The Oxford English Dictionary definition of FOMO [Foe-Moe] is: “Anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on a social media website.”
As an executive and personal coach to some of San Francisco’s most successful young tech entrepreneurs, I help them fight back their FOMO on an hourly basis. FOMO was first identified in the mid-1990s by marketing analysts as an acronym to explain how new media commerce was undermining traditional brand loyalties. Twenty years later, the FOMO phenomenon has infiltrated American culture with ‘choice overload’, impacting how we make decisions in both our personal and professional lives. Particularly in the San Francisco Bay Area, where millions of investors come to place their bets on innovative young high achievers, it can be feel like life changing decisions are being made at every turn. Attractive, successful single people are everywhere. The whole world is open to them. Armed with an ample array of talents, access to top social networks for professional and dating opportunities, they just have to choose. But they struggle to do so with any permanency. The FOMO struggle is real.
In Barry Schwartz’s eloquent Tedx talk “The Paradox of Choice”, he describes how western industrial societies have come to over value choice: “If we are interested in maximizing the welfare of our citizens, the way to do that is to maximize individual freedom. The reason for this is both that freedom is in and of itself good, valuable, worthwhile, essential to being human. And because if people have freedom, then each of us can act on our own to do the things that will maximize our welfare, and no one has to decide on our behalf. The way to maximize freedom is to maximize choice. He goes on to argue that instead of increasing our sense of well-being, an abundance of choice is increasing our levels of anxiety, depression, and wasted time. It leads us to set unreasonably high expectations, question our choices before we even make them, and blame our failures entirely on ourselves.
As an executive and personal coach, I help people explore the stress they feel when confronted with choice overload, the sense of regret from making decisions that lead to less-than-satisfactory outcomes, the cost of having relentlessly high expectations, chronic feelings of emptiness or disconnection from their current life circumstances, and the tarnished sense of self that comes from comparing one’s choices with the choices of others.
Most people have a wide range of professional passions, and are attracted to different types of people with various physical attributes, personal strengths and qualities. The fact remains, there aren’t enough hours in a day to pursue all of them at once. Further, if personal intimacy is on the goal list, it’s impossible to achieve that type of connection if one never gets beyond the ‘first 5 dates’ lifecycle. In an effort to not miss out, people pursue everything and everyone, and are left wondering why nothing ever evolves. By the time they come to me, they are overwhelmed, frustrated and unfulfilled; they want to pursue success professionally and/or in their dating pursuits, but with less stress and more direction. If you’re reading this, perhaps you can relate.
How can I redirect my thinking to banish FOMO?
Remember: by saying “NO” to some things, you are saying “YES” to other high quality and equally important experiences.
- Slow down your dating process. By taking the time to get to know one person at a time, you are being thorough in determining if there is genuine potential for a high quality romantic connection, and less likely to ‘let the right one slip by’. Be careful not to rule someone out if a potential red flag crops up. Anyone who’s been happily partnered for years will tell you, unsolvable differences exist between even the very best matched couples.
- Balance your recreational activities and social plans with restful self care. By taking care of your body and mind by engaging in pleasurable, restful and restorative activities, you are shoring up your energy so that when you do engage in an outing that requires elevated energy, you are more likely to have it in store so that you actually enjoy it as it was meant to be enjoyed. Can you really expect to get the most enjoyment out of seeing your favorite musical artist perform live if you’re exhausted, irritable and physically uncomfortable?
- Pay attention to what you enjoy doing most, and focus your career planning accordingly. Getting in on ‘the next big thing’ and making a lot of money while doing it are cool, I’ll admit. But don’t forget, even if you’re really good at doing something doesn’t mean you’re going to enjoy doing it for the long haul. By choosing to develop your skills and opportunities in a concentrated professional direction that you know you enjoy, you are more likely to reap the benefit of succeeding in that particular vein. If your career journey seems to be evolving more slowly than you’d like, remember, career success is rarely, if ever linear and constant. Genuine growth and success are never free of setbacks. Professional setbacks are opportunities to hone your attention to what is necessary for continued and elevated success.
- When a choice results in an unexpected and/or poor outcome, don’t automatically think of it as a failure. Thinking “What a waste of time and energy!” keeps you from utilizing that experience in an advantageous way. Without valuing what you learned and integrating this information into your future decisions and endeavors, you miss out on the chance to execute with better aim and more fruitful outcomes. With dating, you may not see patterns in why your relationships end. I encourage people I’m coaching to get some information from their ex’s (if still on relatively good speaking terms). Ask them “What was it like to date me? What worked well? What did I do that made it difficult?” Admittedly, this is tough homework. Be sure to clarify you don’t want to rekindle things, you’re there to get information about what role you played in what when wrong, like an aviation black box. There’s a good chance there are some themes in how you behave in relationships that you are not aware of that could help you move forward in creating a healthy and long-lasting romantic relationship.
- Learn to relish in the choices you DO make, and stop agonizing over the choices you DON’T make. It’s easy to go through life with ‘entree envy’, there are a lot of amazing choices out there! Life however, has a funny way of changing directions for us, outside of our control, and when you least expect it. So enjoy what you can, while you have it.
Dr. Christina Villarreal is a mental health expert, executive and personal coach/consultant and educator in the San Francisco Bay Area, CA. For professional inquiries visit her website at www.drchristinavillarreal.com