Left Unchecked, FOMO Can Morph And Be The 'Thief Of Joy'
South by Southwest will soon leave in its wake thousands of exhausted panel- and partygoers. It will also leave behind thousands of people who worried that no matter what events they attended, something better was happening down the street. The same thing will happen during spring break. Someone else is always headed to a more fun or satisfying destination.
Why does that "fear of missing out" grip people who seem to have plentiful, appealing options right in front of them? Central Texas life and relationship coaches Junice and Rock Rockman say we come by that FOMO feeling honestly.
"You want to feel that you are a part of something," Rock says. "That you are loved. That you are appreciated. That people want you around."
But without awareness, the Rockmans warn FOMO can morph into something more intense.
"Jealousy is sort of a discontented state that arises from seeing something that you perceive that you don't have that you should deserve. It's almost a little bit of entitlement in there," Junice says. "It's a beautiful space to be able to see other people live their lives and do things. I think it's kind of egocentric and a little narcissistic on our part to immediately make it about ourselves."
Read on and listen to the Rockmans' interview with KUT for more on experiencing and taming the fear of missing out.
This transcript has been edited for clarity.
Junice Rockman: It's a hunger that doesn't ever get filled. The more that you get – at least I made this event; earlier, I did this particular thing – you still keep looking for more. And now that we live in the world of internet and social media, we are bombarded with images and opportunities and events. But I think that it can kind of drive that anxiety and stress even more, because now you can see people doing things ... in real time; there's so many [posts] boarding the plane or walking into you know so that can become very anxiety- producing for some people.
KUT: What is fueling that fear of missing out?
Rock Rockman: You want to feel significant. You want to feel that you are a part of something, that you are loved, that you are appreciated, that people want you around. Things like social media are driving things like fear of missing out to epic levels because you're looking at people and you see the picture and they look happy. You ... open up your phone and they're at a party and everybody everyone's smiling. But the part of it that we don't think about: Even though they're smiling in that picture, we don't know what they feel like being there. You don't know how you would feel being there. Maybe they look like they're enjoying the party but is that the right place for you to be?
KUT: Some of this discussion almost sounds like that fear of missing out could also be called fear of not meeting expectations or fear of not living up to whatever it is we think we're supposed to have achieved or be doing at a certain stage of life.
Junice Rockman: Sometimes I think the fear around not meeting certain expectations is the worry that we're not enough; that we're not going to have a life or an existence that was meaningful. I should be doing more by now. I should have more. I should have done this. People talk about that dash between the time you're born and the time that you die, and that's like asking, "Did that dash mean anything?"
KUT: The “fear of missing out" also has an element to me that feels like not so much the fear of missing the party or not having the right shirt or whatever the case may be. But it's the fear of not being able to tell someone else that you have it. There's a slice of it that almost feels like the sharing of it is as important, if not more important, than whatever it is.
Junice Rockman: Yes, that's true. And I think that starts earlier. I've heard elementary school students say, "Well, what am I going to tell my friends I did over Christmas break?" And they're in second and third grade. I think there's a cultural component to it, just in terms of filling our lives and our schedules. Pretty early on, if you talk to many American parents of children that are school age, ask them about their schedules. They have their own agendas and their own full-on plans. It's like a whole work life with soccer and piano and this and that. So, filling the life up with so much cause is like, "Oh, I'm afraid. I don't want them to miss this or that." So, the child gets used to that and you kind of begin to grow up and go into the world and look to continue in that same kind of rhythm. So you don't miss out on anything or so you can say you've done it.
KUT: Talking about FOMO makes me think of jealousy, which I think feels like something a little bit stronger. What is jealousy, and how does it intersect with fear of missing out?
Junice Rockman: I think jealousy is sort of a discontented state that arises from seeing something they perceived that you don't have that you should deserve. It's almost a little bit of entitlement in there. It's a beautiful space to be able to see other people live their lives and do things. I think it's kind of egocentric or a little narcissistic on our part to immediately make it about ourselves. "I should have been on that boat. I should have been at South by Southwest. I should have been at that concert or whatever it is." Can we celebrate what other people are doing without making it about ourselves because comparison is really the thief of joy? Every time we compare, we allow ourselves to go into that stronger feeling of jealousy. There's going to be a loss of joy there.
KUT: If we find ourselves in a situation where we're overcome with fear of missing out, or really overcome with jealousy, is there something we can do to get back to a place of authenticity and get back to a place of just being present and realizing what's going on instead of letting those kind of feelings and thoughts run wild?
Junice Rockman: I think one of the first things is to become aware of it – awareness is huge – not even that you'll immediately change it. If you can try to get to the root of what it is that you're really afraid of and then rationalize "OK, what would the worst-case scenario be in this situation?" Be careful catastrophizing. That's kind of a big one, where you take one small thing and if that falls apart, then everything in my whole life is going to, you know? And then also I think being vulnerable and being honest – opening up to people, "Gosh, I really would like to be at this, or you know I hope I can make it to another one. This is just not a good time for me.”
Rock Rockman: Make sure you're asking yourself the right questions. There's two ways you can do this. Whatever question you ask, the mind wants to find an answer. If you say, for example, "Why do I always miss out on everything?" Because nobody likes you! Your mind is going to find an answer. It's going to give you an internal answer as opposed to asking yourself, "What is it that I'm afraid of?" Different answer, right?
Junice Rockman: So if it's a self-deprecation, then we're going to always try and find a reason of why we were wrong, or why we're unworthy, or why we missed out. The brain has this great neuroplasticity and great muscles so you can retrain your brain. You may not completely eliminate separate self-deprecating thoughts, but you can certainly lessen the frequency of them and lessen the intensity of them and lessen how long those inner conversations last. Get some affirmations up on your mirror: Something like, "I'm worthy." "I make good choices." "I'll be in the right place at the right time, and I'm comfortable with who I am."