Over the past decade the word FOMO which is the abbreviation of the fear of missing out has become something we are well acquainted with.
Fomo is a negative feeling of lacking something, that everyone else has. Although the term was coined and popularized in 2004, this is a tale as old as time. There has never been a time that people did not experience this feeling. It is felt in different intensities by almost everyone, irrespective of their gender or socioeconomic status.
Human beings as social creatures always strive to belong to a group, because it provides one with a sense of security and warmth. We must always feel like we're a part of something, in order to have faith in ourselves and the choices we make.
The core of fomo is social comparison.
"Hope and fear come from feelings that we lack something; they come from a sense of poverty. We can’t simply relax with ourselves. We hold on to hope, and hope robs us of the present moment. We feel that someone else knows what's going on, but that there's something missing in us, and therefore something is lacking in our world." said Pema Chödrön in their book, 'When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times'
Usually what makes us feel the pain of missing out is not the particular thing we're missing out on, it's the fact that other people are not. The basis of this lies in the social comparison one makes. What affects a person is the fact that their peers or friends or reference group is experiencing something that they aren't. To put that into perspective let's say you've recently shopped for clothes, and you don't really need to buy more, but you find out there's a 60% flat sale on all items at your favourite store. It is most likely that you will end up visiting and buying something. Not because you need it, but because you would feel like you're missing out on something everyone else is experiencing, if you don't.
April dykeman in her forbes article about fomo starts of by recalling a small story. It is about how her first encounter with fomo was in 4th grade, when all of her classmates had nickelodeon but her. When she asked her father if they could have cable he refused and wouldn't budge. While her friends would talk about the shows, she'd feel left out, because she was the only on who had no idea what was going on in any of those cartoons.
Experiencing FOMO has its roots in a feeling of wanting to belong, and the lack of that belongingness. This makes one feel restless and engage in behaviours compulsively to fulfill that need. We are always chasing the next best thing, seeking the thrill, maximising our options constantly because we have been conditioned into believing that we must. Society and social media, hand in hand, have created an illusion of what happiness must look like. Be it buying the newly launched hyundai, or having the thigh gap you see on instagram models, or getting the perfect score on your test.
Breaking down Fomo
Fomo has led to evolution and survival. Fear motivates us to push ourselves to do better. When we perceive something as a threat to our survival, we have a fight or flight response to it. This appraisal forms the foundation of the behaviour that follows. The fear of missing out on the outcome, or the future that lies ahead also ironically builds the strength in us to keep going.
Psychologically loss is twice as powerful as gain, and the impact of loss is far greater. Thus we are always trying to avoid losing something or missing out on something.
Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky explained this as, “Losses loom larger than corresponding gains.”
Loss aversion is a part of human nature.
Bruce M. Hood, experimental psychologist and philosopher, said - “If we were content with ownership, then we would stop acquiring more stuff. But the combination of the thrill of the chase, the need for status and the crippling sense at the prospect of loss reveal that ownership is one of the strongest human urges and does not easily respond to reason.”
The Antecedents of Fomo
The feeling of not being enough - good enough, smart enough, social enough, loved enough - makes us develop a crippling fear of not having the experiences that people around us are engaging in. More than the thing we might be missing out on, we worry about how other people will be having it and we won't. It creates a dissonance in one's mind that leads to anxiety and restlessness, and one tends to compulsively compensate.
It is essential to track down how we learn that we're not enough.
Growing up, we learn behaviours and attitudes through associating and modelling the behavior of people around us.
This could be one's family, parents, caregivers, teachers, peer groups, or anyone having the power to influence. Children have immense trust in this set group of people around them. When these people fail to make the child feel seen, heard, touched and loved, it gives birth to a feeling of inadequacy in the child.
Parenting styles have a recognisable influence on children, and their emotional development. 4 main parenting styles to be taken into account are Authoritarian, Authoritative, Permissive and Neglecting. Neglecting parenting style has an obvious negative effect on the child. Authoritarian Parenting has the worst effect by far, as it cultivates high self discipline but low self knowledge and self esteem, or self worth. Punishment and suppression often create feelings of anxiety, and the anxiety in turn stimulates repression, that is the forcing of unwanted, anxiety ridden experiences into the unconscious as a defence against the pain of anxiety. Such children often are unclear of what they want, and tend to rely on other people to make decisions on their behalf.
Authoritative parents are more supportive of the child, although they set clear rules. The child gets a chance to explore their options, and make their own decisions. They are also less likely to report anxiety and depression. Permissive parents do not regulate the child's behaviour. They are extremely loving and responsive but they do not set down guidelines or rules for behaviour.
Now it is important to take into account parenting styles, in relation to fomo because, A child must be provided with a safe space, where they are free to express without judgement, or the need to meet expectations. Just the sense of their presence must evoke unconditional love and reassurance from the model. If a child has not received a proper amount of acknowledgement, appreciation and love from their models, they are likely to grow up to feel like they constantly need approval from everyone around. To achieve this they must fit in, or project themselves in a favourable light, because they are trying to find that safe space that has always been missing.
Culture plays a remarkable role in creating anchors for people. As we cut ties with our culture and more often than not consciously detach ourselves from our community, we tend to lose the yardstick of comparison that our culture provides. Consequently we try to to find social mirrors in strangers ( mostly on the internet ). The safe space that one is in search of can only be found in human warmth and interaction, but we tend to look for it in all the wrong places. Our brain has a way of making us believe incorrect things. We might believe that our materialistic and superficial desires bring us happiness but research has often proven otherwise.
Lack of positive regard from models, leads to children developing low self esteem and self worth.
The fear of missing out also has a bidirectional relationship with self esteem and self worth.
Self esteem is how one evaluates themselves based on social situations, like performance, or approval of others.
Self worth is more general evaluation of oneself.
The feeling of not being enough contributes to the development of low self esteem and self worth. People with low self esteem and self worth are more susceptible to the pressure of fitting in. They are more likely to feel like they have to engage in activities that their peer group is engaging in. Thousands of people develop a substance addiction due to peer pressure and fomo. Conversely, the fear of missing out also affects one's self esteem and self worth. People who experience higher levels of fomo, feel like they are excluded and isolated, which takes a dig at their self esteem and self worth.
Social media is meant to portray the best of everyone's lives. You see everyone on social media vacationing, or partying or buying a tesla. And you feel stuck in the same place, because you're not doing any of those things, or you feel like you're not doing them enough. People who are addicted to social media or use it more than others, experience higher levels of fomo.
The fear of missing out also leads to problematic use of social media in people. Fomo instills restlessness and anxiety in people that forces them to constantly check for updates and notifications, to avoid even a minute of missing out on what other people are doing.
In general people's mental wellbeing can be negatively related to fomo. The lower one's mental well being the higher their chances of experiencing fomo and vice versa.
All of these factors interact with each other to give rise to the fear of missing out.
Behaviours are learnt by us, throughout the developmental stages. Sometimes they can be behaviors that are maladaptive, while sometimes they can just cause hindrance to our regular functioning. The feeling of not being enough is learnt at the early stages of one's life, and consequently the nagging fear of missing out is also developed. But these behaviours can be unlearned by us through deliberate and effortful practices.
The Sanskrit word 'Swasthya' is used to refer to health. But if we break the word down, 'Swa' means self and 'Sthya' means seat. It means to be situated or seated within one self. This word holds a lot of importance because we very often forget to reflect within ourselves and make conscious choices to change our behaviors. It is essential that we do so, in order to break out of the cycle of trauma or pain we experience.
Socrates once said " He who is not content with what he has, will not be content with what he would like to have. "
This clearly tells us that no matter how hard we chase everything we think we should have, or everything everyone else has, we shall not be content or gain happiness, because we fail to savour what we do have.
Some strategies of dealing with Fomo and unlearning our behavior :
1 .Evaluation - Determining how important it is for us to have what we think we are missing out on. For example if you feel like you're missing out on giving an examination because you're unwell. Determine how important that examination is to you, and how important your health is.
2. Gravity - The next step is understanding that the gravity of the things you feel like you're missing out on are quite likely to decrease over time. Imagine your life 5 or 10 years later and you will realise that whatever you feel like you're missing out on doesn't really matter as much or have as much of an impact.
3. Gratitude - Effortfully practice gratitude regularly. Consider the things you have and be grateful for them. While you practice gratitude also remember to Savour your experiences. Step outside of the experience while you're having it and take a moment to savour it fully.
4. Premeditatio Malorum - It is a Stoic exercise of negative visualization, or imagining what could've gone wrong or what could've been lost. In this case for example if you are missing out on a party, imagine how it could have harmed you if you had attended. You could be unprepared for your test the next day, or you could've missed out on the alone time you got. Either way negative visualization helps you deal with missing out on something, by evaluation of the negative implications of it.
The Joy of Missing Out
There's still a child in us that feels unfulfilled and chases the next exciting stimulus. And while achieving this gives our happiness a boost it is extremely temporary and we get used to it and return to the baseline just as easily as we left it. This is known as the principle of hedonic adaptation.
In order to deal with the fear of missing out, we must first learn to deal with temptation, and not give in everytime we encounter something that calls out to our Id, that runs on the pleasure principle.
Jomo or the joy of missing out is the opposite or practical counter of the concept of fomo.
Jomo is more than just avoiding social media or social comparisons. Jomo is a deliberate shift that one can bring about in their mindset and practices that shifts the focus from what one is missing, to being content with what one has. Being present not only physically but mentally in the moment, and fully experiencing it. Accepting that one is living a life that is unique, and different from everyone else around, and that one doesn't always have to do what everyone else is doing.
Cathy Sullivan Windt says " Life satisfaction increases with intentionally choosing things that one finds fulfilling."
There's a constant tug-of-war between fomo and jomo, to make sure jomo wins one must be mindful and make conscious changes in their behaviour
This article on ' Fomo ' has been contributed by Meghna Basu who is Currently pursuing Bachelors in Applied Psychology from Amity University Kolkata.
Meghna is a part of the Global Internship Research Program (GIRP), which is mentored by Anil Thomas.
Meghna is Interested in exploring the cognitive abilities of human beings and their expression.
GIRP is an initiative by (International Journal of Neurolinguistics & Gestalt Psychology) IJNGP and Umang Foundation Trust to encourage young adults across our globe to showcase their research skills in psychology and to present it in creative content expression.
Anil is an internationally certified NLP Master Practitioner and Gestalt Therapist. He has conducted NLP Training in Mumbai, and across 6 other countries. The NLP practitioner course is conducted twice every year. To get your NLP certification