The Curse of FOMO

Why wasn’t I invited to the party? Why didn’t I get to hike in the Swiss Alps? Why didn’t I purchase Bitcoin years ago?

These are just a few of the thousands of thoughts we have that are driven by the fear of missing out, now coined with the catchy acronym “FOMO”. This is usually followed by feelings of regret and negativity. Feelings that our lives could be better if we had not missed out on a particular experience, investment, purchase, gathering, or opportunity… whether it was ever a realistic possibility for us or not.

With the rise of instantly accessible news and social media, there are now exponentially more triggers for these moments of negativity. From seeing an article on Medium, to a video on YouTube, to a post on Instagram. Especially in the personal finance space – the rise of volatile assets has supercharged the FOMO for investing in risky areas such as meme stocks [E.g. GameStop, AMC], cryptocurrencies [Bitcoin, DogeCoin], and alternative assets [E.g. NFTs, Collectibles].

Let’s take a step back though and explore some of the underlying drivers here. Humans have evolved with a few traits that contribute to FOMO:

  • We want to maximize our personal resources and wealth for survival
  • We instinctively compare ourselves to others, which generates motivation to strive for more
  • We care about how our peers view us, we want to be viewed positively and accepted

These are all important traits that helped humans survive as a species, but are now causing mental anguish for millions of people in modern society. We want to maximize our personal wealth… but to what end? Gaining motivation from comparison is great… but isn’t there always going to be someone “better”? Is it necessary for everyone to like us for exactly who we are?

There are many people who do relatively well by most typical measures such as money, relationships, family, friends, education, and career. And yet, they constantly face moments of negativity due to FOMO. The sum of these moments can contribute to larger and sustained mental health issues.  

In many of these situations there’s simply no way we could have done anything about it. You simply were not financially prepared to put a big investment into crypto ten years ago. You had to go through the process of different types of jobs and companies at your own pace to figure out where you could fit. You get along with some people great, and many others not so great – those people aren’t going to invite you to hangout, and that’s fine.   

Here’s the bad news, these triggered feelings can’t just be logically rationalized away permanently. They are emotional reactions rooted in previous life experiences and human psychology that don’t go through the rational mind. In moments of greater clarity and reflection, we may realize how lucky we have been, and how for many of us life already exceeded all of our initial expectations. Yet, when we are exposed to someone who just became a millionaire from their company’s IPO, we suddenly inflate those expectations and wonder why we couldn’t be the one to join that company five years ago when they recruited us. 

However, there is also good news. We can learn to manage these thoughts and emotions more actively. Just being aware of them is the first step! Suffice to say the mindfulness movement is happening for a reason. Meditation, journaling, therapy, counting your blessings, and anything to help with your emotional fitness will help you become more aware of these moments and be able to influence your perspective. Instead of having your thoughts spiral into a dark abyss after being triggered by an Instagram post, you can learn to catch yourself, accept the emotions, and consider looking at the bigger picture of your life and all the positive aspects you’ve earned or have been lucky to have. These could be anything from just being healthy, to having a stable job, to being blessed with a few great friends.

Next time you find yourself feeling bad about missing out, try to remember that you’re also not missing out on every great thing in your life!

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