Instagram Brain

June 16, 2017  - By Rachael Milner

Motivation is a curious thing.

We can be motivated by things so easily – sometimes recognized, other times subconsciously.

When we recognize something that compels us into action, it’s easier to get moving and make a choice that brings us satisfaction. We choose to eat healthy all day so we can reward ourselves with a treat before bed. We choose to do the laundry and clean the house so that we can enjoy a nice clean space with our family later. We choose to workout so that we can lose some weight and hopefully fit into our clothes a little easier.

Other times, our motivation is more masked, cloaked by something simple, while the true incentive lies a little deeper than what can be seen at first glance.

For example, I might tell you that I was motivated to take this picture because it was a nice little setting and I wanted to remember the moment.

The truth is though, I curated this “moment” and I was motivated to take this picture of myself lighting a candle (with my left, non-dominant, shaky hand) while working on an advent calendar (that I wanted people to love and praise me for) so that I could post it on Instagram.

In the process, I burnt my finger, spilled tea on the illustration, got frustrated with a messy desk, probably mumbled some choice words that were not at all in the spirit of advent, all for the sake of Instagram.

This phenomenon of what I like to think of as “Instagram Brain” is something that motivated a lot of the past year of my life subconsciously.

2015 was the year of Instagram for me. At the end of 2014 I decided that if I was going to spend time on social media, then I should do it with excellence. I should use it to speak about the things I was learning in the Lord. I should use that platform to glorify God. That truly was my initial intention, along with wanting to capture the sweet glimpses of my life that I wanted to remember forever.

And so it began. Constantly looking for the perfect snapshot – arranging little vignettes to fit a whole lot of color into a square, and posting regularly, almost every day, sometimes multiple times a day, onto this social media platform. What I didn’t realize is that my motivation of honoring God by trying to live and “capture” a life that was pleasing to Him, was quickly exchanged for something else, something much less God-honoring and much more selfish.

Truthfully, there were a lot of happy moments that I am glad to have captured. That year we were fortunate enough to get to travel quite a bit on mission trips. Ethan and I got to lead a team of 18 on an adventure to Cannock, England, with a day trip to London, then the two of us stayed in Paris for a few days as a little anniversary trip. We met sweet people and ate delicious food. We saw sights I never want to forget.

But we also had some difficult conversations about my motivation. Why was I making him stand in front of a door or pose with macaroons? Did I really want to “remember the moment” or did I want people to like my picture? I’d say it was a lot of both.

I got to lead a trip to NYC and absolutely fell in love with the city. I wanted to stay forever, I felt so energized and happy there. I loved all the colors, the smells, the different types of people and the little corners of flowers and vine-covered buildings. People walked from place to place on a mission, but I was intent to take it all in and not miss a thing.

I was capturing all these moments, editing them to look vibrant and full of life, and posting away like a madwoman. I was living with full-on Instagram Brain and didn’t even recognize it.

Instagram Brain: where your brain literally starts to think in terms of “what can I capture and post that will look the prettiest?” or “how can I arrange this little moment to be picture-perfect so that I feel happy?”

Never mind the people around me or the conversations I could be having if I’d make eye contact and stop staring at VSCO. Never mind the moments of stillness between me and God that could have breathed life into my weary soul — after all, I needed to capture that latte.

I started to become acutely aware of my Instagram Brain condition in regards to Bible journaling. See, for Christmas in 2014 I asked for a journaling Bible. I was quickly exposed to the world of Illustrated Faith — the idea of using art to journal about all that the Lord was teaching me. I LOVED it. I seriously can’t even explain how much fun it is to get caught up in the Word, learning about His goodness then having an idea of how to illustrate that concept, and getting to watch the pages fill up with color. The process of illustrating the truths of Scripture is something I am completely passionate about. So that part was truthful.

But once I started to see that people responded well to my posts about it, I started to think about pleasing those people — almost like a pressure to post about something I was learning. With each new mention by other accounts, I would gain followers, and then feel this need to continue posting in that same vain.

I began to fill my feed with these perfectly posed pictures and a blurb about something found in Scripture (and sometimes in my heart). But sometimes, it was more just something I wanted to say to sound nice, and my motivation was more about the likes or the mentions I would receive as a result.

I was basically doing the opposite of this:

Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 6:1

I was telling myself that my motivation was pure, when really there were a lot of things compelling me to post that were not God specified. I really was learning a lot of these things, but I was seeking them out in the hope of sharing, rather than hiding them in my heart. I was reading the words and illustrating the lesson, but not letting His scripture transform my soul. I was missing the point.

This was happening in many areas of my life.

I remember this picture well because Ethan said something to me that night that I will never forget. As we sat out on that hill watching the sunset and eating our Panera picnic, I wanted to “capture the moment” of course, (even as bugs swarmed around us and it was a little warm). This moment though was truly special – because Ethan had gone with me after working out, doing something he didn’t really want to do, just to make me happy.

As I thanked him for doing this, he said “I will always do things like this for you. Just promise me that it’s for us and not for Instagram.”

Immediately I knew that I couldn’t claim the former as the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Sure, I really was enjoying that moment, but the latter temptation to post about this “captured moment” was of course there in the back of my Instagram brain.

I didn’t post the picture, but I wanted to.

I should pause and say, Instagram isn’t evil. The social media community isn’t a bad place most of the time. I’ve been blessed by so many faithful followers of Christ who share truth day in and day out. I’ve made connections and friendships through Instagram with people I’m real-life friends with today. I’ve been reminded of God’s faithfulness through authentic posts, and even been challenged in my own life to be consistent and genuine after sharing something from the Lord.

So I’m not saying that Instagram should be boycotted. I thoroughly enjoy looking through pretty posts and finding inspiration in various accounts. And I really do believe that it can be used to glorify God. I think about Ruth and Gretchen and Jess (just to name a few) and I truly believe these ladies are pointing people to the foot of the cross. Even my sweet friend Becca is constantly proclaiming His goodness on her account day in and day out.

What I am saying, is that the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. 

If we aren’t careful, our motivation can quietly slip from good to selfish, and Instagram Brain is real. If we aren’t on guard, we can miss the point of using tools given to us for God’s glory and we can become slaves to a platform that once brought a breath of fresh air. We can so easily worship the created, rather than the Creator.

Maybe that sounds drastic. But that’s where I found myself at the end of 2015. 2015: The Year of Instagram became, in some ways, the year of missed opportunities. For me, the year of “capturing moments” became the year of partially living. Missing out on abundant life in Christ.

I want this life to be about something bigger. I want this life to be about Jesus. I want to care more about Jesus and less about Instagram.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:6-7

I want to care about my motivation, about the things that please God, and about the people around me. I want to care about bringing glory to His name more than I care about my name being made great on Instagram. I want to rest in His care for me, knowing that the motivation of my heart means more to Him than any picture I could post or capture.

And I want to stop long enough to look up and actually notice the roses in order to smell them, not just Instagram them!

  • I want to notice my handsome husband while he works hard to provide for our family.
  • I want to notice the beautiful sunset outside Firehouse Subs as I’m walking in to pick up dinner.
  • I want to notice the happy little moments of color and beauty that surround me, as small as they may be.
  • I want to look up and make eye contact, really seeing the beautiful faces of my people in front of me, rather than arranging my food below me.
  • I want to care about people and their stories, listen to their hearts and really pay close attention to the souls around me.
  • I want to have people over when my house is messy and laugh with them over games and coffee and shared experiences.
  • I want to look up and see the joy that surrounds me in this short life, rather than look to a screen constantly searching for happiness.

This year, I want to experience Jesus. I want this to be the year of joy – the year of hope – the year of rest. I don’t care if I capture every moment. I don’t care if I post on Instagram every day or catch up on every account. I don’t care if I miss some new thing to purchase or didn’t see the latest scoop.

I care about Jesus. I care about His Word. I care about the people He has entrusted me with in community. I care about the calling He’s placed on my life to lead His people in ministry. I care about bringing glory to His name. May nothing come between me and Him this year. May Instagram brain have no hold on my affections for Christ.

Jesus, this is your year.

walking in grace,


Fix your mind on gospel truth

and apply God's Word to everyday life with our weekly articles. Sign up below to receive the full article in your email inbox every time a new one is released!

  1. Wow, this is so good! I’ve had a lot of conflicting thoughts on this recently, and you did the best job of summing it all up, so thank you! Love this!

  2. says:

    This spoke directly to my soul! I’ve been writing about this alot lately. At some point I plan to share it on my blog, but right now it’s just a whole lot of processing for myself, and sharing little blurbs on my Instagram as applicable. I’ve had a real shift the last couple months as it comes to social media and God has really been revealing my heart and motivation…good and bad. It’s brought me so much closer to His own heart and I am so thankful for his grace and mercy for me as I learn some difficult lessons.

Leave a Reply


join the

helpful links

When you sign up for our emails you will receive encouragement straight to your inbox, shop discounts just for our subscribers, free gospel-centered resources, and Well-Watered Shop updates!


give me jesus journal

the well-watered woman book

free resources

back to top

affiliate program

rewards program


contact us

refund policy


what we believe