Fear of missing out (FOMO) is a very real feeling that’s starting to permeate through our social relationships. The question is — will we ever settle for what we have, rather than cling to the fear that we may be missing out on something better? Social media like Facebook and Twitter are making this increasingly more difficult.
So many of us proclaim ourselves plagued by the ghosts of what might have been, myself included. I often obsess about the party I skipped or the after-work drinks with colleagues I passed on. It is the nagging fear that everyone else is in on something that I am not. My biggest FOMO is the worry that I missed the opportunity to have kids while I was in my 20’s. I always said I wanted to be a young mother. Recently I've been spending more and more time checking out my friend’s lives, mostly via social networking sites, and questioning decisions I have made. I am so happy things worked out the way they did because I am beyond happy with my life, I love my husband more than anything, and I wouldn’t change it for the world. I am one of the lucky ones that got to marry my soul mate. So why then, do I still have that nagging feeling of “What if” or FOMO?
So many of us, in fact, proclaim ourselves plagued by the ghosts of "what might have been" that renowned psychoanalyst Adam Phillips has devoted his latest book, Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life, to the subject. "As we know more now than ever before about the kinds of lives it is possible to live—and affluence has allowed more people than ever before to think of their lives in terms of choices and options—we are always haunted by the myth of our potential," Phillips writes. "Our lives have become an elegy to roads not taken."
Children and adults text while driving, because the possibility of a social connection is more important than their own lives (and the lives of others). They interrupt one call to take another, even when they don’t know who’s on the other line (but to be honest, we’ve been doing this for years before caller ID). They check their Twitter stream while on a date, because something more interesting or entertaining just might be happening. It’s not “interruption,” its connection. But wait a minute… it’s not really “connection” either. It’s the potential for simply a different connection. It may be better, it may be worse — we just don’t know until we check.
We are so connected with one another through our Twitter streams and Foursquare check-ins, through our Facebook and LinkedIn updates, that we can’t just be alone anymore. The fear of missing out (FOMO) — on something more fun, on a social date that might just happen on the spur of the moment — is so intense, even when we’ve decided to disconnect, we still connect just once more, just to make sure. Like the old-school Crackberry addict, we’re now all in the grip of “FOMO addiction” * — the fear of missing out on something or someone more interesting, exciting or better than what we’re currently doing.
The reality is that there are few things so truly important in life, they can’t wait. Sure, I understand it if you’re the President of the United States — you have a legitimate reason to check your texts during dinner. But everyone else, not so much. We’re succumbing to our FOMO when we do so.
So what can we do to overcome this FOMO?
1. Step away from your computer or Smartphone. Social media fuels FOMO, so if you're a Facebook and Twitter addict, allow yourself the occasional information detox.
2. Accept you can be in only one place at a time. If you're going to do one thing, then acknowledge this will mean missing out on other things. People who excel miss out all the time--they just don't worry about it.
3. Cut down on the amount of time you spend researching alternatives. Too much choice is not necessarily a good thing. If an option works for you, stick with it.
4. Recognize, however, that the first option to come up may not be the best for you. Be discerning in your decision-making. No need to say yes right away.