Fear of Missing Out (FOMO). Yes, we all have it sometimes. Social anxiety. It’s that nagging fear you that you might be better off – somewhere else, with someone else, doing something more fun. It’s that high-school sense of peer pressure to not be left out of the group. It’s that hint of jealousy and benchmarking to see how you’re doing vs. your “friends”. It’s keeping your options open or”maximizing” your opportunities. It’s a common phrase nowadays, and sadly, a nervous way to live.
What does FOMO look like? Whenever you see people checking Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Linkedin, and social media it’s FOMO. For those who have been dating someone for a while and yet, you’re waffling on whether you want to make / take the relationship more serisously, or even get married . . . you are experiencing FOMO. Whether you know it or not, you are asking yourself some version of the question, “Are there better options?”
- How often do you check your cell phone for email and social media updates?
- Whose updates do you check? Just closest 10 family and friends, or everyone?
What drives FOMO? Some will disagree, but I think it’s social pressure that we put on ourselves. When we see others enjoying the good life, we want some for ourselves. It’s the paradox of choice on a bit of a global scale. The Internet + social networks = large-scale lifestyle comparison. Call it competition. Call it jealousy. Call it boredom. What used to be “keeping up with the Joneses” is now keeping up with the world. Yuk, that sounds exhausting.
Doesn’t FOMO serve a purpose? A robot economist would argue that FOMO is just a rational approach to data gathering. You survey the landscape of options in order to make an informed decision, right? We all know that every decision has an opportunity cost. If you have $50K to invest in FB, you cannot simultaneously invest in GOOG. Isn’t FOMO a rationale thing to do?
Yes, FOMO has its place. It keeps you sharp. You don’t want to be complacent or lazy. Legendary silicon valley investors think about FOMO this way (podcasts):
- Tim Ferriss / Marc Andreessen talk about FOMO (minute 38:47) here
- Chris Sacca talks about FOMO (minute 10:25) here.
What’s wrong with FOMO? So here is where my Gen-X “old-timer” nature comes out. What I object to – try to prevent – is the daily, hourly, minute-by-minute FOMO created by my smart phone. Email checking, social media updates, news are all habits that prevent me from doing deep work. Every time I DON’T check my emails and DON’T check my phone during a meeting is a small victory.
In this age of hyper connectivity, and the seemingly global-level of peer pressure, we want more. It’s a subtle form of jealousy + ennui. This is SO problematic on many levels:
- Ramps up our expectations; sets up a potential emotional let down
- Keeps us distracted from the present; discounts the “now”
- Makes us subtly ungrateful for what we already have
- Fools us into thinking that circumstances will make us happy
FOMO – Expectations Doom Loop. 1) FOMO is clearly a symptom of expectations. You expect something MORE, so you look for those options / situations / relationships / investments. 2) Like a doom loop, the constant FOMO search and behavior creates higher expectations. I am not a psychologist, behavioral economist or otherwise, but I believe this can certainly create 3) disappointment.
Personally, I have friends and acquaintances who have become massively wealthy, cultural trend-setters, scholars, and titans in their fields. FOMO-thinking points me to jealousy. FOMO alludes to a zero-sum game – as if their success is at a cost to me. Stupid. It is not.
For anyone reading this blog – educated, eager to learn, a student of management – you know there is enormous opportunity. We have skills, connections, capital and a win-win attitude. As Warren Buffett often says, “Your glass if 95% full.”
How to reduce the FOMO?
1. Focus. Prioritize what is important to you. Set audacious goals. Remind yourself of them continuously. Start with the WHY. Tell others about your goal to give yourself accountability. If you are hustling, and shipping art, you will have less time to mentally wander into FOMO-land.
As the Workplace Therapist advises here – create a Venn diagram of 1) what are you good at? 2) what do you enjoy doing? 3) what will the market pay you to do? Aggressively narrow down what you will focus on, and invest the 10,000 to become a master craftsman of that niche. As Cal Newport says, So Good They Cannot Ignore You (affiliate link).
Linkedin: I have 800+ Linkedin connections, but I don’t want to get all their updates. So on the front page, whenever I get an update (they liked something, commented, or changed something in their online resume), I right-click the down arrow shown on the right (see below) and Simply UNFOLLOW THEM. This way when I go to LINKEDIN, I see nothing.
I have the freedom to reach out to people, or do research, but I am not victim to the distraction of what other people are doing.
Facebook: A few years, I unfriended about 100 people. Now I am down to less than 30 people – most of them family. Even this was distracting, so I did a similar thing. Whenever I got an update from someone, I UNFOLLOWED them. Now when I go to FB, I don’t see much of anything. . . I can chat with people or use FB, but I am not distracted by other people’s advertising.
Question: What other tips do you have to wean yourself off of FOMO?