Ever check your Facebook, email, or texts every few minutes just to stay in touch? Or maybe you have a teen who uses photo-based apps such as Instagram or Snapchat dozens or hundreds of times a day to check on what clothes her friends are wearing and what shops they are in, and to post photos of herself doing things like brushing her teeth or eating breakfast. If so, welcome to FoMO or Fear Of Missing Out.
It’s normal to want to be involved and engaged with the events and people that matter to us. We all are driven by relationship and attachment to others. And in the digital age, that involvement is quite simple and easy. But FoMO has the potential to intensify this need to the point that it ends up being life disruptive. When FoMO keeps us from being able to fully engage in the nondigital world right in front of us and to enjoy the people we are actually with, it’s a problem.
FoMO wasn’t as much of an issue before the digital age for two reasons. First, we weren’t as aware of what we were missing. We didn’t have access to social media that gave us real-time information on everyone and everything we cared about. You can’t miss what you don’t know about. But now you can know that your friends are having dinner at a restaurant near you, and your kids can know that there is a great party happening a block away. Second, even if we did know what we were missing, we were less able to do anything about it. Attending a celebration for a friend who lived several states away would have meant a long drive or a prohibitively expensive plane ticket. That would have been a huge deal. Now that the world has gotten smaller and travel easier and more affordable, it doesn’t involve an extreme amount of trouble and expense.
The result is that we are acutely aware of what we are missing, and we actually have the means to do something in response to what we know. The outcome of those realities is that when we anticipate not doing that desired thing, we become anxious and driven. Thus FoMO.
Here are some guidelines to help you resolve any FoMO issues with which you may be struggling.
- Engage with the people you are with. When you are physically with those you care about, focus on your interaction with them, how much they mean to you, and how it feels to talk with them. Look at them, and choose to give them your full attention. When you do so, you are “fueling up” relationally and will care less about missing out on what everyone else is doing right now. The principle is that relationship and love both fill us up and displace fear and anxiety: “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18 NASB).
- Focus on creating a life of freedom. Remember that successful people are autonomous, self-directed people. Think about the people you most respect and admire, perhaps those with great jobs and great families. They are probably not worried all the time about who is doing what, and what they might be missing out on. They are not servants of “Who might be contacting me?” Instead, they are autonomous, or free, to do what is important to them.
- Observe regular nondigital time periods. We have mentioned this previously, but you simply must have some times with zero access to the digital world. A client of mine told me that he decided to have one evening a week with his wife and kids that was a “no-pixel” night. Your brain needs a rest from the jolt, and the more regularly you do this—as in every day—the less FoMO you will experience.
- Think through the “why” of your FoMO. Follow the train of thought underlying your anxiety until you arrive at a reasonable reality. For example:
I’m afraid of not checking my phone every few minutes.
Because I might miss something someone wants to tell me.
Why is that a big deal?
Because it might be important.
Think over the last seven days. What percentage of the digital communications you received were important enough to check for every few minutes?
About 1 percent.
So does checking all the time make sense?
No, it makes no sense, and it isn’t helping me.
Running down the “why” and assessing it in the light of reality will reduce your FoMO.
Train the people in your life not to expect an instant response. FoMO causes us to call or text back right away, just as my client’s wife did while we were at dinner. This then creates an expectation in others that we are always on call for them. Instead, just wait awhile. If it’s not truly urgent, you can wait a few minutes, hours, or days, depending on the situation. And you may receive some messages that you shouldn’t answer at all. If it’s not a crisis, the people who care about you shouldn’t become irritated because you don’t instantly call or text them back. When someone calls me back immediately all the time, I wonder if they have retired from their job or if they just need to get a life.
At the end of the day, we all have to miss out on something in life to get somewhere. You have to miss out on dating lots of potentials to have a great marriage. You have to miss out on several great jobs to land the right one. You have to miss out on living anywhere in the world to live in the best place for you. And you have to miss out on all the freedom you’d love to raise grounded and healthy kids. Be more focused on what you’re getting and realize that you are missing out on the right things in order to have the best life.
Taken from the updated and expanded edition of Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No To Take Control of Your Life (Zondervan, available October 2017). Dr. Henry Cloud & Dr. John Townsend updated the perennial bestseller throughout and added a new section on boundaries in the digital age.