You’ve likely heard of “FOMO” – the fear of missing out. The term gets tossed around all the time these days, and with good reason: our technology saturated lives have made it an epidemic… A constant consequence of being connected to one another around the clock.
Surely this idea existed before social media, but when we can see, at a glance, multiple times a day, all of the things others are doing, the result is bombarding. Because you’re usually only seeing the good stuff (and none of people’s struggles or low points), it creates the false impression that everyone is leading an amazing, successful, fun, fulfilling life. Everyone, that is, except you.
We don’t need to launch into the psychology for a basic understanding of the problem – when you see your friends on vacation, your acquaintances at a new restaurant, your peers starting businesses or families… You want to do the same.
But you can’t. You can’t do all of the things all the time… And that’s when the fear sets in.
The fear of missing out is the price we pay for social media. It’s the new “keeping up with the Joneses” in many ways. From our own insecurities to social pressures to be/do/have all of the best stuff and most interesting experiences, we can always identify something (usually on Instagram) that we’re missing out on.
…But it doesn’t end there. The hyperconnectivity afforded by smartphones and constant internet access means that even when we’re having an experience, there’s a little tug in our minds to check up on what others might be doing… Or at the very least, the vague notion that there’s something else, something cooler or more important, we could be doing at any given moment.
A survey by LinkedIn found that some 70% of people stay somehow connected to work when they’re on vacation. They just can’t let it go, and technology makes it that much easier to check emails, lurk around project management systems, and generally sabotage the vacation that was supposed to be a break from work.
All of this is related, and much older than technology. It’s about the difficulty of being present and satisfied in the moment, truly focusing on what you’re doing right here, right now…
And so, with all of the FOMO in the world, a new idea emerges: JOMO – the joy of missing out – and it’s the best defense we have. The idea is pretty simple: take joy and pride in doing the things that serve YOU, free of comparison to others, away from all those nagging ideas of could and should, and perhaps above all, saying “no” with ease and conviction.
We all know these to be important concepts. We’ve heard quotes like “comparison is the thief of joy” or read about the wisdom of meditating ascetics. We know that a long walk in the woods (without checking the phone) is a healing, personal, and rewarding experience. We read books about time management, saying no, fighting back against distractions… We build apps to limit screen time or remind us to practice gratitude…
We do these things because we know, intuitively, that presence and living on our own terms are integral to a happy, productive life – and that FOMO causes largely the opposite.
That doesn’t make it an easy practice, though.
To harness the power of JOMO, we have to rethink the way we interact with the rest of the world (likely, our phones and computers). We have to turn inward and figure out what’s actually important to each of us, individually, and let those principles guide our thoughts and actions.
Again, this is easier said than done – so here a few tips to help you fight back against FOMO, and embrace the joy of missing out:
• Take An Inventory – What does your average day look like? What do you really want to accomplish in your days? How much time are you losing to distractions and scrolling social media? How many times a day do you find yourself worrying about what others are doing, instead of your own goals or ideas? Examining these questions will help you see just how FOMO is affecting your daily life.
• Tech Breaks – Turn your phone off and read a book on achieving JOMO. Go for a walk without taking any pictures or sending any texts. Set limits for yourself on when you’ll answer work-related emails. Go to bed with your phone in another room. Force yourself to disconnect – at least to some degree – from the internet.
• Let Tech Help – Use your phone’s screen monitoring features to keep an eye on usage, and try to improve your “stats” a little every day. Install browser extensions that hide your social media feeds. Explore apps that block access to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. for certain times of the day. Set alarms to keep mindless scrolling to a certain (short) amount of time.
• Meditate – It doesn’t have to be anything serious, just spend some time in stillness, focusing on presence, breath, and the immediacy of your experience. You can use guided meditation audio or apps like Insight Timer or Headspace, but the point is to train your mind to fight against distraction and wandering thoughts (which all too often turn to bits of FOMO). Just a few minutes a day can make a noticeable difference.
• Protect Your Time – Only say yes to the things you actually need or want to do. Learn to discern between a tempting distraction and the activities that are truly important to you. This may include saying no to social engagements, keeping a tight schedule for meetings and phone calls, and turning down shiny new opportunities in favor of sticking to the task at hand. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.
• Slow Down – Take the time to pause every now and then. Take in the beauty of the present moment. Think about today instead of tomorrow or next week. Reflect on what you’re doing and why, without letting your mind jump ahead to the next goal or endeavor. When you have a moment of downtime waiting in line or on the train, don’t just pull out your phone and start scrolling – sit with your thoughts, observe your surroundings, and just let yourself be – without worrying about what comes next. It may seem counterintuitive, but these breaks – these mental pauses – will likely make you more productive, creative, and focused in the long run.
The ideas all sound simple, but the practice is anything but. We hustle and bustle our way through this modern life, distracted at every turn by the latest news story or cool new thing, always aware of what we’re not accomplishing, the tasks we haven’t gotten to, all of the great things everyone else seems to be doing…
We’ve allowed ourselves to become the Cult of The Busy, but struggle to actually get things done. Every choice we make feels like the denial of a thousand other options, and it drives us mad with anxiety, doubt, and self-generated pressure. All of this is folly, and somewhere deep within, we know it.
To pursue this idea of JOMO, we have to drastically rethink our habits, and fall in love with doing the things that are right for us. It’s not solely a technological issue – but rather the environment that our relationship with technology has created. There is tremendous power here, and it’s an antidote to damaging, perpetual sense of missing out that so many of us battle.
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