There are times when we all wonder what the grass is like on the other side, but does this wondering take over your life? Are you constantly thinking everyone else is having a better time, better job, better life? We found a column in Psychologies magazine that explores FOMO, the fear of missing out…
I’ll admit it. Sometimes I stay out with friends longer than I really want to, because I don’t want something exciting to happen when I’m not there. I’ve been known to watch films I don’t care for, too, simply so I’m not left out of conversations about them. And occasionally I’ll spend entire evenings checking emails/Twitter/Facebook because I’m desperate to see what’s going on elsewhere, rather than paying attention to what’s going on right in front of me. It seems I might be suffering from FOMO.
‘The fear of missing out – FOMO – is a type of anxiety, a sort of anticipatory regret,’ explains psychologist Dr Rebecca McGuire-Snieckus. ‘It’s brought on by being aware of so many alternatives, by seeing other things that you could be doing, or having, or being.’
Strictly speaking, it’s not a new phenomenon. Rather, says Psychologies psychotherapy columnist Philippa Perry, ‘it is a modern take on the grass being greener on the other side.’ But experts do agree that the syndrome has been exacerbated by the Internet.
‘Social networking fuels FOMO,’ says McGuire-Snieckus. ‘Platforms for social comparisons, such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, make it more apparent to people what they aren’t achieving, doing or having.’ And this has significant, negative effects. ‘An awareness of these alternatives causes inherent dissatisfaction because you could have equally attractive paths, and when you select one you could feel regret over the one you didn’t choose,’ she says. ‘It results in dissatisfaction, indecisiveness and, ultimately, debilitation.’
Michael Heppell, success coach and author of How To Be Brilliant, observes, ‘The biggest danger of FOMO is that it saps time. Rather than actually doing something, people spend time worrying about what they’re not doing. They are so terrified of what they’re missing that they end up missing things.’
And this year is a significant one for FOMO – it’s the first time that sales of smart phones have overtaken sales of personal computers. Being connected is no longer restricted to being at home or in the office, it’s something we are able to do 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And when FOMO sets in, the effects can spiral. ‘It can start to affect every area of your life,’ says McGuire-Snieckus. ‘From going to a restaurant, choosing a dish and then thinking, "I should have ordered the carbonara" to going on Facebook and seeing pictures of someone’s newborn and thinking, "I wish I was having a baby".’ From anxiety about keeping up, it seems you can become dissatisfied with your family, your partner, your job or your life.
But FOMO can be good for you. ‘It can be hugely motivating,’ says McGuire-Snieckus. ‘Dissatisfaction drives some people to be stronger, faster, better.’ I can certainly vouch for that – there have been many occasions I’ve visited galleries, read books and grudgingly gone to social events because I didn’t want to be the only one who hadn’t, only to find I had a wonderful time.
There is a fine line between using FOMO to motivate, and being overwhelmed by the anxiety and tensions it can cause. McGuire-Snieckus has some advice for those plagued by the fear of missing out…
‘Try to live in the moment – enjoy what you’re doing right now, rather than looking at someone else’s life on Twitter or Facebook and wishing you were them. Stop making upward social comparisons, and make a few downward ones. Look at the positives of your life, stop and think, "Wow, look at what I’ve achieved".’ You might just realise that the grass was greener on your side all along.
This article appeared in Psychologies.