FOMO — the fear of missing out — isn’t just the fear of not experiencing something. It’s the fear of not being invited. To fight FOMO, some writers say, you need to “disconnect” and change your attitude and partake in simple pleasures. Congrats to those with such willpower. The rest of us have to trick our animal brains a little harder. To discover the joy of missing out — JOMO — we have to make three changes.
In my early 20s, I stayed at every party until the end — sometimes because I was having too much fun, but usually because I wasn’t. I didn’t want to go home until I’d had my requisite good time.
Sometimes the good time did eventually show up, but usually it didn’t. If anyone said “oh no, don’t leave already!” I took it as a sincere request, so I never left. And then if anyone else tried to leave, I said the same thing. (When we suffer from FOMO, we try to make other people feel FOMO.)
So if you’ve already opted into more than you should, now’s the time to opt out. Leave the party early, back out of the project with apologies, cancel your subscription, lower your commitment. When you feel like you’re leaving a little too early, soon you’ll realise you were actually right on time.
Rip off the band-aid
Quitting hurts. Getting from FOMO to JOMO usually means working through a little pain.
One crowded year at the SxSW tech conference, my friends and I stood in an hour-long line for an “exclusive” open-bar party. A half-hour in, my friend decided that this party would be a mob, that even after all the sunk cost, it was still a better deal to leave and hang out with a couple people in a quieter bar, buying their own drinks. So he led a little countdown with our group. “And now,” he said, “we rip off the band-aid.”
Don’t expect missing out to be painless. Instead treat that pain as a good pain, the kind that comes before relief.
Quit before you’re fired
There’s a lot of advice about “changing your perspective” on missing out. That’s pretty hard to do if you didn’t choose to miss out. You can’t turn a switch in your brain from “I’m sad I’m not at this party” to “Actually, it’s good that I’m not.” You have to decide not to go to the party.
You can’t predict every party. But you can think of any kind of event that you only regretfully attend. And you can decide not to go next time, before you’re even invited.
I’ve kicked a few bad social obligations this way. It hurt! I stopped going to SxSW, and then another good but unnecessary annual event that I just no longer had time for. And I made my decision ahead of time — so that by the time the events rolled around, I’d made my peace months ago. Every time I saw the Instagram photos from friends who still attended, I remembered my reasons for not going, and I felt better — while still wishing my friends well.
This is still a bit of a self-con. You can’t brainwash yourself into having no conflicted feelings. But you can start dealing with those feelings ahead of time, and make your decision to miss out while it still feels like your decision.
That’s a way to avoid marketing FOMO too. When you buy this year’s iPhone, make the decision that you won’t buy next year’s. When you buy new clothes, give yourself a new window that must run out before you buy more — or name a limit on your clothing budget while it’s still optional. Now you’re the one in control, you’re the one deciding to miss out later.
Have something to go home to
Of course, the only good reason to miss out is if you have something better to do. It’s no good missing a party to scroll Facebook, it’s no good saying no to a project just because you’re scared of failure. You have to assess what you care about. We have advice on that.
In the essay where he coined FOMO, Harvard Business School student Patrick J. McGinnis also coined FOBO: fear of a better option. While FOMO makes us overcommit, FOBO makes us undercommit.
While the two fears pull us in opposite directions, combined they can paralyse us into doing nothing at all. Look at what deeper commitments you’ve avoided because you’re afraid of missing out on the shallower ones. Those are the things that put the joy in JOMO. Tech exec Anil Dash wrote about these JOMO-worthy things back in 2012.
This doesn’t mean you have to find the love of your life, or work on your magnum opus, or find true pleasure meditating in a bare room. It means you need to think about what you want, rather than what you’ve been handed, and you need to do some manageable version of it.
Skip the party and spend time with a couple of friends. If you’re frustrated you can’t afford something, find the most decadent thing you’ve already bought yourself and use it. Delete the news feed and read a book, watch a TV show, play a video game if it makes you happy.
You don’t have to find something serious or “meaningful,” just something that legitimately pleases you, that you know you won’t regret spending time on. Something that makes it worth missing out.