3 Strategies to Beat Your Fear of Missing Out
Illustration: Brian Cronin
Strategy 1: Realize that FOMO is based on lies.A powerful way to fight FOMO is to recognize that the fabulous life you think you're missing doesn't in fact exist. Our media, including social media, present an endless montage of momentary highs disguised as everyday activities. But evaluating other people's real experience by their carefully curated onscreen images is like trying to navigate with binoculars that show only mountain peaks.
When you feel FOMO coming on, remind yourself that practically every image you see on practically any screen is likely misleading. Whether the images were created by individuals (Facebook posts, vlogs, e-mailed snapshots) or by professionals (commercials, reality shows, Web sites), they tend to capture moments of artificial jollity. Think about it: When someone whips out a camera and yells, "Say cheese!" you force a smile no matter how ghastly you feel. Professional photographers and advertisers earn their keep by goading people who feel sort of all right into appearing momentarily ecstatic. Do not mistake the onscreen gallery of glee for a wonderful real life that is somehow passing you by. The human experience depicted by the media is never the whole truth—and often an outright lie.
The whole truth is that most of us spend enormous portions of our time looking for our car keys while suspecting there's something biochemically wrong with us. The whole truth is that today, plenty of us will spend hours trying unsuccessfully to muster the energy to bathe—hours that will be memorialized in neither pictures nor words. The whole truth is that if you could trade places with the people who give you the most raging cases of FOMO, you'd probably find out they're really, really tired.
So the next time FOMO tries to convince you that those zany snapshots, chipper text messages, and breezy e-mails represent the way other people feel all the time, recognize the media image for the liar it is. A single dose of truth may cure your FOMO symptoms entirely. If it doesn't, keep reading.
Strategy 2: Fight FOMO with FOMO.Words are creations of the human mind, but they also, to some extent, create it. Our feelings and behavior are influenced by the words we use. (For example, in one study, people who unscrambled sentences containing words that evoke aging—like ancient, wrinkle, or retired—walked away more slowly than people who'd unscrambled age-neutral words.) Call me crazy, but I believe that simply being aware of the term FOMO may increase the kind of anxiety Cinderella felt as her stepsisters traipsed off to the ball.
But what if FOMO meant something else? What if we could inoculate ourselves against its toxic effects by associating it with other concepts entirely? For instance, it could just as easily stand for Fear of Moving On. In which case, when someone asked you, "Won't you have massive FOMO if you don't go to the rave/gallery opening/block party/bris?" you could reply, "No, I have no fear of moving on." With this definition, you remind yourself that fixating on things you may be missing is just another way of resisting your own life, your own unfolding destiny. Your symptoms abate; your FOMO is cured.
Here are some other definitions of FOMO you might inject into your brain right here and now, to immunize yourself against pointless fretting:
Find One Magnificent Object. When FOMO strikes, let it prompt you to experience amazement wherever you are, just by truly contemplating something wonderful: the sun, a bowl of soup, your own hand.
Feel Okay More Often. Instead of desperately seeking the elusive, crack-cocaine bliss you think others are enjoying, realize that simple equanimity, along with the enjoyment of small things, is the healthy diet that yields sustainable happiness.
Focus On Melting Open. When you tense up with the desire to be somewhere better, take a deep breath and let that brittle, constricted energy dissolve. Exhale and soften, physically and mentally. Notice how much better it feels to open your hands, heart, and mind than to clench them in the endless, restless pursuit of fantasy fulfillment.
Flocks Of Magic Otters. What, you don't think these actually exist? Huh. They're no more outlandish than believing that everyone you know has a more awesome life than you.
Of course, you needn't use these suggestions. Try inventing your own FOMO definition. Teach it to your friends! Post it on Facebook! The point is to build some form of wisdom into your acronym, undermining FOMO's power to suck you down into envious angst. And if this immunization technique doesn't work, there's one more alternative....
Next: What you've really been missing