Yesterday I realized that Anne Lamott, who is one of my favorite authors, lives near our new house and regularly gives workshops in the area. My first thought was that we would be best friends. Then almost immediately I started worrying that now that I was moving there, she would never give a workshop again and I would have missed the opportunity to actually learn from her. There is nothing about her schedule that suggests that this is true. In fact, she seems to speak and work fairly regularly with no intention of stopping, but for a moment I was overcome by fear of missing out.
I had never really thought about “fear of missing out,” or FOMO as it is often referred to, as a condition. The first time I heard someone refer to it, I laughed, recognizing an all-too-familiar trait of mine. My mother says that even as a child I hated naps because I was afraid I was going to miss something. I still find myself resisting bed time because there is always more to do, even if it is just hitting the refresh button one more time.
Whenever I think I might be missing out I respond by ignoring my intuition and speeding towards an emotion or decision I probably don’t need. Fear of missing out is what sends people deeper into yoga poses than they should go. It’s what makes you say yes to a dinner invitation when you know you would rather be at home. It’s even what makes you buy pants that don’t fit just because it’s a sample sale. Fear of missing out comes from the idea that we think that everyone is having more fun than we are, or more interesting conversations… They aren’t.
The Buddhists call it “poverty mind,” the idea that you are always missing something. In our current age when we have instant access to a world of goods and information this idea of poverty mind can be easily reinforced. It is true, we are always missing something, every minute of every day, all around us are stories that we are not a part of. We develop a habit of putting our body somewhere and then letting our mind go a million different places. We reinforce this habit throughout our days. However, the only place where you can make real change and have real experiences is where your body is. We limit our ability to enjoy our present moment if we are worried about what we may be missing out on. We create a sense that there is never enough, by not noticing or appreciating what we already have.
We have to train ourselves to stay present, that doesn’t mean we only do one thing at a time or we never daydream. Staying present means noticing that we are daydreaming, or procrastinating, or multi-tasking, or worrying that we may be missing out on something amazing happening somewhere else. If we start to become familiar with our own patterns we start to realize that we aren’t really missing anything, it’s all right in front of us. We just have to learn how to look at our own complicated, messy lives with generosity not judgment. We have to take time every day to be quiet, to sit, to go for a walk, or any activity that roots you in some way. It is only then that we can start to recognize that we aren’t missing anything.
I am working to let go of FOMO. The next time I catch myself wondering if I should sign my kids up for two activities because we might be missing something, or I say yes to a dinner in Midtown on a Tuesday when I don’t have a babysitter, I am going to stop myself and ask myself whether I am doing this because I want to or because I am afraid of missing out. If it’s the latter I will stay home, and enjoy the peace and quiet that comes from knowing you aren’t missing a thing.