The fear of missing out. More than just a popular hashtag that’s filled up our Twitter feed with #FOMO memes, it’s a real phenomenon that’s seeped into our collective psyche thanks to the internet age.
Officially added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013, FOMO has been scientifically defined as a “pervasive apprehension” that seeps into our life because we feel that others are learning about, enjoying, or taking advantage of something we’re absent from because we’re not there to experience it at the same time.
Social media is one of the worst culprits of FOMO anxiety. With hundreds (or even thousands) of connections on any one platform, the opportunities to view and stay informed on other people are endless—and our feed’s firehose will always serve up more information and ideas than we can intake.
None of this is new information. For the purpose of understanding how to embrace a new way to look at the issue of missing—with joy—it’s important to face the truth that FOMO doesn’t want us to uncover:
- The internet will never end, and our brains have a powerful urge to finish what we start— plus, we regret unfinished or untested things more than those we finish or try to finish.
- When we’re away from our devices, withdrawal symptoms are real and feeling depressed or more inherently negative about ourselves because of social media is a rising problem.
- FOMO, including the need to connect more often and intake more online, manifests most often when we’re unhappy and dissatisfied with our reality.
It’s a never-ending cycle: the more you try to avoid that feeling of fear, the worse your sense of FOMO becomes.
So what happens when you miss out? More specifically, what happens when you choose to miss out?
The Joy Of Missing Out
If the FOMO is real, then JOMO must be possible. A countermovement to our always-on addiction, the Joy of Missing Out is gaining momentum as a conscious choice (even a cartoon) to disconnect and experience life offline.
Canadian author Christina Crook authored a book on the subject, The Joy of Missing Out, after completely unplugging for 31 days to discover who she was as a person and a mother without an online presence: “The truth was I was both bored and completely obsessed with the internet.” She notes she found a sense of peace that was missing when she was unintentionally checking her phone in short increments all day long.
But what if you don’t have an issue with technology? Maybe you even really love taking advantage of everything that your online world has to offer. The irony of diving into this topic by searching for online articles on #JOMO is that, as a full-time remote worker writing this piece, I am sitting in a dark room without power thanks to a once-in-a-decade holiday snowfall. There are moments like this good old-fashioned snow day where JOMO isn’t optional.
If it’s true that in the dark you face your fears, then I am staring head on at an empty browser window. As a remote worker, it can be strange to disconnect with a primary means of connection with other humans. I have intentionally built a life that is exceptionally reliant on the internet.
Tech entrepreneur and writer Anil Dash wrote about JOMO after the birth of his son. He not only points to technology, but also to obligations, events, and external happenings in general as part of the concept. The joy in missing out can be found every time we take control of our time and say “no” when the alternative choice is indulging in things that bring true joy to our lives.
He notes, “So often, we point the finger at our technologies for creating the fears, the insecurities, the tensions that arise in our social lives as they get increasingly run by social software.” Placing blame on technology will not in itself deliver more joy when turning off a smartphone. Taking agency to define our “on” and “off” times should be what we focus on when practicing JOMO:
“But if tech is to blame for our feelings (and I'm not sure I want to concede that point), then certainly we can make apps and sites and software that makes us joyously celebrate for the good time that our friends and loved ones and even complete strangers are having when they go about living their lives.”
Anil wrote these words in 2012. Has the need for JOMO changed in the past 5 years? We asked him: "It seems like everyone has discovered the stress of a lot of digital life in the last five years. That's not to forget that we just spend more time in these various apps and sites than we used to."
Anil recommends moving beyond the 'unplug' strategy ("which of course is a very valuable idea") to also paring down the amount and types of digital information you intake, cutting out what's extraneous or stressful as possible:
"Draw strong distinctions between what's important and what's just new or loud. Once you start thinking in that framework, you can quickly move to turn off noise from sources that are mostly just trying to steal your attention rather than serve your needs."
When Life Is Hard To Ignore
JOMO seems like both a timely and difficult practice this year. It’s been an especially fraught 12 months of global conversations across political, environmental, and cultural spheres. Even if you have just two friends on Facebook, your feed was probably far from quiet. The unprecedented level of connection and communication online has made the internet feel more alive and alert (some might say noisy and crowded) than ever.
There has been a very real sense of duty for many to be present for these online conversations. From #NetNeutrality and #NoBanNoWall to #MeToo, participation has felt needed, even mandatory, for many people. At times like these, a concept like JOMO might seem frivolous, irresponsible, or sadly, unsafe.
Combine a heightened sense of investment in world events with the emotional burden that comes along with it, and burnout is more likely than ever. In fact, it’s been shown that people who work in social justice and human rights, voluntarily or as a profession, are more prone to burnout because the work is highly personal. According to Alessandra Pigni, author of The Idealist’s Survival Kit, the “ABCs” of burnout prevention include:
- Awareness: Understand your needs and take responsibility for self-care. You won’t be effective for anyone if you’re not taking care of yourself.
- Boundaries: Healthy boundaries, and exercising your “no’s” will go a long way in reducing cynicism and avoiding the need for appreciation, results, and change from every action you give to a cause.
- Connections: Your family and friends, even if they don’t participate in the same causes, will give you a place to just be yourself. Safe spaces set great examples for how to build positive communities.
As Alessandra notes, “Burnout should not be a badge of honour to show how committed we are.” Internal guilt and shame do not make change happen better or faster. Rather, these negative emotions will dull your ability to feel and connect with your emotions, accomplishments, and the opportunities that will come up after you return from a much needed (and well-deserved) break.
#JOMO All Day
Testimonials from JOMO enthusiasts like Anil Dash and Christina Crook (even former Google CEO Eric Schmidt) are encouraging, but even better, this theory has been scientifically proven to be beneficial.
Our IQ drops by up to 15 points when we get stuck in a loop of context switching between tasks and notifications. Choosing micro-moments of digital diversion instead of long, relaxing breaks stops us from processing information and cultivating long-term memory. As author Anais Nin has said, “My ideas usually come not at my desk writing but in the midst of living.”
The idea for this article actually came from a Stride chat where the Trello marketing team was discussing upcoming holiday plans and our resolutions for powering down and taking an offline break this year:
For a brief second, it felt like we had invented a new word.
As incredible as that would have been, the feeling of discovering a concept that excites and inspires is the level of enthusiasm you should channel when embarking on your practice of JOMO. Unplugging is hard. We are more attuned to picking up and checking our phones than we might realize. There are a few things you can do, however, to help ease the transition:
- Approach joy with curiosity: Is there something you’ve been wanting to try? Choose an activity that you’ve been wishing to make time for and schedule it in to your day. There will always be a distraction, a to-do list, or something last minute that you could do instead. Gamify the experience and try to complete two JOMO activities per month.
- Plan it out: Define a set of JOMO “rules” for yourself, and communicate them to your friends, family, or co-workers if this time will impact or involve them.
- Practice, practice, practice: It’s hard to truly disconnect, so take small steps towards being comfortable without access to your favorite feeds and micro-updaters. When you get comfortable with the ability to focus in your free time, you can apply that to your work, as deep work is a trained skill that helps you achieve bigger, more impactful goals. Most of all, it helps to have a great support group to help you stick to your JOMO goals and remind you to put that phone away.
In the absence of a screen, you notice what’s physically present in your life. There’s joy in discovering that your life is very much real outside the posts, feeds, pings, and notifications that fill the air on any given day. There is a world without the pressures of online FOMO, and it’s waiting for you!
This article is dedicated to the Trello marketing team, a group of wonderful people, all-around rockstars, JOMO proponents and excellent accountability partners for making sure we all find moments for joy throughout the year.