October 9, 2018

How FOMO puts us into Identity Debt & What we can do About It.

By its very definition, a life afflicted by “FOMO” is a life based on fear and lack instead of love and satisfaction.

While under the influence of FOMO (fear of missing out), we amass a wide range of experiences, but we experience each one in an extremely shallow way—devoid of permanence.

Can you really call yourself a swimmer if you’ve only ever set foot in the shallow end of the pool?

Essentially, FOMO is the outward projection of decision paralysis. We taste test a little bit of everything—without having really acquired a taste for anything.

More than ever, we live in a distracted society, one where we are conditioned to follow the pack, instead of being the lead.

FOMO puts us in identity debt, because we are constantly spending, spending, spending—without truly investing in who we are. There is much at stake, namely our identity and the quality of our lives.

The questions we must answer are: What kind of life do we want to live? Who are we? And who do we want to become?

Ingrained into our identity is a deep feeling of dissatisfaction, uncertainty, and insecurity—all negative qualities that put us deep in the red. Thankfully, there are steps we can adopt to repair, correct, and rebuild our “identity credit.”

Have clear priorities

This means that we know what we stand for and what is important to us. As the saying goes, if everything is important, then nothing is important.

Having priorities is not about more, it’s about less—it’s about the essentials.

On the contrary, FOMO puts our life into overcommitment, without really committing to anything—more for the sake of more—and that’s a dangerous thing when we don’t have clear priorities.

We end up both misallocating and misdirecting our energy and attention to whatever or whomever calls out for us, instead of what or who is actually meaningful.

Without clear priorities, our life gets hijacked.

What exactly are we merging into?

What are we chasing? What are we making ourselves part of? Does any part of it—process or product—truly fulfill us?

Sure, the early days of being invited everywhere and showing up to everything feels so incredibly satisfying. There’s always something new and we are addicted to the feeling of adrenaline that comes with it.

But when we spread ourselves so thin across every possible thing, we fatigue ourselves and actually end up accomplishing very little.

Movement doesn’t always mean progress—movement also gives us motion sickness.

Say no first

If we have trouble letting people down, perhaps a better way of going about decision-making is to start with saying “no” first, and then to justify and negotiate the “yes.”

The ordering of things matter. If we are programmed to overcommit, then we must design a strategy to counter that.

“No” keeps us focused because it protects our best interests and saves us from accepting opportunities we didn’t want to begin with.

This way, we can reserve space and energy for the right things.

Have a mindset of intelligence, not impulse

“Nothing concentrates the mind like losing.” ~ Tim Alberta

The cunning part about the psychology of FOMO is that it makes us feel like we’re winning—because the best place to be is certainly where all the buzz is, right?

When I thought about this question in a mindful way, I realized that contrary to what FOMO aspires to, it dislocates us from where we need to be.

Hence, the motion sickness.

FOMO keeps us so active and distracted all the time that we don’t have the space or time to be still or think. A life of reactions will no doubt keep us busy, but it will leave us very empty. Impulse may be faster, but intelligence is smarter.

FOMO builds on our insecurities. The toxic feedback loop here is that the more insecure we are, the less likely we are to commit, and the more we flee to what’s shiny and easy.

Embrace fidelity to deep work and relationships

While attractive in the most superficial sense, FOMO delivers a false sense of promise. I think all of us who have partaken in FOMO activities can share a common feeling of being diminished rather than being empowered.

While we may have amassed a lot of experiences, we actually missed out on what is most important—the things that take time to cultivate.

At its core, FOMO doesn’t have much to offer to those who are deeply whole, grounded, and satisfied. What is worth our heart and time will no doubt compel our fidelity. The focus on deep work and growing deeper relationships take time, but are better life investments.

Cultivate a sense of satisfaction

Disappointments and dissatisfactions feel natural and automatic, especially when we have expectations and desires, but how much is enough?

The refusal to be satisfied causes suffering because those who are never satisfied are never at peace.

Dissatisfaction is disconnection.

When we are negatively focused—when we notice our lack of—we are compelled to discard the things in front of us and go off chasing shadows. But it’s the things right in front of us that make our life fulfilling.

So while we might feel like the FOMO life is living in the present, we are, in fact, forfeiting and disconnecting from our own present path to be the running partners of other people’s journeys.

And how can we be truly happy running in someone else’s tracks?

Take ownership of our day

Taking ownership of our lives happens one day at a time. FOMO attacks our willpower, so like any recovery process, we must recommit to our life, one day at a time—twice, daily if needed.

When I’ve spread myself too thin, it felt like life was running me instead of the other way around, which is what we all aim for. A life driven by FOMO doesn’t make us a rebel—it makes us governable sheeple.

FOMO both rides on and cultivates a deficit in our identities

We talk about financial debt because dollars in the bank are a lot easier to see, and overdraft has very real repercussions. But debt is debt: identity debt works in the same way.

The long-term effects of FOMO are sociologically and psychologically complex—essentially, we end up conditioned to a “trial sized life.” Our life ends up a cheap vignette of cameo appearances between commercial breaks, instead of being a powerhouse prime time show where we play the lead.

A lot of things sound and appear sexy, but the things and people who derail us often are. The brightest mushrooms in the forest are the ones that are poisonous.

I hope the strategies above, consolidated from hindsight, could form our collective foresight as we navigate, shape, and appreciate the contours and vibrance of our own lives.


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