Dear Lifehacker, I have a hard time turning down social events and other opportunities because I'm afraid I'll miss something important or feel left out. I also can't stop checking my phone and social media feeds just in case something awesome is happening. What can I do to get over this? Signed, Fits of FOMO
We've all been there before: Said no to a party or a date only to wonder what we're missing out on. Or we feel a pang of jealousy seeing all the Instagram and Facebook updates where everyone else is happier than we are or doing something more interesting than us. (Everyone's eating the best food, building an app, writing a book, travelling around the world and raising perfect families at the same time!) This Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) syndrome apparently affects 70 per cent of adults, according to a JWT survey. While the syndrome is common, it's not incurable. Here are few strategies to get past that nagging fear.
Symptoms of Fear of Missing Out
Technology easily makes us feel like we have to stay tuned into our news feeds or social networks or else we'll miss something in the sea of updates or conversations (as xkcd humorously illustrates above). It's easy to get addicted to technology, especially when a quick tweet or "like" offers easy instant gratification.
This fear, however, goes beyond the hashtag and has always existed. (Remember in childhood when other kids got to do things your parents didn't let you do?) As adults, we might regret taking one path over another, thinking: Maybe I should have gone to grad school like my sister did, maybe the co-worker who quit to be a stay-at-home dad is happier than I am, etc. In a nutshell, FOMO is a combination of envy and insecurity, which can lead to anxiety and indecision. The more you fear missing out, the more you actually miss out.
Seth Godin sums up what it does to us:
The combination of the two, the reverse schadenfreude of FOMO (the pain we may feel from others having good fortune) and the insatiable yet unreachable need for everything to be fine, conspire to make us distracted, unhappy and most of all, somewhere else.
That description clues us into the three things we can do to deal with the dread: accept FOMO for what it is, curb the distractions, and learn to relish the present moment and our choices.
Accept That Things Are Happening Without You
Somewhere, someone is having more fun than you or is happier, etc. And that's OK. As GQ puts it:
The first step in the Center's #FOMO program is a simple one: acceptance. Say it with us: "I am afraid that I'm not doing the coolest thing ever at every single moment." Doesn't that feel better? Doesn't it feel good to know that you don't always have to be at the center of the conversation?
Also, whenever you feel that pang of guilt, like you "should" be doing something else that you're missing out on, realise that FOMO can be very misleading. The fun (or other positives) that you're missing out on might not be as huge as you imagine it to be, and the "breaking" news or interesting conversations on Twitter rarely worth the anxiety or better than what you're doing instead.
Again from GQ:
Step two is knowing that #FOMO is an unwinnable game. Even for the people in the very pictures that are eliciting our jealousy. All those Instagram hotshots who are always doing the most exciting, most enviable, most fashionable and champagne-y stuff? They are, according to our statistical analyses here at the Center, the very individuals with the most hyperactive #FOMO. Do you know, new friends, how much work it takes to be one of those people who is at the right place at the right time, all the time? An awful lot of exertion — blood, sweat, tears, texts, e-mails, tweets, Facebook lurks, and most of all, fear — goes into making the social arts look effortless. It's that fear that makes them work so hard.
Block the Distractions
We're already fans of taming information overload, especially if that information only causes you distress, as FOMO does. To help get rid of that pressure to always check in with what's happening, make it harder for those distractions to get to you:
- Turn off all notifications, except the immediately actionable ones. Gmail users on Android can customise email alerts by label.
- Limit visits to time-sucking and FOMO-inducing websites. Try Chrome extension StayFocused or LeechBlock for Firefox.
- Silence your phone while driving. Seriously.
- Perhaps even try going on a social media diet for just 30 days. It could change your life.
Relish the Present
The worst part about Fear of Missing Out is it keeps you from being fully present and engaged. So perhaps the most important step is changing your perspective — cultivating mindfulness so you find the joy in the here and now. Practising meditation can not only sharpen your brain but also increase your happiness, as can keeping a gratitude journal.
Another thing you can do is make a list of your life priorities, things like continuing to learn, spending quality time with your family, working on your hobbies, etc. When you get that itch to check in on your social news feeds or an invitation to something you feel you "should" attend, think back to that list and ask yourself if that's your best use of your time. After all, time is like money in the sense we really have to budget it.
Hopefully the strategies above will help you feel more relaxed and in control. As Anil Dash said here:
Being the one in control of what moves me, what I feel obligated by, and what attachments I have to fleeting experiences is not an authority that I'm willing to concede to the arbitrary whims of an app on my mobile phone. I think more and more people are going to retake this agency over their feelings about being social, as well. That's a joyful thing.
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