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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:
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 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 check it out.
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, my wife kicks me out of the house and tells me to go for a run when this happens.
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 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.
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.
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.
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?