The Richard Nicholls Podcast

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Episode 148: Fear of Missing Out

Last week I noticed that my Sky TV hard drive box was getting full. There were a lot of satirical news programmes that I hadn’t watched and they were probably out of date. There were documentaries about topics that if I was really that interested in I’d have watched them by now. And it made me question why I’d set them to record in the first place.
The conclusion I came to was that it was FOMO. If you’ve never seen that acronym before it stands for Fear Of Missing Out. Which is something I usually have under control and it surprised me, I say usually but there are still times I end up watching videos that people have shared on Facebook only because I feel that I could be missing out on something if I don’t.
We need to recognise that there will always be something going on somewhere that has the possibility to entertain in some way and we can’t experience everything. There is over 13 days worth of video uploaded to YouTube every single minute and you cannot watch it all.
There are hundreds of new films that come out every year. Even if you aim to watch only releases from the major studios, you’d still have to go twice for week, every week for the rest of your life in order to not miss out.
But, what if we don’t do those things? What are we actually missing out on? Is it extra happiness?
I don’t think so. Because whatever time I would have spent watching yet another TV show or film, I’d have spent anyway doing something else. I’m going to be happy or contended or excited or whatever anyway.
But if we think that we have to be involved in the same things as everyone that we know, in order to be happy, then we’re going to run out of hours in the day.
But this fear of missing out has bigger implications. Now we have the technology in our pockets that allows us to have some sort of interaction with hundreds of people in a relatively short space of time. By scrolling through Twitter and Facebook you can see what’s going on in everyones lives. You can see what videos they’ve just watched because they’ve clicked like or they’ve shared it.
Lots of my Facebook “friends” are also therapists and do share interesting videos. These might be someones inspirational story or someones experiences of depression that will always help a therapist to gain insight into it. If I had the time I could watch them for 24 hours a day and still feel like I could be missing out on more, and that’s without all the prank videos, and videos of cats and cute puppies.
We need to know that we aren’t going to feel disappointed if we don’t watch those things. It’s OK to miss out because you’ll be doing something else anyway. We can’t watch every movie that’s ever been made, we can’t read every book or listen to every podcast.
We can’t go to every single birthday celebration, we can’t attend every event that someone invites us to on Facebook and we aren’t going to be disappointed if we don’t know what someone we went to school is doing right now.
But the thing is, in this modern world we know that we have access to that information. We know that if we want to feel connected with the world we can just pull a phone out of our pocket and there it is, a social connection. But it doesn’t actually help us to feel that connected, if anything it can actually make us feel more isolated and also lead us to experience more stress as we get hooked into constantly needing to be up to date with what’s going on.
Anything that’s associated with something that’s good for the preservation of the species can become addictive far easier than any other repetitive behaviour. Now, you might not think that “being in the know” is any good for the continuation of the human race but back in our nomadic past knowing where a new food source was vital for survival.
Back then, missing out on something was the difference between life and death. As we began to settle down and start farming communities that’s when the concept of gossiping about things probably began, it was important to try and be in the right place at the right time to capture information so as to better prepare for problems or embrace opportunities. It’s why people can be so nosey nowadays and social media is the modern equivalent.
If we’re constantly reminding our brain that there might be something going on in the world that we don’t know about then it learns to fire off the anxiety response to encourage us to find it out. As if not checking our social media feed could lead us to be invaded by tribesman with spears or be boiled alive by the searing ash from a local volcano. In an attempt to try and avoid the feeling that this brings on we end up checking our social media feed more rather then less, and this creates a hyper vigilant state of mind that prevents us from enjoying whats going on in our life if we just lifted our heads up a bit and looked around us.
Knowing that this is how the brain works is really useful because it helps you understand your behaviour and may explain why you feel more stressed than you actually should.
But it’s easy to override it. If you’re at home leave your phone in another room, check it for messages every few hours and create an expectation that it’s not going to be glued to your hand. If you’re out with friends, remind yourself before hand that you’re cutting down on using your phone and you’ll probably feel a little smug as you see that so many others don’t have the strength that you’ve got, or maybe they don’t even see that it’s a problem.