- Fight FOMO with NoMO FOMO: not missing out [because you are] focusing on meaningful objectives.
- Pursuing meaningful objectives give you a steadier buzz than any FOMO-driven dopamine hit.
- When not sure which decision to make, minimize long-term regret by taking the most action-oriented one.
- Your choices feel more meaningful when you’re aware of what you’re missing out to focus on them.
- Find people to look up to who influence you to want the right things and act accordingly.
I could feel the fear of missing out creeping in on me when my friends left me at home in Cape Town to go on a five-day hike along the South African Whale Trail.
But this time, I didn’t let it by feverishly refreshing my social media feeds to follow their adventure from my couch.
This time, I went in search of a way to fight the FOMO:
- I Google scholar-ed through the history and psychology of FOMO.
- I took notes on five books related to the topic.
And I found an approach that works for me:
I’m fighting FOMO with “NoMO FOMO.“
Ignorance Is Bliss Is Ignorant
You can’t fear missing out on something you don’t know about, right?
So my first instinct was to fight FOMO with ignorance. Ignorance about missing out. (IAMO?)
But like most thoughts that pop into my mind, I realized it was stupid upon further reflection. First of all, complete ignorance is impractical. How do you ignore what everyone else is doing? Secondly, as much as I hate FOMO, I like knowing what others are up to. It gives me ideas and motivates me.
Thanks to Oliver Burkeman’s book, Four Thousand Weeks, I found a better FOMO-fighting approach than “ignorance is bliss.”
Think about it. As I write this and you read this, millions of people are doing cooler things than us. But even if you married Jeff Bezos, divorced him, then did the same to Elon Musk, you still wouldn’t be able to afford to do everything. There’s not enough time.
And even if you somehow had all the money and time in the world, doing every cool thing you want would lose its luster because “Amusement congeals into boredom.”
“Amusement congeals into boredom.”Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer
So missing out is like death, taxes, ruts, and Drake music—unavoidable. But Burkeman suggests spinning this optimistically:
“Once you truly understand that you’re guaranteed to miss out on almost every experience the world has to offer, the fact that there are so many you still haven’t experienced stops feeling like a problem.”Oliver Burkeman
“Missing out is what makes our choices meaningful in the first place.”Oliver Burkeman.
FOMO Fighting Tip #1:
Use awareness of all the wonderful things you’re missing out on to add meaning to what you’re choosing to do instead.
Make More Regret-Able Decisions
But what if you’re prone to making the wrong choices?
You tell your friend your cat’s sick again instead of saying yes to that dinner party invite. Or you buy a new spoiler for your car rather than invest it in your education or an index fund.
This decision-making deficiency is a big part of what makes FOMO such a MOFO. But not as much as you think. Because psychological research finds that we overestimate how much regret we feel for making the wrong choice.
We worry we’ll feel a lot of regret for having made a decision, but as long as it’s well-thought-out and doesn’t leave us in jail, with an incurable disease, or with a useless collection of NFTs, we actually end up feeling much less regret than anticipated.
Largely because of our incurable habit that Carol Tavris and Elliott Aronson write about in Mistakes Were Made, But Not By Me.
Self-justification is your brain’s incredible ability to concoct lies, excuses, and confirmation biases to make your feeble identity feel less bad about your inconsistent and imperfect actions. And we can use it to our advantage in the fight against FOMO.
By being action-biased in our decision making.
This means that when struggling between sticking to the status quo and shaking things up, for example:
- Stay at home watching Love is Blind, or ask your crush out on a date?
- Stick with your dead-end job, or go after something more potentially rewarding?
- Return to Hawaii for the fifteenth straight holiday, or dare to explore Colombia instead?
Lean toward the latter. Because as Cornell’s regret expert, Thomas Gilovich puts it,
“Actions… generate more regret in the short term, but inactions… produce more regret in the long run.”Thomas Gilovich
FOMO Fighting Tip #2:
Make well-considered action-oriented decisions and count on self-justification to cover up your mistakes.
Find the Right Influencers
Decision-making is rarely as simple as choosing between two options, though. We often have a bajillion potential actions—Bumble matches, travel destinations, or career paths—to choose from.
How do you pick the one most likely to fend off FOMO?
Luke Burgis’s book, Wanting, helped me answer this one:
Use mimesis to your advantage.
Rene Girard, who originated the term “mimesis,” explains it like this:
“Man is the creature who does not know what to desire, and he turns to others in order to make up his mind.”Rene Girard
In other words, we want what others want.
It’s no coincidence that the term FOMO first appeared in 2004, the same year as Facebook. Social media spreads fear of missing out like an online sneeze.
Before social media, you’d see rich and famous people on mass media and want what they want. But seeing celebrities party at the Playboy Mansion doesn’t instill FOMO in us regular folk. They’re out of our league.
But then came social media. It allows us to follow the lives of people in our league—neighbors, friends, peers, enemies. We’re wired to want what they want, and compete with them over it.
So the more you see on social media, the more you want. You become deeply infected with FOMO. It becomes a paranoia.
The obvious solution?
Do cooler stuff than your peers. Limit your social media exposure.
Studies find that when undergrads are limited to 30 minutes a day, they feel much better.
But that won’t cure FOMO. Trying to avoid mimesis is as hopeless as attempting to not miss anything, ever.
So, to use mimesis to your advantage, Luke Burgis sums it up like this:
“Everything boils down to choosing the right expert.”Luke Burgis
Or, in social media lingo:
Find the right influencers.
These are people you look up to, heroes, or anyone—even, ahem, bloggers—who inspire you to want the right things and act accordingly.
FOMO Fighting Tip #3:
Take control of your desires by carefully curating whose lives you pay attention to.
Fight FOMO With “NoMO FOMO”
Pete Davis’s book, Dedicated, provided the final piece to my FOMO-fighting puzzle.
“To overcome the fear of missing out, we have to make the jump from finding meaning through novelty to finding meaning through purpose.Pete Davis
“Novelty is exciting at first and wears off over time, but purpose often starts out boring and grows more exciting as time goes on.”Pete Davis
The good news is that even a seemingly small purpose can do the trick. Like one the size of this blog you’re reading. Or my baby son Zac.
I’d rather focus on raising my family and helping people zag their own extraordinary paths through life than do every cool thing my friends do.
And when I remind myself of this, I no longe feel I’m missing out by not going on a hiking trip.
It’s “NoMO FOMO”:
Not Missing Out, Focusing On Meaningful Objectives.
This may sound silly or boring, but I’ve found that the deeper I focus on my meaningful objectives, the more unexpectedly rich the rewards are that I dig up.
And whereas fear of missing out leaves me chasing one dopamine hit after the other, focusing on meaningful objectives digs up a bottomless well the stuff. So it’s endlessly satisfying.
Michael Long and Dan Lieberman explain the biology behind this in their book, The Molecule of More.
Focusing deeply on a meaningful objective is a non-stop win-win:
- It immediately rewards your pleasure-enjoying “Here and Now” neurons, like serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins.
- And it satisfies your pleasure-seeking dopamine pathways.
This starts a virtuous cycle where you eventually become so enthralled with what you’re focused on that you don’t give a crap about what else you might be missing.
FOMO Fighting Tip #4:
Rather than chase after dopamine hits, find meaningful purposes to focus on that give you a constant buzz.
Spread the (Good) FOMO
If you live a life focused on meaningful objectives, others may observe your contented dedication and fear they’re missing out. And maybe that will inspire them to fight FOMO with NoMO FOMO, too.
To start honing in on meaningful objectives to focus on and cause you to forget about FOMO, ask yourself:
What have been some of the most fulfilling experiences of your life, so far?
Your answers will give you clues on where to start finding a meaningful objective to focus on. Then you can join me in spreading the message to fight FOMO with NoMo FOMO.
For more clues and inspiration, check these out:
- 8 Questions for Finding Your Purpose in Life
- How Your Balance of Dopamine vs. Here and Now Molecules Defines You
- If You Can’t Find a Job You Love, Ask Yourself These Questions
And you won’t want to miss my weekly newsletter, either. In every issue, I share a fun but practical idea, adventure, or challenge that’s somehow improved my life: