FOMO, or the fear of missing out, is basically your worry and anxiety that other people are doing something that either you should be doing or that’s better than what you are doing. In fact, the research shows that you can still feel like you’re missing out even if what you’re doing in the moment is interesting and fun!
Let’s talk about the signs of FOMO:
- Not committing at all
- Ruminating over something you missed
- Feeling regret about how you’ve spent your time (especially when seeing what other people are doing on social media)
- Feeling depressed when you think you’ve missed out on something or something better than what you were doing.
- Focusing on not just being happy, but happier than someone else
- When you see or hear about what someone else is doing you start feeling anxious, excluded, envious or even self-loathing
- Feeling regret before something even happens!
What’s the Big Deal with FOMO?
Why Do I Do It, Abby?
The fear of missing out is a psychological reaction and there are three main reasons you’ve got it:
1. You’re loss averse.
In fact, you are so loss averse that the pain of losing is psychologically about twice as powerful as the pleasure of gaining. People are more willing to take risks to avoid a loss than to make a gain. Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky (who died before the Nobel was given) pioneered the whole concept of loss aversion which is basically how we’ll do anything to avoid a loss (even something stupid or dishonest).
There’s a website called Stickk that uses this research to help you stick to goals and commitments. Basically, you make a commitment contract with yourself to do something like stop smoking. Then, you give them $500 or some other amount of money and a time table. If at the end of the time you haven’t quit, you lose the $500. This works much better than something where you’d get $500 in 3 months if you did quit!
2. Your brain is wired to look out for new information
Your brain LOVES new and it likes knowing about anything new immediately. This is linked to our time on earth millions of years ago when we’d need to know anything new happening as soon as possible so we didn’t die. Another tribe coming to kill us? Better know ASAP!
So, newness or novelty causes a number of brain systems to become activated, the biggie being the dopamine system, which is a neurotransmitter that makes us feel pleasure and motivation (among other things). When you have a new experience or get new information, this reward system is activated and floods with dopamine.
Our poor brains never knew there’d be something like a smartphone in its future which is, literally, the most powerful novelty-generating device on the planet. And it’s right in your pocket all day long
Every time you hear a notification ding or feel that vibration, it’s wiring more and more firmly into your brain the impulse to pick up your phone and look for whatever new important information is there. Of course, the vast majority of the information isn’t related to your survival (although I might argue that knowing first about a sale on shoes is related to my survival, I’m afraid no medical doctor would back me up on that).
3. Too many choices
You might think choices are good but there’s actually a sweet spot for the number of choices before you feel overwhelmed. Psychologist Barry Schwartz talks about this in his book The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less. He says, “Learning to choose is hard. Learning to choose well is harder. And learning to choose well in a world of unlimited possibilities is harder still, perhaps too hard.
Does Everyone Get FOMO?
The simple answer is yes. Pretty much everyone fears missing out in some form or another. Studies have tested against different personality types and temperaments and found that FOMO is pretty universal. FOMO has been (and still is) generally associated with younger ages (18-35) and many studies show that FOMO decreases with age.
However, newer research shows FOMO across age groups. And it was found that there are 3 things that are highly associated with FOMO, regardless of age: low self-esteem, low self-compassion and loneliness.
And this was particularly true for people who were also engaged in greater social media activity.
Tips from the Research:
Tip #1: Work on Yourself
First and foremost, you’ve got to address your negative self-perceptions. That means you’ve got to work on your low self-esteem and self-compassion. Practicing a loving kindness meditation has been proven to increase feelings of esteem and compassion so, because I love you, I’ve created one you can listen to as soon as you’re done reading this!
Tip #2: Work on Real Connections
Take active steps to reduce your loneliness (remember, you can feel lonely in a crowd, so this is for everyone whether you’re partnered or not). Work on creating real connections, in real time, with others.
Tip #3: Work on Being Mindful
This also means focusing in the moment on what’s happening right now – not what’s happening “out there.” Be present in your moment and appreciative of what you’re experiencing.
One way to do this is to weed out any experiences that won’t give you a real feeling of satisfaction. Really take a moment to ask, “What will I really get out of this?” before you commit to something.
Tip #4: Limit Social Media
Social media can be a huge culprit when it comes to the fear of missing out. Consider taking a long vacation from social media or at least deleting the apps from your phone so it’s just a little more difficult to use. Ultimately, research shows that limiting social media use to less than 30 minutes a day can lead to significant improvement in your feelings of happiness and well-being.
I want you to listen my loving kindness guided meditation. Then, listen to it every day, for one week and watch the changes happen. As you become more peaceful, compassionate and loving, not only will your inner critic become muted, but your life will open up in new ways.