I’m sure you know the feeling. Your day is going great. You’re exactly where you want to be, and you feel as content as you’ll ever be. But then… you grab your phone and, on auto-pilot, you end up on social media. All of a sudden you’re now bombarded with unsolicited information, options, choices, recommendations. Suddenly you become very aware of what a great time your friends or colleagues just had on their holiday. Or what healthy, organic meals other mums are cooking (baking?) for their children. A minute ago you were blissfully happy. But now you’re aware of what other people thinking/doing/listening to/watching/studying or whatever, you are questioning yourself. “Should I be doing that?!” and “Why am I not doing that?!” That’s it. Fear of missing out (or FOMO) has kicked in. And now you’re all but the content, happy self you were a few minutes ago.
But why is FOMO not that great for us and what can we do about it?
How does FOMO affect you and why is it not healthy?
It triggers feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt.
The thing is, we’re often not even remotely aware of it. How many times do we pick up our phones out of habit and end up on social media mindlessly or while in the middle of something else? Our subconscious picks up on things we’re not even aware of, and when we’re back in what I call ‘the real world’, we are left with that niggling feeling that something isn’t quite right. It’s hard to pinpoint though, as nothing has happened. If we’re not careful, we can miss it altogether, and we just end up in a bad mood for no obvious reason.
Do you know how I know now? The way it shows up for me is through physical tension. Over time, my mindfulness practice has helped me become aware of this – I carry tension in my shoulders. A lot. And when I notice it, I know it’s time to ask myself what is really going on.
Often I’ll (to myself) things like: “I have too much to do and don’t have enough time for it.” Or, “I’m worried about something.”
But then I dig a little deeper. “What’s really going on?” If I trace these thoughts and feelings back and mentally go over the day or the hours leading up to that moment, I’ll notice something did happen. And often, it’ll be that I noticed or read something on social media. Or maybe I picked up on a comment someone made. While I probably didn’t think much of it at the time, it clearly triggered something in me. Touched a nerve, maybe. And something is now stirring inside of me. If I had to really look into this niggling feeling and articulate how I feel it’d be something like this:
- I feel under pressure.
- I feel inadequate or even ‘less than’ someone else (having just subconsciously compared myself to them) – because I’m not doing as much, not achieving as much, or whatever it may be.
- All of a sudden, deep down, I start to doubt myself and insecurity creeps in.
And inadvertently I’ll probably end up overwhelmed by all the swirling triggered in my mind. “Why am I not doing x, y, z like ‘everyone else is doing’? I should do it too. If they can do it, so can I” etc. While all of this may be subconscious, it’s happening inside me, and it manifests as physical tension. And a bad mood. The self-critical voice kicks in and all of a sudden there’s something I’m not doing. Something I’m not doing well enough or quick enough etc.
It triggers anxiety, stress and overwhelm.
And you’ve probably figured out it’s not great for you. All the above feelings don’t just take your sense of peace and balance away from you. They can also rob you of your confidence and trigger anxiety, stress, and overwhelm.
Because all of a sudden you’re scared that you’re not doing something that someone else out there is doing. Or you don’t have what you feel you should have. Somehow you feel you’re missing out. Whether it’s the house you don’t live in, the holiday destination you can’t yet afford, the business or dream job you don’t yet have – now, all of a sudden, you’re missing out.
It stops you from being ‘in the now’.
Except you’re probably not missing out on a single thing! Not really. If you think about it, being mindful in the true sense of the term (i.e. paying attention to the present moment) just doesn’t go hand-in-hand with FOMO. You can’t be paying attention to the present moment and worry about something that may or may not be happening somewhere else to someone else… FOMO ‘disconnects us’ from the present moment, from our reality (the real world!), and often from the people around us. Especially if we let our thoughts wander off. And we become wrapped up in the story of what we’re missing out on.
It puts us under unnecessary and unrealistic pressures.
FOMO isn’t just about triggering feelings of inadequacy and disconnecting us from the real world though. It also puts us under pressure. We constantly have to represent ourselves to others as much as others seem to represent themselves to the rest of us. Huh? (Yes, I know – that came out a bit convoluted.)
Think about social media. When you see someone showing up, day in and day out, maybe with what you perceive as ‘perfect’ photos and moments, you may be consciously aware of the fact they’re only showing you what they want to show you (and nothing else). But that’s not what your subconscious picks up on. And now you feel the pressure of having to also show up, with ‘perfect’ photos and moments. Even when you couldn’t care less about doing that! It’s external pressure you don’t need, right? It’s stressful.
So how can you turn FOMO around?
Stop comparing yourself to others.
You guessed it – a lot of what I described above comes from comparisonitis, or the act of comparing ourselves to others and then feeling bad for it! While it’s easier said than done, we’ve got to stop doing it! I see and hear this all the time: “You can’t compare your chapter One to someone else’s chapter Twenty”. And this is true for pretty much anything in life. There will always be people ahead of you in the game. It’s a fact of life. But guess what? They probably started earlier! You have to believe you’re on your own path. You’re where you need to be, and you’ll get to your destination when the time is right for you.
Know your triggers (and avoid them).
For me social media plays a big role. For you, it could be talking to a specific colleague or business buddy who always seems to be a step ahead. Or seeing your friends going to the gym, going out on social outings, or taking courses when you’re just not in a position to do any of these things. Maybe you get FOMO when talking to mum on the school playground who always seems to have it all figured out and do all this volunteering and fundraising on top of everything else. Start to notice, on a conscious level, what triggers your FOMO.
And once you know your triggers, you just steer well away from them if you can. If something generates negative feelings in you, don’t engage with it. Not unless the FOMO you feel, deep down, it’s actually a niggling feeling telling you that you should be doing something different.
Get on your own path and use the FOMO as your fuel to move forward.
Sometimes you’re NOT on the right path, actually. Sometimes you’ve got to tune in and pay attention to that uncomfortable feeling triggered by the FOMO. So dig deeper. Does that niggling feeling bear any truth? Remember, ask yourself: “What is really going on here?”
Maybe you’re feeling like you’re missing out because you see someone else doing exactly the things you’d like or dream to be doing but are too afraid of doing? Because that’s not FOMO. That’s fear of failure holding you back. Another beast altogether. And if this is the case, it’s not about the others. It’s all about YOU. If you’re not on the path you want to be on, do what you need to do to get yourself on it!
This is the point you may have to ask yourself some difficult questions, if you haven’t already. I call them intentional questions. Go and find out what’s important to you and be super clear on what you want and where you’re going. What are your values, for example? Work with a Life Coach if you need to, but if you truly are missing out because you’re not doing what deep down you want to be doing, there’s a way to move forward from this!
These posts may be useful if you recognise yourself in this situation:
Learn to say no.
Once you’re on your path – doing the things you want to be doing for the reasons that matter to you, ignoring what’s around you is a lot easier. When you feel confident on your own two feet and sure about the choices you’re making, inadequacy and self-doubt melt away. And you can start to say: “Nice, but no thanks”.
It’s taken me a while to get here. My weakness? Feeling like there’s always something more I could be learning (well, I know there is!) A book I should be reading, a webinar I should be attending, or a course I should be doing. And while these things are true (there’s always something more you could do!) I don’t have the budget, time or brain capacity to do all these things! So it’s great to know that they exist. And that others are doing them. And getting great results from them. But me? I’ll stick to what I said I’d do. I’ll stick to what’s important to me right now. And I’ll say no to the rest. “FOMO, no, thanks. I’m fine where I am”.
So what now?
It’s January. FOMO is ripe. Everyone’s committed to their New Year’s resolutions (and in perfect tradition, they’ll probably abandon them very soon too). Everyone’s planning and going after their big goals.
If you feel you’re doing you, then just carry on. If you feel, deep down, you should be doing something differently, ask yourself what it is. Figure it out. Create a vision board. And then go on your way.
Don’t let FOMO spoil any of that.
See it for what it is. Use it how you need to. And let it go if you don’t.
Do you ever suffer from FOMO? Do you ‘catch’ yourself when this happens? And do you have any stories or tips to share with us?