugee crisis? Follow charities such as Choose Love. Surrounding yourself by people or pages like these which allow you to have an external ‘anchor’ where you can learn, share and compare your beliefs and values, can all help to consolidate a strong sense of self.

Written by Akhina Gaches, Assistant Psychologist

Supervised by Dr Emily Smyth, Clinical Psychologist


Want to find out more? Look below!

Burton, N. (2012). Building Confidence and Self-Esteem. Psychology Today.


Stangor, C. (2014). The Cognitive Self: The Self-Concept. Principles of Social Psychology – 1st International Edition, 3, 113-132.


DeAndrea, D. C., Shaw, A. S., & Levine, T. R. (2010). Online language: The role of culture in self-expression and self-construal on Facebook. Journal Of Language And Social Psychology29(4), 425-442. doi:10.1177/0261927X10377989