Overcome FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) in 7 Steps

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When I was 14, the band Styx came to town. I didn’t even know who they were until two weeks before the concert, but I quickly fell for their music and its driving rhythms, synthesized sounds, and meaningful lyrics. You might think that you’re not familiar with the band, but you probably are, as almost everyone knows and loves the song “Mr. Roboto.”

But I have a different favorite Styx song, “The Grand Illusion.” It begins:

FOMO - the fear of missing out - has a powerful effect on life and money. You can overcome its effects and boost your happiness in 7 easy steps!Welcome to the Grand Illusion
Come on in and see what’s happening
Pay the price, get your tickets for the show
The stage is set, the band starts playing
Suddenly your heart is pounding
Wishing secretly you were a star. 

But don’t be fooled by the radio
The TV or the magazines
They show you photographs of how your life should be
But they’re just someone else’s fantasy

So if you think your life is complete confusion
Because you never win the game
Just remember that it’s a Grand Illusion
And deep inside we’re all the same.
We’re all the same…

Who knew that Styx wrote the book on FOMO?

 


WHAT IS FOMO?

FOMO, or “the fear of missing out,” was added to the Oxford dictionary in 2013. However, as a phenomenon, it has been a fixture in our culture for far longer than that.

Consider the following examples of FOMO:

  • You invite a friend to a party at your apartment. She says she “might” drop by if time allows. The real reason for her non-committal response? She wants to make sure she doesn’t commit when there might be a better option that evening.
  • You’re scanning through your feed of Instagram photos of your friend’s vacation; everyone appears to be enjoying themselves in the photos, and you start wishing you had gone along. In order to make yourself feel better, you post a picture from your average weekend and use your favorite filter to make it appear glamorous, spreading the FOMO to other unsuspecting friends.
  • While driving home from work, your iPhone buzzes in your pocket. You can’t stand not knowing what your friends are up to, and you begin texting while driving.
  • You and your significant other are enjoying a romantic dinner in celebration of your anniversary. While this is undoubtedly a special time, you cannot stop your compulsion to check your lock screen for new push notifications.
  • After a long week at the office, you feel lucky to have survived and plan to celebrate by ordering takeout and watching Netflix at home. Then your best friend calls and begs you to go out. You ignore your body’s urge to rest because you don’t want to miss out on the fun. Consequently, you get sick.

You certainly can think of countless other examples of FOMO. After all, we live in a wide world of opportunity, so in a sense, you are always missing out on something at any given moment.

The fear of missing out is powerful.
The fear of missing out is powerful.

THE PSYCHOLOGY BEHIND FOMO

Undoubtedly, the fear of missing out causes us to act, often against our inner desires. Yet, this is ironic, as it is human nature to always be missing out on something!

Research by Tversky and Kahneman reveals that FOMO is deeply rooted in people’s strong tendency to want to avoid any losses, a theory referred to as loss aversion. In fact, they discovered that loss aversion is so powerful that it makes losses twice as psychologically-impactful as gains.

Another possible explanation for FOMO is The Paradox of Choice, a theory propagated by Barry Schwartz in The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less. At a basic level, Schwartz’ theory states that an increased number of choices generally contributes to decreased happiness with our choices. As Schwartz says in the TED Talk video below at the 7:45 time mark, this increased choice has two possible outcomes:

One effect, paradoxically, is that it produces paralysis rather than liberation. With so many options to choose from, people find it very hard to choose at all. . .

The second effect is that even if we manage to overcome the paralysis and make a choice, we end up less satisfied with the choice than we would be if we had fewer options to choose from.

If you haven’t viewed this TED Talk, I highly recommend you view it now, even in lieu of finishing this piece.


FOMO SUSCEPTIBILITY

At a person’s core, susceptibility to the fear of missing out may be traced back to mindset. For example, while innovators and trend setters naturally do not entertain the fear of missing out, followers are prone to dwell on these types of thoughts.

Schwartz theorizes that two prominent mindsets exist: “satisficers,” who settle for “good enough” and are generally happy, and “maximizers,” who focus upon always choosing the “best option.” Generally speaking, maximizers are more likely to experience FOMO and related indecision, both of which can lead to unhappiness and even depression.

On a personal level, I am a maximizer who suffers from an intense desire to always seek the highest and best use of my time. As I’ve written extensively about in the past, I constantly ask myself the question, “What is it time for now?”

When I can quickly ascertain an answer, this question guides my productivity and happiness. On the other hand, when analysis paralysis sets in, I often find myself in a deep funk. Typically, Mrs. Superhero kicks me out of the house and tells me to go for a run when this happens.

FOMO and social media are inextricably connected.
FOMO and social media are inextricably connected.

SOCIAL MEDIA CONNECTION

For many people today, social media is “the new smoking.” Rather than lighting up a cigarette upon waking up, after meals, and right before bed, we check Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Snap Chat compulsively. A very non-scientific poll conducted via my personal Facebook account revealed that this compulsion is real; I believe the results speak for themselves.

The results of a non-scientific Facebook poll on social media use.
The results of a non-scientific Facebook poll on social media use.

The connections between social media and the fear of missing out are obvious. A quick scroll through your Facebook News Feed is all that is necessary to stimulate FOMO and related emotions. We see our friends going on vacations, buying huge houses, leasing Audis, and adding to their designer wardrobes.

Seeing it is one thing, and being happy for your friends is another; yet when envy, jealousy, and disbelief set in, it is a problem.


FOMO AND FINANCES

For the person attempting to live frugally or simply adhere to a set of financial goals, the inundation of pictures, statuses, and tweets serve as constant reminders of a lifestyle gap. Over time, they can be too much to bear.

Eventually, enough is enough, and we splurge a little in order to discover whether we really are missing out.

Perhaps the most notable and obvious manner in which FOMO impacts the average person’s finances lies in its impact upon spending. Research conducted by Eventbrite, in conjunction with Harris, shows that approximately 69% of millennials experience FOMO. This phenomenon has led millennials to value experiences more so than the milestones and rites of passage of previous generations. Yet the trend cannot be fully-attributed to this generation; since 1987, consumer spending on experiential events, such as concerts, performing arts, and athletic events, has risen by 70% relative to total United States spending.

American spending on experiences as a percentage of total consumer spending (Credit to Eventbrite and U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis)
American spending on experiences as a percentage of total consumer spending (Credit to Eventbrite and U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis)

FOMO also rears its ugly head among investors. According to Peter DeMarzo, Financial Group Professor of Finance at The Stanford Graduate School of Business, “Investors fear being poor when everyone around them is rich.” DeMarzo and his colleagues conducted research which showed that investors tend to flock toward high-tech investments which promise vast growth potential. “These are typically high-risk stocks that, in seven out of eight cases, are likely to go bust. But people are willing to invest in them in the hopes that they’ll hit that one-in-eight jackpot,” according to DeMarzo.


FIGHT BACK AGAINST FOMO IN 7 STEPS

By now, I hope I have adequately stated my case: the fear of missing out can impact all of us in many ways. However, I believe that self-understanding, accountability, and decisive action can help anyone fight back against FOMO.

Ironically, the fear of missing out can cause you to miss out on what is most important to you if you allow it to control your actions. But if you strive to live with a purpose and seek to do what you value most, you can be confident in all of your decisions, financial or otherwise.

Don’t give up on the thing you want most to get what you want right now; in the heat of the moment, remind yourself that temporary sacrifice for long-term gain is worthwhile.

7 ACTION STEPS TO OVERCOME THE FEAR OF MISSING OUT

1. Maintain a budget. I know that many people are in favor of tracking savings rate instead, which is a practice I respect. But a budget is a great safeguard against FOMO purchases because it equips you to say “no.”

2. Surround yourself with like-minded people. Admittedly, this can be dangerous sometimes, but it is helpful when you’re trying to break away from FOMO tendencies.

You wouldn’t hang around alcoholics when trying to quit drinking yourself, would you? Stay away from those who enable and encourage your FOMO tendencies.

3. Implement a social media fast. Facebook and Instagram, in particular, have a way of making experiences appear much more exciting than they are, especially when filters are used.

4.Don’t deprive yourself to unreasonable levels. Keep enough fun in your life and be genuinely grateful for blessings and fun opportunities. Gratitude is a formidable power against FOMO.

5. Identify your values to minimize the power of the fear of missing out. When you know what is truly important to you, FOMO will lose its power In your life.

Related:  Values and Budgeting – Part One and Values and Budgeting – Part Two

6. Intentionally disconnect from technology several times throughout the day. As previously mentioned, this could include abstaining or fasting from social media. Fellow bloggers might find it hard to stop the stream of networking, supporting others, and self promotion, but this can be a healthy practice, even if just for a few hours.

This afternoon, I escaped from the rest of the world for two hours while mowing my lawn, tending to my rose garden, and watering my potted plants. A mere two hours helped me to refresh my mind and focus on what is most important to me.

7. When you are with others, put away your phone. Use FOMO to your advantage and don’t let yourself miss out on human interaction. After all, real communication and interaction with others is a central human need; to be loved and understood serves as a bridge between the Love/Belonging and Esteem levels on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. If you have trouble enforcing this, play the Cell Phone Stacking Game: stack your phones in the middle of the table during dinner or happy hour, and whomever checks their phone first pays for dinner or the first round of drinks.

Maslow's Hierarchy Of Needs (Credit: Wikipedia)
Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs (Credit: Wikipedia)

Fighting back against FOMO requires dilligence, self-awareness, accountability, and decisive action. However, effort in these areas can contribute to increased happiness, productivity, self-esteem, success, and eventual financial independence.

In closing, I offer more wise words from Styx:

America spells competition, join us in our blind ambition
Get yourself a brand new motor car
Someday soon we’ll stop to ponder what on Earth’s this spell we’re under
We made the grade and still we wonder who the hell we are


Do you struggle with the fear of missing out? Does it cause you to act in ways which do not align with your values? Does it impact your spending habits? What steps have you taken to lessen the impact of FOMO in your life?

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28 thoughts on “Overcome FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) in 7 Steps

  1. I love this post (lots of decision making lingo!) and luckily don’t have much FOMO! I especially appreciate #7 – when you are with others, put your phone away. I have been observing this for the last few months whenever we are out. It is bad enough when friends are together and rarely look at each other when they talk. It is terrible to see parents eyes glued to their phones when their children are trying to talk to them. My kids are 17 and 20 – and if you don’t think their youth flies by – you are wrong. I make an effort to always look at them and talk to them – without phone in hand. We need to model good parenting (sorry for the rant!) I’m working on posts about satisficing and maximizing (optimizing) too – love how you used those here.

  2. FOMO can absolutely be catastrophic to wealth. When I was younger I spent WAAY to much money going out to bars and clubs because of this exact reason. Also thanks for the TED Talk, I hadn’t seen that one yet!

  3. Ah the amazing rise of FOMO. I think it’s really reached its peak with Snapchat also. The quick updates of your friends’ exact actions at that point in time bring on FOMO almost instantaneously. I have definitely seen it first hand and must say I have experienced it myself. The tips you have are great and really address what is likely the main cause – our phones and social media.

    1. Thanks, DE. I’ve managed to stay away from Snapchat, but I’ve seen its effects on Mrs. Superhero. She only has a few friends on that platform, but that doesn’t seem to matter much.

  4. Social media is just a life sucker. I had just about extricated myself, but then I started a blog and you just can’t shun social media if you want anyone to read the stuff you are taking time to write. There are some great things about social media, but you have to wade through a lot of nonsense to get to something that give you a genuine feeling of connection, wonder, humor or actual useful information. I have to follow numerous hard-to-stomach people on my person feeds because of my job (which is ridiculous!). Everyone is an editor or “influential” who is constantly being gifted with expensive trips, clothes, gadgets and all manner of extremely colorful desserts with their name on them. It is exhausting and it definitely leaves me with that sour feeling. I have cut down significantly in my personal life but now I need to figure out how to use social media far more efficiently for the other half of my life. Unfortunately it is a beast that does not easily lend itself to efficiency or productivity if you don’t have the necessary expertise.

  5. Really nice post, Hero.

    “Identify your values…” seems like the essential first step in enhancing life outcomes all the way around, and it’s great advice in this context.

    Nice work.

    1. Thanks, FinancialLibre. By the way, I’m really enjoying your blog! I pick some new nuance or two in every post.

  6. Agreed that living frugally sometimes gives us FOMO. We’ve found a nice balance to making sure we still enjoy life while we’re saving for retirement. Weighing opportunity costs (as tedious as it can be) is a good way to make decisions.

    On another note we joke that my one year old niece has FOMO… Because she never naps.

    1. Though I’m further away from early retirement than you, I understand your perspective, JW. It is tough to tell yourself “no” when FOMO arises, as you ultimately know that the money IS there to spend.

      I got a good chuckle out of your comment on your niece; my niece and nephew are roughly the same age, and Uncle FinanceSuperhero faces the same battles. 🙂

  7. This is the first article I’ve read on your blog and wow, was it worth it. Excellent analysis and thought process.

    As far as FOMO goes, I’ve certainly noticed myself spending more on my personal line item in the budget than previously. Through college I supported myself by trading stocks and getting temporary contract work. Now being in a formal job and getting invited out by co-workers all the time, it’s hard to say no. because the trips are fun. Luckily, they all know I value saving for retirement or rental homes over one night of booze; not a lot of peer pressure comes with me saying no.

    Again, great article. I look forward to being one of your readers.

    1. Thank you for stopping by, Cash Flow Celt. It is great to connect with you, and I really appreciate your kind feedback!

      Though it might be hard to be honest with your co-workers and say no sometimes, I am sure they respect you for your openness. FOMO can lead even the most conscientious person to abandon values and commitments when a fun opportunity arises. Throw in some great craft beer (my kryptonite) into the equation — look out!

      If you’re looking for some good resources on decision-making, you should check out Vicki’s site (http://www.makesmarterdecisions.com/); her blog is one of my favorites.

  8. I really like the idea of staying away from social media and tech. Itll dominate your life if you aren’t careful. I love the retreats in the mountains where you can disconnect and just hang with friends .

    1. I really could benefit from that kind of retreat, Travis. I’m hopelessly tied to my technology, and though I can escape for about a day, I have a tough time beyond that.

  9. “Gratitude is a formidable power against FOMO.” So darn true. Looking back to what you previously had and valued can be really helpful in this regard. Remembering that you do not want what everyone else does also helps.

  10. I definitely have my optimizer / maximizer tendencies. I have found that relaxing and being OK with having less or doing less can be rewarding. Vacations really bring out the maximizer in me, when in reality, the point of vacation is supposed to be to slow down.

    The fact is no matter where we are or how we’re preoccupied, we’re always missing out on something. As long as we’re reasonably happy where we are, that’s what really matters.

    I know that my sometimes crazy work schedule makes me miss out on family and fun time. I have a plan to alleviate that situation.

    Cheers!
    -PoF

  11. Thanks so much for this enlightening post!

    my answer to FOMO is
    1. create rather than consume: financially, intellectually, physically, and spiritually.
    2. multi-tasking is over-rated. as good as i’m at working 7 jobs while double-majoring and sleeping 4 hours/daily for extended period of time, i do better when i focus and harness my energy with a sense of direction.
    3. variety is the spice of life. but if there’s no commitment/substance in life, there’s nothing to spice up.
    4. what i most fear missing is really right in front of me. being in the moment and giving my 100% here and now is what will truly maximize my limited time on earth.
    5. 100% commitment frequently translates into 100% satisfaction.

    1. Very wise words, Dr. Wise Money. I am always happiest when creating rather consuming. If I can do both (grilling a delicious ribeye on the patio), that’s a great bonus.

  12. What a great post! Found the blog via PoF (thank you). I agree with most of what you wrote, but I’m not a big fan of budgeting. For some it may work, but for me it feels too much like a diet – chronic deprivation and limits. It definitely decreases my happiness.

    Relating this to the TED talk by Schwartz, when we have less choice (a budget) we should be happier because it is the ‘worlds fault’, but a budget is in actuality ‘our fault’. It is a self imposed set of rules, and every time we deprive ourselves of something because of the budget we are reminded of this.

    After much experimentation I like the ‘Your Money or Your Life’ approach. Convert money to time and ask yourself with each purchase if it is worth trading your time/life energy for. Instead of deprivation and confinement I have found it to be true freedom (but not in the bad paradox of choice/FOMO way). It helps me really understand opportunity cost by running my finances this way.

    1. Thank you very much for the feedback, THP. I’m glad you found your way here, and I look forward to checking out your site today.

      I think budgets are very much a “love them or hate them” kind of practice. I find that our budget is freeing in many ways, but I also couldn’t imagine maintaining one if I found the process to be restrictive. The Your Money or Your Life approach is one I’ve read a lot about in the past three months. Believe it or not, I haven’t read the book yet, but it’s near the top of my reading list because it comes so highly recommended.

  13. I really enjoyed this post. Did you read Mr Money Moustache’s recent post about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs? If you haven’t, go check it out because it goes well with these ideas.

    Also I love my budget and while I think it helps me say no when I need to, it also helps me to say yes. I have an entertainment budget that is intended for doing fun things with family and friends (and not miss out!). I CAN say yes sometimes and still meet my bigger financial goals. I think that’s the larger value in a budget… Freedom to say yes sometimes (but not too often!)

    1. Thanks for the great feedback, Cindy. The Mr. Money Mustache post you referenced is one of my favorites. I wish he wrote more often these days.

      “… while I think it helps me say no when I need to, it also helps me to say yes.” What a great quote, and 100% accurate! I have always found this to be true, as well.

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