4 Tips to Beat FoMO
By: Nick Ma
We tell you why making choices is harder today and what to do about it.
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FoMO. Whether you’ve heard this term or not, you’re likely to have experienced it in our hyper connected modern world. In an excerpt from wikipedia:
Fear of missing out or FoMO is “a pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent”. This social angst is characterized by “a desire to stay continually connected with what others are doing”.
FoMO is also defined as a fear of regret, which may lead to a compulsive concern that one might miss an opportunity for social interaction, a novel experience, profitable investment or other satisfying events. In other words, FoMO perpetuates the fear of having made the wrong decision on how to spend time, as “you can imagine how things could be different”.
The average person today is hosed with 200x more information than 15 years ago. This upwash of data leads many of us into a type of decision paralysis. Every venue, friend group, and job offer, compete for your commitment. What if something better comes up? I have to make sure that I keep my schedule open for a better option!
In Mr. Nobody, one splendid line sums up the whole problem:
With the advent of the internet the older generations expects us to make better choices. However, in studies, the exact opposite happens, people become overwhelmed with information and end up spending hours reading through choices, this is commonly known as “Analysis Paralysis”. Indecision is often an escape from the stress of decision making. Our monkey brains are hardwired to avoid pain and increase rewards, when presented with many choices it automatically finds ways to pick the one with the highest reward. When too much information flows in, well … we just stress out.
Our brains are evolved to survive, anxiously worrying about the future is one of the best ways to mate and propagate our genes. The next time you find yourself anxious about choices, remember your scumbag brain.
It’s no wonder that in modern societies, too much choice is stressing us out. Having some choices is great, but having too many choices causes our evolutionary hard wiring to wreak havoc in our thinking.
Here are four ideas and tips to help you keep information overload under control.
1. Sometimes You Have to Let Go
Decisions like school, jobs, picking a major, moving for a better opportunity are all hard. Sometimes when we stress out to find a resolution we encourage anxiety and decision analysis to set in. One tip is to allocate a set amount of time everyday for hard decisions, say 1 hour.
You write down pros and cons, and weigh the options, but if you still haven’t made a choice at the end of the 1 hour. Stop. Take a break.
The act of stopping gives our brains time to avoid over thinking and cuts down stress levels. It is extremely easy to overwhelm ourselves for one choice and not leave energy for the rest of the day. When it’s time to make another decision, your energy and willpower become sapped, and you get into a negative cycle where every subsequent decision becomes more overbearing.
So, having a bit of discipline to stop yourself from forcing a result is also important. Being too keen can lead to decision-making burnout.
2. Use Choices to Define Who You Are
In a great Ted Talk on hard choices, Ruth Chang explains the difficulty of committing to a choice. She sums up the reality about our choices the following excerpt.
So when we face hard choices, we shouldn’t beat our head against a wall trying to figure out which alternative is better. There is no best alternative. Instead of looking for reasons out there, we should be looking for reasons in here: Who am I to be?
Letting choices be a way to define ourselves can also put a positive light on some of the harder choices we have to make. We should see these choices as ways to better define who we are and what we stand for.
Case in point, do I want to go out on a networking session? Or would I prefer a board games night. Each choice is not a chance of missing out on something else, but rather a checkpoint on which kind of person we become. Networking more leads to us to engage with career connections; while board games lets us explore our ability to flex our imagination and be present.
The key is how we narrate the choices we make.
3. Put Your Decision in Perspective
When you find yourself worn out from a day of making choices, remember that most of our choices are trivial compared to high ranking government officials and CEOs. The impact of one choice is just us and maybe our immediate small circle of close friends and family. For some, this is can be an anchor point to lowering stress levels of our choice making. (If you are a C-level exec or politician, we would love to interview on this topic)
Whilst you or I may not be a rocking CEO or a hip President title, we can always learn from the big boys, take for example this Vanity Fair article interviewing Obama.
“You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits,” [Obama] said. “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.”
It is the little tidbits from the people who have it tough that really put our own lives in perspective. We focus on the problems we face today, but sheepishly find ways to save energy to tackle the challenges of tomorrow.
4. Focus on the Positives of the Choice
In the Ted Talk Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz talks about how the the increase in choices makes us unhappy:
“Adding options to people’s lives can’t help but increase the expectations people have about how good those options will be. And what that’s going to produce is less satisfaction with results, even when they’re good results.”
The stickler being that with 100s of choices, one of them must be perfect. Then, we feel dissatisfied when our expectations aren’t blown away. The irony being that we can’t blame the world for our dissatisfaction, because the world has provided us with so much choices; therefore the only result is that the blame is to be placed on ourselves for not making the perfect choice.
And what I got was good, but it wasn’t perfect. And so I compared what I got to what I expected, and what I got was disappointing in comparison to what I expected.
The paradox of choice has parallels to perfectionism. If we connect the dots we realize that we are seeking perfection in choice even if we aren’t perfectionists in other ways. The same rules on dealing with perfectionism apply.
For regular decisions, we shouldn’t to focus on missing out, but instead focus on what was beneficial about the choice that has been made. Such as, “I have a job now, what can I do within my present situation now that I have a steady income?” Cross each bridge when you arrive to it and then look into how it can enable you to make nouveau choices in the future.
Choices will never stop coming up during your lifetime, you will always have more choices to make, but you only get to experience each day once. So when you can’t make a decision, take a break, don’t let the weight of it crush your ability to enjoy the moment. When you come back, rest assured that you will have a fresh mind to better pick the option.
Finally, for a highly recommended movie night, I would ask you watch Ruth Chang’s Ted Talk on hard choices, followed by Mr. Nobody, and tell us what you think about it!