Do you ever wonder about your “alternative life”? The life you could potentially be living? The one where you really do have it all: your cake and you’re eating it? How true is all of that? Once you accept an option and go with it (well done for persevering or following through) you will have to accept that you have given up other options and traded in that time and effort to do something else. It’s an opportunity cost: something that high-achievers understand thoroughly.
Don’t try to follow the crowd: if Twitter and Facebook aren’t for you, then stand by that. You can always have an account to keep up-to-date with your friends’ comings and goings, but you don’t have to use it and participate. We must all learn to live our lives on our own timeframes and with our own levels of satisfaction – that is one of the paths to being happier and more successful when it comes to enjoying what you have and being grateful.
Say Goodbye to FOMO*
(*Fear Of Missing Out)
Marie Claire UK,
August 2012, p. 105
Haven’t bought the right Zara trousers? Didn’t make it to that party? With every moment of your friends’ lives tweeted within seconds, Anna Pursglove discovers how to curtail the FOMO.
I am curled up on the sofa ready for the Desperate Housewives finale – my guiltiest of guilty pleasures – when my iPhone presents me with a slew of Facebook messages. A group of girlfriends are also glued to the drama on Wisteria Lane, but they are all together… with wine… just a few miles away.
Before you waste your sympathy on me, the shunned friend, you should know that I was actually invited to this soiree. I chose not to go. It was on a perfectly sensible decision given the circumstances (weather – awful; workload – massive). So why, when presented with uploaded photographs of my mates having fun, did I suddenly feel panicky? As though I’d missed out on something in infinitely more important than a TV drama and a large glass of Merlot?
I can, at least, take comfort in the knowledge that this form of social anxiety is a common one. It’s been discussed so often in recent times, it even has its own acronym: FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). The symptoms? A nagging suspicion – fuelled by the forensic detail of other people’s lives we are privy to via social media – that our own existences are somehow lacking. If only we’d made the right decisions, we berate ourselves, we’d have the fascinating careers/ relationships/ opinions/ offspring/ social lives that we perceive others all around us to have.
Canvassing other women on the issue, I discover that many of my friends are wrestling with FOMO. Holly, a 30-year old TV producer, tells me, ‘I spend far too much time worrying about what others are doing. Media people do love using Facebook,, Twitter and the like to show off, so I have this constant sense that I’m not in the loop – not doing the cool thing. I have this ridiculous feeling that if I could just behave a bit more like them, then I’d suddenly become some kind of Bafta-winning director. It’s as though other people have this magic formula for a successful life which is eluding me.’
Meanwhile, Katy, 34, a nurse, says FOMO has her panicking that she’s missed the opportunity to be a mother. ‘I’ve risen up the ranks quite fast and I love my job,’ she says. ‘Consequently, guess I haven’t exactly prioritised my relationships and they’ve all fizzled. Just recently, however, I’m spending more and more time analysing my friends’ lives – mostly via social networking sites – and questioning decisions I made in my twenties. If I’d got to know such-and-such a guy better, would I be the one tweeting about which school my kids had got into?’
So many of us, in fact, proclaim ourselves so plagued by the ghosts of what might have been that renowned psychoanalyst Adam Phillips has devoted his latest book, Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life (£20, Hamish Hamilton), to the subject. In the opening pages, Phillips sets out the problem as he sees it: ‘As we know more than ever before about the kinds of lives it is possible to live – and affluence has allowed more people than ever before to think of their lives in terms of choices and options – we are always haunted by the myth of our potential… Our lives become an elegy to needs unmet and desires sacrificed, to possibilities refused, to roads not taken.’
So, are we in danger of defining ourselves not by what we’ve achieved but by what we’ve missed out on. But as the title of the book suggests, there is another way of thinking about it. According to Phillips, our unlived lives are crucial to our well-being. It’s time, he says, to start viewing the concept of ‘missing out’ in a more positive light. The very act of making choices, he says, is a productive one and when we miss out on one experience, we open ourselves up to the potential of another. We need to realise that our daydreams give us satisfaction even when we don’t act on them. ‘Satisfaction,’ he writes, ‘is looked forward to before it happens – we have the experience in our minds before we have the experience.’
So how exactly do we stop wasting precious time fretting about what might have been? Jessica Chivers, author and life coach, agrees FOMO is a growing problem and that modern women caught up in the the work-versus-social-life-versus-motherhood struggle are particularly prone to it.
pic source: gethealthyharlem.org
Part of the problem is the number of choices available to us all, she says. We are told that plenty of choice is a good thing – and, of course, all of us facing this dilemma are lucky. But in psychological terms, it isn’t necessarily positive. ‘This is well studied by psychologists,’ says Chivers. ‘When presented with lots of choice, we become less efficient at making a decision and are far less happy with the decision we do eventually make. If I put you in a supermarket aisle with nine different types of cornflakes, you would enjoy your breakfast less than if you’d popped into the garage and had to buy the only brand they stocked’ It’s no wonder we can feel confused and anxious about our life decisions.
Yet, says Chivers, far from being a disaster, missing out opens up pathways previously hidden from us. She uses the example of missing out on a promotion. ‘You feel it was your time,’ she says. ‘Your skills were right, you were in the right place mentally – of course you feel aggrieved about not getting the gig. But it is in just these situations that people often make great career moves. The act of preparing yourself for the job – even though you didn’t get it – has moved you on mentally. You are now more likely to broaden your horizons and stretch yourself. You’ll begin to see opportunities that you were blind to before.’
And finally, say our experts, don’t underestimate the power of the daydream. As Adam Phillips points out, this is the realm in which we experience satisfaction before we’ve even had an experience, so by that logic it doesn’t matter if you miss out – you can be satisfied in advance whatever the outcome. Chivers agrees, adding: ‘Daydreaming isn’t a way of opting out of “real life” – it’s a safe place to explore possibilities. You will reject most of the things you fantasise about in that you won’t actually do them but that editing process is vital to our mental well-being. When we have explored options and rejected some in favour of others, then we develop what psychologists call an “internal locus of control” – in other words, we feel that we are masters of our own destiny.’
So the message is that even if you can’t summon up a throaty ‘je ne regrette rien’ just yet, rejecting the acronym FOMO in favour of the infinitely more proactive MOBO (Missing Out But Optimistic) is a very good place to start.
Ways to beat FOMO
Step away from the keyboard. Social media fuels FOMO, so if you’re a Facebook and Twitter addict, allow yourself the occasional information detox.
Make active decisions about the things you pass up. If it holds less short-term pleasure or long-term benefit than the alternative, then it’s probably not worth doing.
If you’re going to do one thing well then accept this will mean missing out on the other things. People who excel miss out all the time – they just don’t worry about it.
Too much choice is not necessarily a good thing. Cut down on the amount of time you spend researching alternatives. If an option works for you, stick with it.
Recognise that an opportunity not taken means you get to check out other options. The first thing to come up may not be the best choice.