What is FOMO? (And How the Fear of Missing Out Limits Your Personal Success)
Ever feel like life is passing you by? Like your friends and acquaintances are doing fun things that make you wish you were in their shoes?
Or do you frequently struggle at work because you see other people doing projects that seem more fun than what you’re doing?
If any of these sound familiar, then you’re probably dealing with a challenge commonly known as FOMO, or “fear of missing out.”
In this article, we’ll define FOMO, provide a few examples of how it can hold back your personal success, and then provide an action plan of what to do when you experience these feelings.
What Is FOMO?
What exactly is the fear of missing out?
One study describes it as having general anxiety over the idea that other people might be having fulfilling experiences without you. Others take this a bit further and describe FOMO as being a "social anxiety" characterized by a continuous need to be connected with the activities of one's friends or other people.
This phenomenon is more common than you may think. In fact, studies show that 51% of teenagers actually experience anxiety when they are not sure where their friends are or what their friends are doing.
While the fear of missing out is nothing new, the term "FOMO" became popular with the rise of social media. People who experience this phenomenon are likely to be active on social media, where they are constantly being exposed to pictures and statuses of acquaintances who are actively out doing something and having some type of experience.
FOMO was first identified by Dr. Dan Herman in 1996, who then published the first academic paper on the topic in 2000 in The Journal of Brand Management.
Dr. Herman observed this phenomenon while he was listening to consumers talk about products at focus groups, and during in-depth, one-on-one interviews.
Despite the large number of business categories being discussed, most consumers mentioned a common theme of their fearful attitude surrounding the possibility of missing an opportunity and the joy that could come along with it. Dr. Herman found this to be a new development in consumer psychology, and continued to research FOMO as a socio-cultural phenomenon.
One especially interesting thing that Dr. Herman has learned through his research is that FOMO is one of the top reasons people discontinue brand loyalty. FOMO is something that marketers can take advantage of in order to increase sales because they can make consumers feel like they might miss out on something if they do not try this new product. They are able to do this by putting an emphasis on the fact that you might be "out of the loop" until you try their product.
Because of its widespread use, the word “FOMO” was officially added to the Oxford Dictionary in 2013, along with other tech-inspired words such as "emoji" and "selfie."
7 Examples of Fear of Missing Out
Are you wondering what it looks like to have FOMO? Here are a few instances that describe this phenomenon. You will see there is a theme among all of them that focuses on short-term gain instead of long-term benefits. If you can see yourself in any of these situations, you may be experiencing FOMO.
1. Staying glued to your smartphone (even while driving) because “social connection” is more important and you might miss someone’s status update.
If you can't stop to look at your own life because you are too busy looking at the lives of other people, you are clearly exhibiting an anxiety about other people's experiences. While this is acceptable to do at the end of a long day when you are trying to relax, or even when you are sitting in the waiting room at the doctor's office, it becomes unhealthy if you are constantly hitting the refresh button.
Let me ask you this: After you scroll past someone's status, do you even remember it a day later? Probably not. But I'm sure you would remember that car accident you caused because you weren't paying attention to the road. If you can't put this into perspective, then it might be time to take a step back.
2. Interrupting your work to answer a call or email.
First, if you can't work without your cell phone next to you because you are scared you will miss a call or text, that is an issue. If you are in a safe place, you should be comfortable with leaving your cell phone out of reach for a while.
Remember, cell phones are a relatively new invention, and smartphones are even newer. Many people survived and thrived during the years prior to the existence of cell phones and social media accounts.
Secondly, if you allow yourself to be interrupted every time your phone vibrates, you are preventing yourself from making any progress in your work. Interrupting work to deal with an unrelated (and unimportant) issue is a clear sign of FOMO.
3. Buying that new “shiny object” (and wasting money) because it just might be the next big thing.
Materialistic tendencies can spill over into FOMO. You may feel like you're not taking all opportunities to have the best of the best when it comes to material products. This is another short-term gain that is likely to lead to a long-term loss.
The anxiety that is associated with the need to jump on these new products right away is a clear sign of FOMO. If something truly turns out to be the next big thing, you will have plenty of time to go out and buy it if you truly have a need for it in your business.
If you really want to test your FOMO, wait until version 2.0 of the product launches before you buy it. Doing this will benefit you in the long run because all of the kinks will be worked out from the first version, and everyone will be eager to get the latest update but will have already spent their money on the "old" product.
4. Checking your social media even when you’re in a meeting or on a date because something more interesting might be happening.
This is another instance in which your priorities are (not) coming into play. You're not looking at the bigger picture of the future of your career or the future of your relationship with your date.
Instead, you are allowing yourself to become caught up in the short-term moment of what is going on in the world without you. Remember, you do not have the ability to change what other people are doing, which means you do not need to know what is happening right now.
5. Accepting a request and spreading yourself too thin instead of saying “no,” simply because it’s a new opportunity for networking.
Sure, it is important to stay on top of your business opportunities, but it is more important to have quality interactions than a lot of short conversations with people that you won't remember because your mind is on so many other things.
People will notice if you're going a mile a minute and aren't really invested in the present moment. This characteristic of people with FOMO can end up costing you more business in the end. It's important to know when to say "NO" to a request.
6. Ending a good relationship just because "there are so many things only a single person can do."
It won't take you long to exhaust the activities you want to do as a single person and miss the feelings of being in a committed relationship.
It is true that the grass is always greener on the other side, but just remember it is harder to go back to being in a relationship than it is to go back to being single. As soon as you see that greener grass on the "relationship" side, you're going to be in for a tough time.
7. Saying “yes” to a romantic relationship because all your friends look so happy with their partners, and you want that too.
While this certainly is the easy way out, it won't make you happy in the end. The truth is, your temporary happiness in your new relationship won't even be genuine, and you will soon be having to deal with a toxic relationship and a possibly dramatic breakup.
Wait for someone who truly makes you happy because that is the only kind of relationship that will be worth your time in the long run.
How to Reduce FOMO in Your Life
This type of anxiety can hold you back in your personal and professional life. Follow these steps to reduce the fears you experience about not having all of the experiences that other people have.
1. Admit you have FOMO.
Admitting that you have this anxiety about missing out on the “fun” stuff means you are able to acknowledge your insecurity, and are ready to start facing the problem.
Yes, we live in a world that is full of social influences—and that will not be changing any time soon. But if you are able to recognize that these influences have an impact on you, you will be more likely to let that impact be temporary, and just move on.
2. Take a break from social media.
Sounds almost impossible, right? But staying too connected to your social media accounts is the main culprit of FOMO. Give yourself some well-deserved social media detox to minimize your life’s distractions.
Honestly, the less time you spend on social media, the less time you will feel like you need to spend on it. If you can start distancing yourself from your social media sites, you are likely to find that you don't have the urge to check them as often as you once did.
Interestingly enough, the same year that FOMO was added to the dictionary, "digital detox" was also put in there. It seems like someone realized this problem had a solution as soon as it became a "real" word.
3. Change a letter. Go from FOMO to JOMO.
It’s 2018. It’s alright to happily avoid certain activities, and have the “joy of missing out.” Learn to get comfortable with the idea of doing what you actually want to do instead of what you feel like you should do. In the end, you will be much happier if you are following your own urges rather than those of someone else.
Don’t feel guilty about turning off your phone and enjoying your own company. If you have the ability to do this, then other people are likely envious of your confidence and security in the life that you are choosing to live.
4. Practice mindfulness and live more in the moment.
Being more mindful of what you are doing helps you appreciate the present moment instead of wishing you were somewhere else. This ties in well with JOMO in the sense that you are willing to accept your current surroundings, and you are making an active decision to enjoy the people and things around you.
People are often so scared of disconnecting from what could possibly be happening that they stay on their phones rather than talking to the people right beside them.
Or they scroll through a news feed while driving because even the possibility of social connection is a priority over the task at hand. People tell themselves that something interesting might be happening on social media when the truth is that life is staring them in the face.
But when people are able to be mindful and be fully present, there is nothing to fear about what is going on elsewhere. How often have you been perfectly content with your day up until the moment you open social media to see your former co-worker is out having fun with friends? Bring yourself back to the present.
5. Cultivate a sense of gratitude.
Instead of desiring stuff you wish you had, practice being grateful for the blessings you currently have. Start by keeping a gratitude journal.
Living with a sense of gratitude will help you be a happier person and live an objectively better life. If you are able to do this, you won't be concerned about what could have been or what might be happening because you will be thankful for what you have.
6. Know your priorities.
Remember that each person has different priorities in life. What are yours? When you know what’s valuable to you, you are less likely to feel envious about other people's successes because you have your own goals or a bucket list that you are working on.
Some opportunities might seem innocent or even exciting because they’re new, but it is easy to forget about the time, commitment, and money that may come along with them. Instead, it is important to focus on goals and plans that you have already made.
Know your priorities so you can really analyze every opportunity that comes your way. Always take an extra minute to focus on what you know is important to you. When you treat everything as a priority, nothing is truly important.
7. Enjoy the journey.
Focus on life-enhancing experiences rather than possessions or symbols of success. At the end of your life, which do you think you will remember more—the experiences that you did have, or the feelings of regret or possibly being left out from something you missed?
Remember that you can do a lot of things in your lifetime, but you certainly cannot do everything. Pace yourself. You won't be having a blast during every single moment of your life, and that is alright.
Don’t let FOMO hold you back!
In conclusion, having FOMO can severely hold you back from achieving personal success. The one regret that many people have at the end of their lives is the fact that they lived the life that other people expected them to live instead of having the courage to live their life true to themselves. Always live for long-term rewards rather than short fixes that may or may not make you feel good in the moment.
A quick solution is to learn how to recognize when you’re experiencing FOMO. Remember, this feeling often stems from a lack of appreciation for the great things that are going on in your own life. If you feel FOMO coming on, take a step back and think of everything you have to be grateful for.
Start with just one of the seven strategies offered in this article to help you get over your feelings of FOMO. As time goes by, add some more strategies to your life. Doing this will not only help you get over feelings of FOMO, it will also lead you to live a happier life overall, and help you find more meaning in the activities that you choose to do.