• David Strittmatter

How to better deal with fear of missing out

Fear of missing out is the enemy of valuing your own time - Andrew Yang
Photo by Olesya Yemets on Unsplash

Dear friend,


Think of the following situation: You are at a party. There’s great food, drinks, and people. You’ve been having fun for hours. Slowly, though, you’re feeling tired. It’s about midnight by now. You start contemplating when to leave the party: Should I go now? 1 more hour? 2 more hours? The more time passes, the more tired you feel. When you ask your friends, how long they want to stay, they’re like you already want to go?


At this point, there’re 2 common scenarios: (1) You won’t leave the party. You will stay for a few more hours until the majority of your friends wants to go. (2) You will tell your friends that you’ll leave the party now. You’re glad if someone wants to go with you, but if all of your friends will stay, you don’t mind and leave anyway.


Yesterday, I had to decide between these 2 scenarios, and I chose the latter. When I was about to say goodbye, a friend of mine was like “David, you don’t have any FOMO, right?”. And he was right. I didn’t feel “fear of missing out (FOMO)”.


In the last 4 years, I learned how to deal with FOMO. I reflected a lot on why I experience FOMO, whether it makes my life better, and how I can gain better control over feeling FOMO.


In today’s blog article, I will write about these reflections and provide you with tools to better deal with FOMO, too.


Summary:

  • FOMO is defined as “a fear that an exciting or interesting event may be happening without oneself being present

  • FOMO isn’t generally bad. Like “general fear”, FOMO is an important natural response

  • However, FOMO can lead to not only unpleasant experiences but also chronic anxiety and even depression

Practical advice:

  • Reflect on the things that make you truly happy. Ask yourself every week: “what were the highlight moments of this week” and note the answer down

  • Before making a decision, remind yourself of similar experiences and how you felt after/because of them

  • When in doubt, don’t give in to FOMO

Why do we experience FOMO


Fear of missing out is defined as “a fear that an exciting or interesting event may be happening without oneself being present”. It is triggered when we see other people having a great time (e.g., on social media) or other people tell us about an event where they will have a great time (e.g., a friend talking about an upcoming party).


FOMO is generated by the part of the brain that detects whether or not something is a threat to survival (the amygdala). It perceives the impression of being missing out as a threat (social isolation), creating stress and anxiety.


It’s a natural response and not something people experienced the first time recently. Yet, through social media and ever newly created trends, the threat of missing out is triggered increasingly more frequently.


Better deal with FOMO


FOMO isn’t generally bad. Like general fear, FOMO is an important natural response. It’s beneficial to have a “natural reminder” that we should engage with other people and make great experiences. Social isolation can lead to depression. Having no friends or close relationships with family members can make life much more difficult. Just think about the COVID pandemic. People with COVID had to isolate themselves. If there’s no delivery service for groceries and/or medicine, you’re screwed because you cannot leave your home. However, FOMO can lead to not only unpleasant experiences but also chronic anxiety and even depression. Thus, learning to cope with FOMO is a great investment of time and effort.


When I realized that FOMO has a substantial negative impact on my life, I read and heard a lot about other people’s experiences in dealing with it - with success. From going to every party and never saying no to any invitation, I now make conscious and rational decisions on how to best spend my time. Whether I’m already at an event or make the decision to attend it, I feel a strong sense of control over my FOMO.


Today, to better deal with FOMO, I follow a “dual approach”: In the short-term (advent of FOMO), I follow clear rules to make the best decisions at the very moment. In the long term, I regularly reflect on past experiences based on the decisions I made to make even better decisions.


To dive deeper into my short-term “measures”, 2 things greatly help me to make better decisions in the advent of FOMO:


First, I remind myself of similar experiences and how I felt after them. For instance, yesterday, I thought about how I felt when I didn’t leave similar parties when I became tired and how I felt when I left. Most often, I felt much better when I left. So, the decision was clear to me to leave.


Second, I follow a rule of thumb: When in doubt, don’t give in to FOMO. For instance, when I’m in doubt about whether to attend a party, I don’t go. This concept is based on the decision-making principle of “Hell yeah or no”, implying that when you make a decision you should only say yes if you feel like “Hell yeah”.


Fear of wasting time


In the long run, 2 more things greatly help me to better cope with FOMO:


First, I weekly reflect on the things that make me truly happy. I ask myself “what were the highlight moments of this week”. Thereby, I create a better sense of what’s contributing to my happiness.


Unfortunately, we humans have a bad intuitive understanding of what’s going to make us happy. The experiences we imagine in our head and the feelings we think we will feel greatly differ from reality. Most often, we feel significantly less happy about an experience than when we thought about it previously (to find more about this field of research - positive psychology - you can attend this course at the University of Yale about the “Science of Well-being”).


Thus, reflecting on past experiences and objectively “rating” them, greatly help us to make better decisions in the future.


Second, I underwent a mindset shift: from believing I’ve unlimited time and there’s a scarce number of great events to I’ve only a limited time left and there’s an abundance of great events. There’s nothing more scarce than time. No one can ever give you back the time you wasted. Contrarily, every great event will happen again. If it was a great event, people are willing to make it happen again. So, missing a great event isn’t bad at all, you just attend it the next time.

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