FOMO(Fear Of Missing Out) is the uncomfortable feeling you have when you notice others having a better experience or opportunity without you.
You are catching up with a group of friends one weekend. Out of nowhere, someone brings up the idea of starting a business together. He speaks about the plan he has in mind. Although you’re not convinced, most of the others gathered seem onboard to get started. So, what do you do? You agree to become a part of the team too.
Do you know why you consented despite disliking the idea? That’s because you grew worried that you’d miss out on all the success if the business took off.
Psychologists call the phenomenon FOMO – Fear of Missing Out.
- What is FOMO?
- The social media influence
- Examples of FOMO:
- How to overcome FOMO:
- Research conducted:
What is FOMO?
FOMO(Fear Of Missing Out) is the uneasiness of missing out on what others are doing, experiencing, or possessing. You worry that others are having more fun and living a better life than you are.
The interesting part of the phenomenon is you feel anxious despite not knowing what you’re missing. It is a reaction to a situation and not a state of mind. FOMO has become so common in the current generation that the Oxford dictionary added it to their vocabulary in 2013.
FOMO manifests itself in another form during decision making too. When you have to pick between multiple options, you undergo decision paralysis because you worry you’ll lose a better opportunity. Therefore, you analyze your choices on and on without picking any.
FOMO has existed since the beginning of time, but the recent advent of social media has aggravated the problem by leaps and bounds.
When you look at your news feed on Facebook or Instagram, you feel you’re living a boring life compared to your friends. A scroll through social media gives you the impression that others are enjoying shots of tequila and diving into an infinity pool.
You start asking yourself, “Why am I not indulging in such fun myself? I am missing out on the good things in life.” Such thoughts push you into a negative loop which only gets worse with more time spent on social media. You believe you’re doing worse than your friends and coworkers.
Triggered by the need to do better, you wait for the next opportunity to step out of your house to a bar or a coffee shop. You pull out your phone, click a picture and post it on social media just to convey the message, “Hey, look, I’m having fun too.” You wait for the likes to start pouring. This turns into an endless vicious cycle.
What you’re not realizing is that everyone only showcases the best portions of your life.
Have you ever posted a picture where you looked awful or when you had a terrible day at work? No, you haven’t and neither does anybody else.
What you see on social media is only the rosy picture of people’s life. In reality, they’re living a life similar to yours. Yet, you feel the need to keep up.
Your reaction of posting the best side of your life only adds to the situation. Somewhere out there, someone is viewing your picture and assuming you have an amazing lifestyle. Guess how that person reacts? By posting a fancy picture of their own adding to the already ongoing rat race on social media.
The cycle never ends. Back in the old times, such behavior was called ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’ which was a newspaper comic strip created by Arthur R. Momand. It covered the social aspect of the society where a struggling family tried to keep up with their neighbors because they considered them a benchmark.
Examples of FOMO:
Here are a few examples of how you exhibit FOMO in real life
1. Checking your phone as soon as you wake up
What do you do as soon as you wake up? A vast majority of people pull out their phones from underneath their pillow and check Whatsapp, social media, and email. Rarely do you stumble upon anything interesting, but you still feel the urge to keep yourself updated about the happenings around. The relief you get after scrolling through the unread newsfeed and messages is hard to explain.
Such behavior is part habit and part FOMO.
2. Buying a TV/phone
When you’re buying an electronic device you experience FOMO with decision making.
Take for example purchasing a TV. Today, you can choose between a multitude of options, each of which has its pros and cons. Once you open Amazon to compare your choices, you analyze deeper than a rocket scientist from NASA.
You compare every little feature, even those you care little about. The end result – you cannot make up your mind because picking one implies losing out on some other. You want all the best features and benefits in one device, but you cannot find one. Therefore, you postpone your decision for the future.
3. Not making plans until you hear all options
If you have different groups of friends, you’ll have various options to spend your weekend. People have the tendency, Millenials especially, to wait until they know all options before finalizing one. That’s because you want to pick the best possible choice lest you miss out on the fun.
4. Spending money you cannot afford
Have you gone out as a group where one person prioritizes clicking a pic over enjoying the moment? Maybe, you’re that person yourself. Social media compels people to hold high self-esteem by posting amazing pictures of themselves.
As a result, people buy cars they can’t afford, go on vacations by swiping their credit cards and visit restaurants that burn a hole in their pocket.
5. Investment opportunities
When Bitcoin made the news, people jumped right in without even understanding how blockchain works. People wanted to invest because it seemed like a golden opportunity to make millions. Staying away meant missing out on the potential exponential returns.
A similar behavior called shiny object syndrome plagues entrepreneurs too. When they spot an opportunity for revenue, growth, or success, they feel uneasy letting it go. “What if this is my big break and I let it slip by?” they question themselves. Trying to tap into every opportunity leads to dilution of focus and ultimately the demise of the business. I’m a culprit of such behavior myself.
How to overcome FOMO:
FOMO stems from your thoughts and mindset. Getting rid of the feeling isn’t an easy task. Here are some pointers that can help.
Instead of growing anxious worrying about what you’re missing, take a moment to recall what you already have.
If you have the privilege to read this article on your phone or computer, you’re more privileged than more than half the people in this world(only 45% of people have smartphones today).
Another method to appreciate the goodness in your life is by comparing your current situation with where you were 10 years ago. Isn’t your life better than how it was back then?
Be grateful for what you have instead of worrying about what you don’t.
Whenever you find yourself feeling jealous of other people’s lives on social media, remind yourself that it isn’t the entire story. Everyone has a boring side that remains hidden from their newsfeed. Don’t believe me? Take a look at your own profile. Don’t your pictures appear as if you’re having a gala time?
3. Enjoy the little things
Too often, we get caught up in the chase of materialistic pleasures. But if you slow down to enjoy each moment, you’ll notice how you take many little things for granted. Be more mindful of your day and savor the regular moments too such as the flavor of the food you eat, the fragrance of the perfume you wear, and the comfort of the quilt you sleep in.
When you find happiness in the little aspects of your day to day life, you’ll feel less anxious about what others are up to.
Social media creates a hook that urges you to visit the platform again to spend time on it. Have you noticed your behavior when you scroll through your newsfeed? You’ll want to keep going even if you do not find anything interesting.
Excess social media usage not only creates anxiety but also wastes your time, the time you could instead spend on meaningful goals. Besides, the habit of glancing through your phone between tasks, conversations, and social interactions makes things even worse.
Reduce the time you spend on social media. Keep your phone away from your reach during important tasks and turn off notifications. If you want to go all-in, cut yourself off from such platforms entirely. But, given that social media has turned into a form of communication too, keeping the usage at a minimal is the most optimal solution.
5. Compare with yourself
Comparing against other people ends up becoming a never-ending loop. No good comes out of it.
For example, if you start comparing your money with another co-worker, you won’t stop there. Once you achieve a better financial status, you hold a candle against someone who has a higher monetary status. Your comparison never stops.
Instead, compare “the current you” vs. “the you” 3 months ago. Aim to grow better than the person you see in the mirror each morning.
6. Learn to love a good choice
Your hunt for the best option can send you on a never-ending hunt which causes nothing but disappointment.
The perfect choice does not even exist. Even if it does, the difference it makes is negligible.
When you last went on a vacation, you tried picking between different hotels. Before purchasing an electronic device, you compared various choices. Today, can you recall the other options you shortlisted? I doubt it.
In the future, neither will you remember the options you had nor will you care about what you missed. Your feeling of anxiety is only temporary. Therefore, learn to love a good choice because you hardly notice the difference once the decision is made.
FOMO was first identified by Dan Herman, who published a research paper called ‘Introducing short-term brands’. Since then many other experiments have uncovered how the phenomenon affects people.
A quantitative study conducted in 2011 involved 590 Americans and 434 Britons aged over 18 years. In addition, researchers polled 87 teens aged 13-17. These participants had to answer questions about FOMO.
- 75% of the teens said it was important for them to convey a positive image of themselves on social media
- Over 50% of the total participants mentioned they felt uneasy when:
- they saw their friends having fun without them
- others heard about a piece of interesting news before they did
- others purchased an item they didn’t possess
- 50% of the millennials accepted they go too far just to keep up with their peers
Those statistics indicate how widespread FOMO is. If that wasn’t bad enough, those numbers are from 2011, when social media was not in full gear. Imagine how much the problem should have magnified now. If the same study was repeated, the percentages would only be higher.
Whether you accept it or not, FOMO is real. Even if social media vanished from the face of the earth, fear of missing out wouldn’t. It applies to people of all age groups, genders, locations, and professions. You will feel FOMO in specific aspects of your life no matter how hard to try to evade it.
Next time you find the feeling within you, don’t curse yourself. Apply the tips mentioned above and you’ll feel better.
Drop a comment about your FOMO experience.
Herman, D. Introducing short-term brands: A new branding tool for a new consumer reality. J Brand Manag 7, 330–340 (2000). https://doi.org/10.1057/bm.2000.23
Wikipedia Contributors (2019). Fear of missing out. [online] Wikipedia. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fear_of_missing_out.
Maxim Dsouza has spent over a decade experimenting and finding various time management techniques to improve his productivity. He strongly understands the fact that time is a limited commodity and tries to make every second count. He has extensive experience in leadership in startups, small businesses, and large corporations.
He has helped people of different professions and age groups gain clarity on their goals, improve focus, revise their time management skills and develop an awareness of their psychological cognitive biases.