You know the feeling. You invite your friend over for dinner, and then someone else invites you to a party, and all hell breaks loose in your brain. Should I reschedule the dinner date and go to the party? Or will I be happier in a more intimate setting with a close friend? But maybe I should be more social and expand my pool of friends by partying it up! But what if I hate it?! (I’m sure you know the script well enough to write it yourself…)
It doesn’t matter what you choose to do. Somewhere, in the depths of your mind, is a little part of your brain that just knows that you made the wrong decision. That you would be some better, happier version of yourself if you just go to the damn party, already. (Or the dinner. Your brain is fickle like that.)
Welcome, my friends, to FOMO (or “Fear of Missing Out” for those of you not raised in chat rooms and the like).
In UFYB language, FOMO is a set of thoughts that create anxiety.
When you have FOMO, you are essentially thinking about how if you were doing something other than what you’re doing right now, you’d be happier.
Or if your FOMO is future-focused (like in the dinner/party example), you’re thinking about how if you DON’T do something that other people are doing, you’ll miss out on future happiness.
The irony is that in the moment you’re having that thought, you are ruining your OWN good time – just with your brain.
Ready for a truth bomb? There is no such thing as “missing out.”
“Missing out” is a thought. Whether or not a group of people are in any particular location doing any particular thing has no bearing on how you feel.
You know what does create your feelings? Say it with me: Your thoughts!
To explore this idea more, let’s take a moment to think about what “fun” actually means.
Some people think mountain climbing is fun. Others (who shall, ahem, remain nameless) think it’s torture. Some love loud crowded parties and others would have the most fun alone in their apartment.
So “fun,” on its own, is a pretty subjective term. It only means something when it’s applied by a particular person’s brain to a particular activity – and even then, it can be vague or inconsistent. Because we’ve all had experiences of activities that we usually enjoy but that fall flat if we’re just not in the mood, right?
Here’s what’s really going on when you have FOMO: Your brain is clinging to an idea of “fun” that doesn’t really exist. And this idea causes you to deny yourself the possibility of having the feelings you actually want. You want to “have fun” – but you know what’s not fun at all? Worrying about whether you are having or will be having fun.
Your thoughts about how you would feel better if you were doing something else are actually your ONLY problem in that moment. Not whether you’ve chosen to go the party, or stay at home, or go to the dinner, or go to f*cking Disneyland.
These are the thoughts cause your feelings of “not having fun” or “not feeling happy” or whatever you fear you’re missing out on.
I have some good news for you. You don’t have to change your circumstances. Whether you go out or stay in isn’t the problem. All you have to do is change the thought creating the FOMO in the first place.
To do that, you have to accept a basic truth of being human: None of us can do everything. We can’t master all trades. We can’t try every activity. We can’t travel to every place. Being alive is fundamentally a series of tradeoffs and opportunity costs.
And that’s ok. In fact, it’s great! It means there are enough experiences to go around and enough interesting conversations to have with people whose lives are different from yours.
So the next time you feel that twinge of FOMO-related anxiety, try this:
- Ask yourself what this FOMO is about. What do you fear you’re missing out on feeling?
- Notice how your thoughts are creating the opposite of that feeling for you right now.
- Ask yourself what you can think to feel that way right where you are.
Let’s try this out together with the dinner in vs. party out example that I introduced above. Imagine you’ve committed to a quiet dinner in with a close friend. You’re looking forward to that dinner until a colleague invites you to a big party they’re throwing.
All of the sudden, your dinner doesn’t sound cozy anymore, it sounds dull and ordinary. You find yourself comparing your friend to the dozen hypothetical new friends that you could meet if you just went to the party instead. These hypothetical new friends you’re dreaming up are, of course, fascinating and beautiful, and maybe one of them is even your soul mate in waiting! (In this scenario, not only is your brain being a jerk to you, your friend is collateral damage! Sorry, hypothetical close friend – you got the raw end of this thought experiment!)
But let’s reframe what’s happening here using the three-step model above:
- What are you afraid you’re missing out on feeling? You’re afraid you’re missing out on feeling connected and happy.
- Notice how your thoughts are creating the opposite of that feeling for you right now. Do you feel connected? No, of course not! Your brain just worked itself into a tizzy putting your good friend down by comparing them to a dozen imaginary friends you could meet at a party – and who can compete with imaginary friends?! Nobody! Do you feel happy? Absolutely not. Your brain has turned what started out as a lovely evening into a whirlwind of stress and anxiety.
- Ask yourself what you can think to feel that way right where you are. “I get to connect with a great friend over a delicious meal, and since we share a history and a sense of humor, our conversation will be easy and fun.
Now sit back, take a deep breath, and settle into whatever you’re doing for the day with the knowledge that you can create your own feelings of fun for yourself.
Love this, Kara!
Have been in a FOMO cycle surrounding having kids. My husband and I don’t have any and for now have decided to not decide and instead think we’ll be just fine whether it happens or not (hasn’t in 15 years, so chances probably grim anyway!).
However, I’ve spent time around my fam recent with their young kids and immediately get stuck in rumination mode, do I want kids afterall? Maybe I do? How would I even know if I wanted kids? Or maybe I don’t want them and should really prevent just in case? Should I decide firmly one way or the other or am I okay with not deciding?
And I KNOW deep in there some of my thoughts are the societal programed ones…I should want kids. I’m selfish to not have them. yadayadayada.
Have you talked about this topic on your blog or podcast? Would love to dive deeper into this.
Your exercise did help already, though. Uncovered a few things I didn’t even realize were part of my FOMO experience:
1) FOMO on creating something that’s a part of me, doing something “bigger” than me (a life “mission” outside of myself). I realize both of these don’t make sense as I can and do satisfy these through my work.
Also, FOMO on knowing a deep and connected love that I don’t know now. This doesn’t make sense either…even if I felt a “different” love with a child, I could still have the same thought about wanting a different deeper/connected love yet. It’s not like we are born with empty “love boxes” in our hearts that only a child could fill. Any type of love is available to me now.
One FOMO relates to me thinking having kids will prevent me from being judged as having too easy and un-relatable of a life. This might be the toughest one, and really, I am just judging myself here. When I am proud of myself for what I’m working on and creating, I hear a voice say “yea, but it’s easy for you. You’re doing all of this without kids. Some women do what you’re doing WITH kids–those are the real heros/hard workers.”
I see how these FOMO thoughts create unloving, judge-y and guilty feelings in me. None of which I want nor serve me well.
Thanks for reading, and would love to be directed to where you have talked about this topic if you have already, and if not would love to see something on this topic, thank you!
Hi Mel, this would be a great question to submit for consideration for a Listener Q&A podcast! To have it considered, please email your question to email@example.com.