Psych and followers

In March of 2018, I started my own journaling account, @mylifeinjournals, on Instagram. Since then, my own account has grown, and I’ve interacted with more people. Even before diving into the world of Instagram art accounts, I’ve watched various YouTube accounts centered around providing creative content to the viewers. In other words, I’m familiar with the world of art on the Internet. So I’m not going to start saying art accounts are bad or anything. I just think they need to be done carefully and with caution.

On my own account, I almost exclusively work in journals. I have my bullet journal where I keep up with my daily activities, but for this I’m going to focus on my photo journal. Back in 2018, I started to document my experiences in a journal so I could have a collection of photos (and other small  momentos) all in one place to look back on. I’ve always enjoyed collecting physical versions of experiences and memories — I have one of those cheesy polaroid cameras, I try to regularly print photos and I have not one but two memory boxes underneath my bed right now. My friend suggested that I start an Instagram account to post my spreads to, so I did. It wasn’t really about gaining a following, and I didn’t put a particular amount of effort into the posts. I was doing the journaling for me, and I was just using my art account as a place to digitally document my work.

In 2019, however, I started caring more about my account. I use Instagram stories, spent a long time figuring out the best backgrounds and lighting, and even started to hashtag my posts so they might show up to people. Suddenly, my account started bringing in follows, and most of them are not people I know. And I started to care a lot more about how my journal looked, not because I wanted it to get better but because I didn’t want other people to see something that didn’t look perfect.
In psychology, there are two basic types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic  motivation is when you’re motivated to do something because it satisfies your own desires. On the other hand, extrinsic motivation is when you’re motivated to do something because of external rewards being received. When I started journaling, I did it because it made me happy to see both the memories from whatever event I was at as well as the creative work I did to record that period of time — it was an intrinsically motivated activity. However, as my art account grew and evolved, I started getting more. More likes. More comments. More followers. More attention. The external rewards I would receive for finishing a spread in my journal increased. Eventually, the act of generating content for the Instagram page — and therefore doing activities in order to gain the photos needed to create that content — becomes just that: the act of generating content.

Okay, now it’s time to bring me back down a couple pegs. I’m not Instagram famous. It’s not like I’m some amazing artist with millions of followers or anything. Not even close. But I have noticed that it’s extremely common to see people that do have big followings taking a break or going on hiatus for a while in order to regather themselves or “find the joy in creating content” again. Most artists who have a current following start because they enjoy what they do, whether that’s telling stories, drawing, working on a bullet journal, or anything else. But over time, the goal shifts from wanting to create something good to just creating content in order to make the followers — those providing the external rewards — happy.

However, there’s another term in psychology known as “overjustification.” In essence, overjustification is when something previously intrinsically motivated is now extrinsically motivated because of the external rewards. After a while, if the rewards stop or slow down, the subject will stop the original activity because it’s now extrinsically motivated. This isn’t an issue for artists at first, until everything slows down. Fewer likes. Fewer comments. Fewer followers. Fewer attention. Slowly the desire to create starts to go away because the rewards are gone. The original reason for starting — working on journal pages because I enjoy designing spreads — isn’t enough motivation anymore because I’m not getting validation from the world.

Luckily for me, this hasn’t been the case yet. I’m still very happy with what I’m doing. However, if you have any sort of art account, remind yourself that it’s not about the likes and the comments and the followers and the attention. It’s about your enjoyment, not anyone else’s.