Some of the biggest obstacles on our path to happiness are inside of our own heads -- deep-rooted instincts that might have once served an evolutionary purpose, but that now are mainly lowering our quality of life.
One of the strongest and most destructive of these innate reflexes is FOMO. Yes, FOMO! What sounds like an uptown art gallery, stands for “Fear of Missing Out” and is far less innocent than it appears.
FOMO comes in many different shapes and forms, affecting almost all parts of our lives:
- Got to bed late again because you had to watch the movie you stumbled upon zapping?
- Downloading every new app, buying every new gadget? Even if you don’t really need it?
- Didn’t get your to-dos done because you kept on checking your Facebook status, Twitter account, or your stock portfolio every five minutes?
- Having problems settling down and committing to a relationship?
- Are you attending far too many meetings at work or functions outside of work?
- Bought stocks just before the bubble bust?
- Do you have anxieties of missing out in your career or in life?
All those things can be caused by FOMO, with consequences ranging from lack of sleep, lowered productivity, and financial loss, to serious depressions and life crises.
Dealing with FOMO has definitely been a major theme in my life. Honestly, at different points in my life, I was guilty of all the examples above and more.
I can vividly remember sitting at home in my teenage years feeling horrible for not being invited to a party or not being among the cool people going clubbing. Luckily I grew up in the pre-Facebook era. I can only imagine how much worse my ‘growing pains’ would have been today.
While I am living proof that FOMO as a real-life phenomenon predates the 21th century, the buzzword itself seems to be a fairly recent meme. According to Forbes, the acronym entered the Oxford Dictionary only in 2011.
Even with some research I could not find too much about the underlying psychological mechanisms of FOMO. In a Quora posting, Mira Zaslove links FOMO to loss aversion and the paradox of choice, the phenomenon that having more choices tends to leave us less happy than having fewer. The latter is in tone with the previous linked Boston magazine article that mentions FOBO or “Fear of a Better Option” as an alternative description of the phenomenon.
As to the possible evolutionary reasons why those feelings of missing out so easily take over our life, I can only offer my very own theory, that FOMO derives from some reflexes that kept us motivated to get out of our caves and kept us social. For our Stone Age ancestors, having the drive to join the tribal hunts (and not missing out on them) might have been incredibly useful. However, in a world where so much more information is ready at our fingertips and so many more options are constantly available, FOMO definitely can wreak havoc in our lives.
One particular area where FOMO is pretty widespread is investing. FOMO is pretty much the base for all bubbles. When stocks or valuations of an asset class are on the rise, no one wants to miss out, and it’s the guests who come late to the party who suffer the most.
The current valuations of start-ups are likely driven by FOMO. In the face of the gigantic rise of Facebook, Twitter and Co., who wants to miss out on the next unicorn? For a long time I felt the same, having almost the same feelings I felt when missing out on a cool party as a teenager. While all the big VC sharks are making money on the next disruptive tech venture, me as a small investor was forced to watch from the sidelines. This feeling of FOMO was what drove me into crowd investing, dabbing into early stage financing via German crowdfunding platform Companisto. The results of this venture investment so far? Predictably appalling (expect a separate Life-Sparring round about my experiences and reflections on this at some point in time).
I am still checking my social media accounts far too often, but other than that, I think I have made reasonable progress fighting my own FOMO attacks.
On the finance side, I tried to increase the part of my investments that is automated, through regular buying of index certificates on fixed dates, instead of trying to time markets (you can read more about this in this Life-Sparring round from February) and focusing more on contrary investment opportunity, even though it still feels occasionally painful to put your money in when others are rushing out.
In other areas of my life, it seems meditation and reflection helps me a lot with FOMO. Being mindful and in the moment is the best FOMO blocker there is. FOMO by definition is about alternative realities. FOMO is about “What would be”, while mindfulness is about “What is”.
At the end, fighting FOMO is like dealing with most behavioral biases; there is no magic button that makes them go away, but if you are aware of their existence and reflect on your own behavior and feelings on a regular basis, you have a fair shot of minimizing their negative influence. So let’s keep fighting!
How about you? Do you fight with FOMO? Or maybe share the opinion of Patrick Allen at Lifehacker, that Fear of Missing Out is a good thing? Share your thoughts and recipes here!