How to overcome FOMO

How to overcome FOMO

CultureAugust 25, 2016

It’s hard to jump on social media and watch your friends travel the world with unbridled enthusiasm while you slowly decay behind to-go boxes and the potential of upward mobility at a startup company offering plush stock options that might or might not pay off depending on how well consumers enjoy kale steaks.

Social media used to be the fleeting escape from this fifth circle of Dante’s inferno but now it’s making us increasingly aware of our friends’ blissful lifestyles dining on rooftop bars, day-drinking on Wednesdays and enjoying all life has to offer, while you expire. 

What’s transpired from this new social injustice is a new millennial mental hangup version of "grass is greener on the other side." We call it FOMO: fear of missing out, which a study in 2013 defined as “pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent.”

According to Ellen Hendriksen Ph.D. on PsychologyToday.com, there are many different expressions of FOMO, so to find your type of FOMO, ask yourself, “If I did miss out, what does that say about me?” Here are the most common answers she describes:

FOMO Thought #1: “I made a bad choice.” FOMO causes anxiety by undermining confidence in your decisions. The decisions might be as small as where you went for lunch, or as big as what career or lifestyle you’re pursuing. This type of FOMO feeds the hypothetical, anxiety-provoking questions of “if only” and “what if?” Indeed, that 2013 study showed that those who experience higher levels of FOMO also reported lower levels of overall life satisfaction.

FOMO Thought #2: “They’re having fun without me.” This is essentially envy, which is a mix of inferiority and resentment. This type is closest to what the term implies: that you’ve been left out, either inadvertently or deliberately, or because you weren’t in the know, didn’t have the means of going, or couldn’t muster the courage.

FOMO Thought #3: “I’m a loser.” Or, for the extended version, “Because I wasn’t invited, didn’t know about it, couldn’t make it, etc. I’m a loser.” You get the idea. This is essentially insecurity. Remember that everyone feels this way at least sometimes. When insecurity creeps over you, you are not alone. That said, the researchers found that if an individual’s “psychological needs were deprived,” they were more likely to seek out social media and experience FOMO. What kind of psychological needs? There were three in particular: competency, making meaningful choices, and connectedness to others. The absence of any or all of those planted the seed of FOMO.

So how do you deal with FOMO? How do you kick the habit of sobbing softly into your beer while surfing Facebook? Dr. Hendriksen has you covered with her five tips.

Tip #1: Recognize what’s being posted and what isn’t.
Remember people show their best face on social media. We tend to post about the positive aspects of our lives—vacations, accomplishments, kids doing cute things, photos in which we look particularly hot. No one posts about cleaning the litter box, having the flu, or picking up tampons on sale. Everyone does these things just as often as you—it’s just that those moments aren’t on display.

Tip #2: Accept that life has its ups and downs.
Just like every job involves the equivalent of making photocopies, every life has its own daily grind. FOMO suggests you should be doing something awesome—if not all the time, then at least most of the time. But peak experiences are called “peak” because they’re the best and rarest of our experiences. If life was all peak experiences, they wouldn’t be special anymore.

Tip #3: Understand that you can’t do everything.
The study showed that young people, and young men in particular, struggled with higher levels of FOMO. But with age and experience comes the understanding that, at any given moment, there are infinite things you could be doing. There is always more fun to be had. There is also always more work to do. But until we can clone ourselves Dolly the Sheep-style, we can only do one thing at a time. I’ll let you decide if you want to love the one you’re with, but you can fight FOMO by loving what you’re doing.

Tip #4: Look out for FOMO being used against you.
Fear of missing out isn’t just limited to social media.  Advertisers often make use of FOMO to manipulate consumers. For instance, look out for countdown timers with online shopping, promos that offer “exclusive access,” or ads that promise you won’t miss out.

Tip #5: Live your life uninterrupted.
Social media is, of course, a way to stay socially connected. But when we try to stay “connected” by withdrawing from the activity we’re actually doing and ignoring the people we’re actually with, it becomes an interruption. Our brains aren’t wired for multitasking, so when we jump back and forth between the present moment and status updates, we break our lives into a series of skips and interruptions—again, actually missing out.

So there you have it: realize the world on social media is a fabricated mess of false positives. Live in your moment and understand that the only thing holding you back is the fear of failure... and being stuck in a startup that's going no where.