Fighting FOMO

FOMO /ˈfōmō/ noun, informal: Anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on a social media website.

That’s according to the Oxford English dictionary, which usually only adds a newly coined term to the official version of our language if it’s being used a lot (see also: twerk). FOMO, or Fear Of Missing Out, is a 21st-century condition, a byproduct of instant communication that makes us feel both omnipresent and isolated. It’s the insidious feeling that wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, it isn’t as good as something else, somewhere else.

What does this have to do with entrepreneurship and independent business? Everything. There’s a reason the people in charge of alarming-sounding acronyms decided to name this condition, and it’s because FOMO is a productivity killer. Especially for the independent business person, FOMO can be a deadly distraction or a motivational nosedive. It can so plague today’s plugged-in online entrepreneurs as to place all sense of accomplishment permanently out of reach.

Being an entrepreneur means that the border between your work and your life is a very hazy one, if it exists at all. Because of this, FOMO poses a particular threat. When doing business on your own schedule and struggling to balance business and personal needs, FOMO can slip into the cracks between what you’re doing and everything else you could be doing instead. That’s why it’s important to be aware of it, and of how to manage it.

Diagnosing FOMO

There are a few clear signs that you’re suffering from some form of FOMO. Actually, almost everyone suffers from it a little, and has since before the Internet. The idea of the grass being greener on the other side of the fence isn’t a new one. What’s different is that the Internet and social media allow us to see beyond all the fences, to glimpse infinite lawns, so that we’re almost guaranteed to know that somewhere, someone is doing something better.

How do you know that FOMO is a problem for you? Put simply, when the discomfort over what’s going on outside your sphere of influence starts to actually detract from your ability to function within that sphere, you’ve got a mean case of FOMO. Are you constantly checking social media? Incessantly refreshing your email inbox? Can you not allow any reasonable amount of time to pass without peering through one of your virtual windows to the world? When what you aren’t doing takes precedence over what you are doing, FOMO has taken root.

FOMO can also plague you within the boundaries of your own business. Do you feel the need to be part of every meeting or project personally? Are you compelled to micromanage? Are you regularly nagged by the feeling that your time and effort is needed on some other aspect of your business, other than what’s in front of you? Do you find yourself constantly questioning the choices you’ve already made, after the fact? When the value of the work you’re doing no longer registers or seems vital, you lose hope. You become impotent, dragged down by the notion that none of the efforts you’re making are as important as the ones you’re not making. You’re running in FO-MOtion.

Combating FOMO

Like many forms of anxiety, FOMO is never really “cured.” It’s managed. The keys to not being held back by FOMO are mindfulness, awareness, and an honest assessment of the ways you spend your time. It requires vigilance in monitoring your own habits, and the willingness to acknowledge your successes and to value your own work. By seeing yourself and your work in a positively critical light, you can banish FOMO like the demon it is.

First, it’s important to starve FOMO of reinforcement. Cut off or limit the amount of time you spend checking up on the rest of the world. Social media, email, and all the other windows to the teeming of humanity should have their own scheduled time, and not be allowed to seep into time that’s been assigned to other work.

Preferably, social media should be scheduled at the end of your day, to be engaged in only after the rest of the day’s tasks have been completed. This way, you go into the social media-scape armed with a feeling of accomplishment and confidence- the antidotes to FOMO.

It’s also important to consciously acknowledge your own accomplishments, even on a daily basis. Taking a moment to recognize that you set important tasks for yourself and completed them may sound like excessive back-patting, but it’s crucial to staying focused on the overall mission of your business. Again, valuing the way you’ve spent your time is the armor necessary to ward off FOMO.

Remember the long-term mission of your business, and that you are capable of deciding what activities best contribute to that. Stick to your vision, distractions be damned.

Lastly, recognize that whatever you think you’ve missed out on probably wasn’t that important in the first place- and there will be plenty of opportunities to experience something like it when the time is right. Missed conferences and conventions will come around again. Chances to network will always be around the corner. There’s always a party somewhere, and just because the Internet allows us to see them all doesn’t mean we should strive to go to all of them.

Often, the people who do the most posting on social media, and therefore the most trumping regarding how their time is spent, are suffering more severely from FOMO than anyone else. Constantly seeking to convince the wider world that where they are and what they’re doing is the best is usually a clear sign of FOMO-based insecurity. It creates a vicious cycle in which everyone in their network is tempted to outdo everyone else by doing it all; and in that effort, very little actually gets done.

Meaning vs Appearances

In a nutshell, the cure to FOMO is to do meaningful work. By focusing on spending your time in ways that are truly valuable to your business and your life, you’ll probably find that there’s not much time left over to harp on the allegedly better time everyone else is having. When you devote yourself to your own vision and your own schedule, the temptation to be everywhere else falls away.

FOMO is what happens when you undervalue the ways in which you spend your time, and overvalue the ways in which everyone else spends theirs. It’s a mirage. You’re not missing anything if you’re staying true to the bigger goals you’ve set for yourself as a business person.

When anxiety about what’s going on “out there” strikes, take the time you need to recalibrate. Measure your progress against your goals. Take a walk. Meditate. Slow down before you succumb to the urge to spin your wheels at the intersection of every road you’re not on. Be grounded, and your productivity will never be threatened by the anxiety of FOMO.