A few days ago while having dinner with friends I asked about their plans for the weekend. In an ever-perpetual dancing mood, I mentioned that I had noticed on Facebook that a new band was scheduled to play at a local hangout. But I was torn because I had also read in the local paper that a new exciting restaurant had just opened offering incredible free tapas for any who came by. Even then, I was curious if my friends had heard of something else that might be more fun or interesting. That’s when they all looked at me and simultaneously shouted, “STOP!” Then my dear friend Larry turned to me, put his hand on mine, and said with concern, “It sounds like you’ve got a bad case of FOMO—Fear of Missing Out!” Immediately, I knew that the best, and maybe the only cure, was to return to the mindful practice of simple living.
What is FOMO?
Before Larry pointed out my troubling condition, I was vaguely aware that I occasionally got carried away with analyzing and over-thinking choices and decisions I faced—but I didn’t know there was a word for it. Apparently, the term “FOMO” has become so widespread that it officially became a word in the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013.
The technical definition of FOMO speaks to the anxiety a person feels when potentially missing out on an exciting or interesting event or experience, especially when triggered by technology. But I’d bet that FOMO happens anytime anyone wonders if they made the right choice, worries about the choice they did make, or believes another option would/could be better. And I’ll also bet that just about everyone in the world has felt FOMO at one time or another.
Who Has FOMO?
So FOMO doesn’t just apply to party-animals (like me) who hate missing out on something that sounds fun. FOMO is prevalent everywhere, from the business office to the schoolyard. Anyone who can’t let the phone ring without answering it or checks their email first thing in the morning (and all day long) is also firmly within the grasp. My chiropractor told me that he had to outlaw cell phones in the office because so many people would answer their phone while he was administering a 10-minute treatment. Ever been in line at Starbucks when a person couldn’t put down their phone to make their order? Everyone is afraid they’ll miss something, and all are pure FOMO.
And I’ll bet we all know people who can’t take a vacation or even a long weekend because they believe they are just too busy at work. And it doesn’t matter how important your conversation, if the phone rings they answer it because business comes first, right? While they might think they are hardworking and dedicated, most of the time it is just another case of FOMO.
Or consider families who go deeply into debt buying expensive clothing, cars they can barely afford, or homes with mortgages that they eventually have to give back to the bank? All of that is observing what others have, and insisting on having it for themselves no matter what the cost. In fact, FOMO offers the latest incarnation of “Keeping up with the Joneses.”
Ever witnessed a family at a restaurant where every member is deeply engrossed in their Smartphone rather than talking to each other? What about kids sleeping with the phone clutched in their hands, or moms that insist on knowing where their child is 24/7? Ever answer your cell phone while driving? What about texting? All classic FOMO actions.
What Causes FOMO?
So what’s the motivation behind all of this? Fear—pure and simple. Fear that we will miss something important, interesting or exciting—be it a work-related issue, a childcare issue, a fun issue, or having something someone else has. It’s all coming from the same fear. Anytime we think something isn’t exactly okay the way it is, or that we aren’t okay the way we are—we are practicing FOMO. Jenny Giblin, a psychotherapist in New York, says about FOMO, “These irrational negative beliefs come from a place of feeling as if there is not enough to go around or worrying deep inside that we can not have—or do not deserve—what we really want. One thought leads to another and another, and without us even realizing it can develop into a pattern.”
FOMO triggers a host of other mental conditions including the inability to enjoy what we already have, inferiority and insecurity, feeling excluded and unconnected, distrust of our decisions and choices, a lack of self-regulation, failure to live in the moment, and a tendency to constantly compare and envy. Clearly, all of those conditions lead to lower life satisfaction and unhappiness.
Unfortunately, the current explosion of technology in our world offers nearly unlimited access and connection, which then leads to more and more choices and FOMO. In this day and age of cell phones, email, Facebook, Instagram and Google+ we are all exposed to more information in one day than previous-era individuals had during their entire lifetimes. Some of this is great of course. But the downside is that we now have impressions of what everyone else is doing, having, experiencing and expressing all over the world every single minute of every single day. Like an addictive drug, it’s difficult to say no to such constant stimulation.
How To Spot FOMO
Not only does FOMO make us crave what others are having, being or doing that looks appealing, we are also constantly holding out for something as good, if not better, than what is happening right now. That perpetual over-exposure makes us doubt ourselves and our choices and decisions. It affects us in the workplace because we are afraid we will miss that perfect job, the right client, or the perfect opportunity if we don’t stay constantly connected.
Or what about relationships? How could one person ever satisfy us? Maybe there is someone better, smarter, sexier or more fun? Why settle down when FOMO makes us question if there isn’t someone or something better just around the corner. And how do you rate as a mother or a friend? FOMO pushes us to do more, have more, and be more.
Plus, in a world full of options, how can we not crave buying every glittery thing we see? When continually exposed to others experiencing exciting and glamorous things and traveling to exotic locations, how can we not want to do the same?
What’s The Solution?
As I said in the beginning I think the best antidote for FOMO is consciously choosing a life of simple living, essentialism or minimalism. I’ve written dozens of articles and even written a book on the subject, so I won’t go into details here. Just remember, those lifestyles recommend that we stay clear and focused on those things in life that bring the greatest amount of joy and wellbeing. Once we know what they are and consciously choose them, we let go of all the rest. From this mindset, less is not only better—less is best!
Of course there are a few other things we can to help with FOMO. They are:
#1 Technology is wonderful as long as we remember that we control it rather than it controlling us. Turn off the phone—none of us are that important. Close the laptop—and stop reading what every other author and blogger is doing. And please, please don’t let your children’s lives be dictated by technology. Teach them self-regulation when they are young and it will help them their entire lives.
#2 Remind yourself and others that what we see on social media or in advertising isn’t necessarily real. Most people share the very best of their lives there, but that seldom shows what is really going on. A friend of mine was going through a huge health crisis, but if all you saw were her Facebook posts, you’d think she was having the best time of her life. It’s not real. It’s best never to compare your life with anyone—especially not on social media. While it can be fun and entertaining, it isn’t a place that should guide our important life decisions.
#3 Stay conscious and aware. This really applies to everything but if you are ever snagged by feelings of FOMO—see if you can catch yourself before the urge to participate happens. Try to find out what your biggest triggers are and then steer clear.
#4 Learn to control the mind chatter. This is a big one for me because I LOVE information. New input is like crack-cocaine to me, so I have to really practice mindfulness or I can jump on that run-away train like nobody’s business. Saying, “STOP!” or having friends who will say it, is critical for any of us who have multiple minds going at any one time.
#5 Learn to meditate. Chances are good if you can’t take 15 minutes out of your day to be silent and still, you are experiencing chronic FOMO.
FOMO has become a silent and severe epidemic within our culture that far too few of us are discussing. We must not forget that behind it all is FEAR. Our over-exposed, hyper-busy, stressed-out lives are being driven by our insatiable need to stay connected, informed and engaged at every minute of every day—because we’re afraid we will miss something. I know this because I’ve been-there-done-that. Unfortunately, that engagement is superficial and keeps us from what we really long for—true connection with ourselves, others and things that really matter. Until we recognize FOMO for what it is, and take steps to eliminate from our lives, we can never live SMART 365.
Okay your turn: Here is a link to the FOMO Quiz!