The fear of missing out (or FOMO) is the feeling of envy and insecurity you have when other people are having positive, exciting experiences in their lives and you’re not. It can make you feel depressed, cost you money, and stress you out — but it can also be an incredible motivational tool. Here’s why having some FOMO is a good thing.
Illustration by Jim Cooke.
Maybe you have friends travelling the world, know coworkers taking night classes to advance their careers, or friends on Facebook talking about the concerts they have been to. Meanwhile, you’re at work, or at home alone, staring at your phone, wishing you could be a part of it all instead of binging Netflix for the fourth night in a row. FOMO sucks when it starts to affect your life that way. However, it can also make you get off the couch, inspire you to achieve your goals, or make you want to be one of those people posting their highlight reel to Facebook.
Use Your FOMO As A Motivational Tool
Before you rid your life of FOMO entirely, however, consider this: fear is an effective tool. I think you should fear missing out a little bit. Just enough to make you feel uncomfortable and break the complacency of your everyday life, but not enough to drown in envy. People are out doing incredible things, bettering themselves, having new experiences, and showing as much appreciation for their one and only life as much as possible. Sounds grand, doesn’t it? Maybe you’re afraid you’re missing out on things because, well, you are.
If you ignore that fear, you’ll feel better, but you’ll also miss out on opportunities to broaden your horizons and discover new things. Fear of missing out is your ticket out of your comfort zone. When you escape your comfort zone, you’ll be more productive, less complacent, better at dealing with unexpected changes, and you’ll get better at pushing your own boundaries and limits when it really counts.
I’m not suggesting you swap your FOMO with YOLO, per se, but there are two truths you should always consider: you will die (and probably not when you plan to), and you are always missing out on things. Every second of every day awesome things are happening and you’re not a part of them. But those thoughts don’t have to cripple you — they can drive you. Use your fear of missing out as motivation. To do that, you’ll have to learn when you should and shouldn’t fear missing out.
When You Should Fear Missing Out (And Act on It)
You have to focus on the right kind of fear. The kind of fear that pushes you to new exciting places. The kind of fear that can help you find your life purpose, or make you realise you actually do enjoy the job you have right now. This fear is good. This fear is your friend. So when should you fear missing out?
- When you see people doing something you want to do, or want to be a part of. If you’re afraid to miss out, recognise that and try to understand why. Maybe you’ve been holding yourself back. If some friends take yoga classes in the morning and you feel like you’re missing out, ask yourself “why?” Part of it might be wanting to share that time with your friends, but maybe you’ve also been wanting to establish some sort of physical activity regimen and you haven’t really acknowledged it yet. Let your fear motivate you to do the same thing, or find out how they got started.
- When you have an opportunity to learn or do something you’ve never done before. Expand your horizons and invest in a wide variety of life experiences. They’re the only thing you’re guaranteed to keep the rest of your life. Overwhelming research shows experiences matter more to us than things. Invest in them. You’ll probably never regret that cooking class, tagging along with friends while they go horseback riding, or seeing an opera. At the very least you’ll appreciate how much work goes into your prepared meals, see how exhilarating it can be to gallop like they do in the movies, and experience a whole new type of entertainment. In fact, I’m taking fencing lessons right now because my roommate was taking them, and I’m enjoying the heck out of it.
- When an experience might be beneficial for you overall, and the good outweighs the bad. Weigh your options and consider what the overall benefit might be. Sometimes it’s good to focus on the greater good. You may not want to go to that work party, but you probably don’t want to miss out on the chance to bond (or network) with your coworkers and boss. Who knows? You might even make a new friend, or better understand who the people you work with really are.
- When you’re bored, complacent, stagnant, or it feels like nothing’s going right in your life. Follow that fear and shake things up. Meet your friends out at that cool new bar even though you feel like staying in and streaming Bob’s Burgers. You shouldn’t feel pressured to always go out, but if you’re in a rut, you’ll be surprised how much doing one little thing out of the ordinary can change your perspective. Take back control.
Worrying too much about what other people are doing is bad, we know that. However, having no fear at all can be just as bad. Like most things, it’s about balance. If you use those feelings and fears the right way, you can make positive changes in your life. The next time something comes up, ask yourself “Am I afraid of missing out? Or am I actually missing out?”
When You Actually Shouldn’t Fear Missing Out
There are plenty of times, however, you shouldn’t let fear affect you. You shouldn’t judge what you’re missing out on solely from what you see on social networks, for example. They’re an all you can eat “look what I did!” buffet. Facebook and Twitter have become just as much a place to brag as they are a place to connect, but what you’re seeing is only part of the picture.
Your buddy Steve may look like he’s living the dream — going to concerts, travelling the world, taking Krav Maga classes — but that’s because you’re seeing his life’s highlight reel. Steve’s life is not all awesome all the time. It’s important you keep the right mindset while you scroll through your news feed or Twitter stream. And it doesn’t hurt to curate your social network feeds to be something less FOMO-inducing. If you’re tired of Steve’s “adventures”, unfollow his posts. However, if you have a friend who is doing things you’ve always wanted to do, keep them around in your feeds for motivation. Every time you log in it will be like something poking and prodding you to finally make a move.
The fear of missing out on information, like news and gossip, should also be avoided. Keeping up with current events is not inherently bad, but it can easily go too far, and obsessing over “what’s going on right now” as opposed to doing something about it benefits no one. You don’t need to know that Sally is on her way to the gym. You’re never going to be tested on your knowledge of who’s dating who in Hollywood. You’re not going to feel more secure by obsessing over a recent tragedy. Not knowing everything doesn’t make you ignorant, so there’s no reason to fear being out of the loop.
Finally, you should never fear missing out on things you already know you don’t like. Identify the things you would actually enjoy missing out on. For example, I used play Super Smash Brothers with friends, entirely due to my own fear of missing out. I knew I wasn’t very good at it, and I knew deep down I didn’t really enjoy playing it. But I’m a competitive person and I wanted to spend time with my friends, so I couldn’t help but try my hardest when they wanted to play. I even bought my own copy just so I could practice. I didn’t do this out of joy, but because I didn’t want to miss the “fun times” my friends were having.
Eventually, I came to terms with the truth: I didn’t like Smash, even if it meant spending a little more time with my friends. Once I realised that, fear turned to joy. I would find other ways to spend quality time with them, and I enjoyed the fact that I wasn’t torturing myself just to be a part of something. To turn your fear into motivation, do the same thing. Find out what your Smash is, and free yourself from it.