Fear of Missing Out (FOMO): Say what?


This morning I read this rather lovely piece about FOMO - Fear of Missing Out - on the Kaleidoscope Blog.  I clicked the link initially due to intrigue.  Is this FOMO thing for real? Are people, you know, grown ups really so fearful of missing out on things and experiences that there's AN ACRONYM FOR IT?  

Being a pretty self-sufficient individual it had not occurred to me that I could possibly fear missing out on things, but I was curious so I clicked and read.  Robyna May, the author, talks about FOMO as an issue of scarcity; of a perception that if there's not enough of something to go around we'd better get stuck in and enjoy it in case it disappears forever.  This made sense but I kinda felt like there might be more to it than that - and there is.

FOMO has now been studied by psychologists.  A couple of them actually although that's really early days for any scientific exploration.  Still, the basis of the study - one of the most well known theories of human motivation (why we behave the way we do) - is pretty solid.

These guys reckon that FOMO is driven in large part by the following needs not being satisfied in our lives:

  • The need for autonomy (having control over our lives)
  • The need for competence (to do what we do well)
  • The need for relatedness (to be connected to others).

What does that mean?  

If for whatever reason we don't feel that we have the control that we'd like over our lives and how we live them (small children anyone?) we don't feel we're doing things particularly well (any perfectionists out there?) or we don't feel terribly connected to the people in our world, this may be contributing to a fear that we are missing out on opportunities, fun, life experiences or new shiny things that might somehow fulfil these needs.

Of course there are all kinds of other factors that come into play here.  Our individual personalities will have an impact as will our values and fundamental beliefs about the world.  There's never anything straightforward about human behaviour. Logically we might know that buying a new kitchen gadget is not going to fulfil any underlying need for mastery in our lives, but maybe, just maybe a Thermomix will somehow make the chaos of too many things to do and too little time magically turn to calm and tranquillity? This is the cunning stuff our brains do to mess around with our emotions.

Social media is being blamed for the whole FOMO phenomenon (although it's been around for much much longer than Instagram) and the scientists think there's something in that.  Before we carried a constant information stream machine around with us at all times we'd only find out about what was going on through word of mouth and advertising.  Now, thanks to the Interweb and smart phones we know what everyone is doing, wearing, eating, seeing and experiencing all the time and that compounds any fleeing FOMO we might have had once upon a time. 

So what do we do to reduce our FOMO?

  • Satisficing.  Work out what's good enough for you and remind yourself of that. There is no perfect, no optimal.  There's only what you need and that's good enough.
  • Know what you want in life.  Revisit your goals and values. Is having that new gadget more important than saving for a family holiday? Is running yourself ragged attending every social event more important that maintaining reasonable stress levels?
  • Switch off.  If you're working yourself into a state over what your phone says you're missing out on, switch it off.  Go on, try it.  Let me know if it helps.

As for me, I've realised that my phone addiction is a symptom of my FOMO and it's probably that lack of relatedness that's driving it.  The life of a Work at Home Mum can be pretty isolating and even an introvert like me needs to feel connected to other people.  So now that I've finished writing for the morning the kids are I are off to connect with the real world.  And I'm switching my phone off.  At least for a little while.