“Years ago, we used the internet to escape reality. Now we use reality to escape the internet.”
In Part 2 of the series on taming the fear of missing out (FOMO) and increasing the joy of missing out (JOMO), I describe three tasks that build on each other to help you face and control FOMO. (Part 1 describes the dangerous overuse of social media.) After you make the steps in this article part of your life, periodically review them to see how you are doing. For example, after 30 days, six months, and one year, check these steps. If you maintain a journal to help you navigate your life, consider adding these steps to the journal as milestones.
1. Admit you have a problem.
Let’s get real right now and say this out loud: “I cannot be everywhere at all times and always be doing the coolest things ever—and that’s OK!” Now, for a deeper impact, say it slower two more times and with a calm focus on yourself.
Doesn’t that feel good? Admitting to yourself and accepting that you have anxiety about something impossible to do can lift a weight of imagined shortfalls and release it. To acknowledge insecurity is to end a resistance that blocks you from looking at as a problem you can fix. After this liberating recognition, you can start to overcome the problem.
2. Switch off the chatter.
For gosh sake, turn off your smartphone! Rediscover the healthy actions or explore new activities, such as exercise, yoga, or meditation.
With the recognition that much of online life is just distraction, re-imagine your mornings without eyes glued to email, the news, social apps, or any other distraction. In general, just leaving off the phone and other static-laden stimuli, such as radio or TV, will bring noticeable peace of mind (unless the absence of distraction increases the feeling of dread, which is a topic beyond the scope of this post).
Distraction for the sake of distraction is the topic here. In contrast, you might need your day’s schedule immediately or information for safety concerns. Also, you might have a morning class online or a meeting to call into, in which case preparing for these activities will make you more confident and relaxed. These are not distractions. I am advising you to apply conscious thought to your decisions about how to improve your morning routines.
For most people, eliminating all social media accounts would be unnecessary or impractical and is not what we at Presence Global advocate. However, after seeing that distraction for distraction’s sake aggravates your restlessness, anxiety, and dissatisfaction, you can accept limiting your engagement with electronic media. If the systematic pursuit of distraction is a regular part of your life, I recommend a severe reassessment of what makes life meaningful.
One cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) technique prescribes setting aside a specific period in the day to check all your social media outlets. Let’s say that you take the bus home from work or school every day from 5:30 to 6:00 pm (or any time after school). Make this your only time on a weekday to check your accounts. According to CBT, the point is to set periods for catching up with social media to free the rest of the day. Notably, one time not to start on social media or check the news is just before sleeping at night.
Checking social media or the news shortly before going to bed can delay sleep and reduce sleep quality. Research in recent years has shown that getting enough good quality sleep is far more important than we previously understood. The National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI.org) recommends not looking at a computer or phone screen for at least one hour before going to bed and not having a computer device in the bedroom. NAMI offers its reasoning for this and other practices on its website.
3. Practice mindfulness.
Finally, I describe the benefits and practice of developing mindfulness in action through formal mindfulness meditation. I start with mindfulness meditation because that is the basis for mindfulness in daily life. Although life entails distraction, the point of mindfulness is to control it instead of letting distraction and FOMO control you.
Definition of Mindfulness Meditation
Mindfulness meditation is a simple approach for achieving calm awareness within the present moment; mindfulness is the opposite of distraction. There is absolutely nothing mysterious about mindfulness meditation. It relies on this nature of the mind: without outer or inner distractions, the mind becomes calm, and its capacity for experience expands within present-time reality. (OK, the reason itself is mysterious, but that is another topic outside the scope of a post on FOMO.)
Mindfulness meditation is a nonjudgmental observation or awareness of the object of meditation, which helps a person stay in the present moment. For example, one’s calm; normal breathing is an ordinary object of mindfulness meditation.
Mindfulness meditation is not a religion or, by itself, a form of psychotherapy (because therapy is an active process involving psychological insights and is usually directed by a professional). For an example of how one professional uses a mindful technique in a treatment program, see the section “A Case of Mindfulness Support for Psychotherapy,” below.
Benefits of Mindfulness
Mindfulness meditation can benefit many human endeavors, from athletics, painting, and musicianship to deep thinking of any sort, recovering from surgery, spoken or written communications (including acting), or self-discovery through therapy. Like any of these endeavors, regular mindfulness practice is necessary. Otherwise, the benefits soon fade.
Mindfulness meditation also increases the ability to prevent stress or tolerate stress in typical activities, such as driving in commute traffic. With regular, effective mindfulness practice, the reactions during daily activities of anger, anxiety, or FOMO become choices, not irresistible forces. However, if you become very stressed out, and meditation might be too difficult to do, a period of exercise can better shake off built-up stress before meditation. Being mindful during exercise or yoga increases the benefits of those routines.
In California, some firefighters have begun regular mindfulness practice, yoga, or both of these disciplines to cope with the abnormally high stress experienced when fighting the ferocious, wind-driven California wildfires that have been getting more common.
A surprise benefit I experienced was during one of my favorite exercises: swimming laps. I occasionally test my lung capacity by seeing how far I can swim underwater after one deep inhalation. By staying calm and mindful from the start until the last moment before exhaling, I go much farther underwater on one breath than if I felt anxious about needing air.
Staying in the present is the antithesis of FOMO. Staying present helps people with chronic FOMO to start enjoying what they are doing in the here-and-now instead of obsessing about what they don’t have or worrying about things outside the present moment. As a wise friend told me a decade ago: “If you can do something about a problem, then you don’t have to worry about it. And if you can’t do something about a problem, why worry about it?”
Although simple, mindfulness is like training in other new skills; patience, repetition, and perseverance are essential. Likewise, practicing with other people until discipline and regularity are established usually is helpful for most people. (Imagine trying to learn modern dance from reading a book.) As of this writing, I have not investigated mindfulness apps, but the following group offers Zoomed meditation conducted by worldwide volunteers every hour, on the hour, Monday through Friday: Mindful Leader. It starts with silent meditation (the theme of this blog section) or guided meditation (possible visualization of a nature scene), followed by a period of reflection on a theme for each day of the week (such as gratitude). From what I see, this is entirely non-denominational (not based on any religion), which is in keeping with Presence Global’s policy of not promoting any religion. This organization says it does not track participation (good for the privacy-minded among us).
Mindfulness meditation has one hurdle that other new skills do not bring out: new mindfulness practitioners discover their mind is flooded with endless thoughts. This is common. The untrained mind has always been like this, but it went unnoticed until conscious calm was attempted. After the mind learns to settle down, the next hurdle to avoid is becoming dull, foggy, or spaced out. mindfulness entails alertness.
For most people, early in the day is the best time for meditation because the brain and mind are rested and not yet chasing all its plans and obligations. Therefore, meditation can become your best option for creating a good day, especially after your new lifestyle establishes good quality sleep as a top priority.
A Short Mindfulness Demonstration without Formal Instruction
Give this informal mindfulness experiment a try: With any ordinary daily activity that takes at least five or ten minutes, like washing the dishes or doing the laundry, remain aware of the entire process, start to finish. Notice the muscles you use for this chore, the scent of the soap, and the feeling of soapy liquid between your fingers. Whether you wash slowly or vigorously, stay present with the task. This focus keeps you in the present moment. Instead of multitasking (like listening to the radio or talking) or hurrying with one task to get to the next task—which brings emotional and physiological stress—appreciate what it’s like to stay in the present moment. Just relax, pay attention, observe. That’s all.
A Case of Mindfulness Support for Psychotherapy
Our endorsement of mindfulness meditation does not describe its application for therapy. However, one use of mindfulness is part of an effective treatment for the difficult mental health condition called borderline personality disorder (BPD).
Psychologist Marsha Linehan created a four-pronged course of treatment for BPD she named Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). The first prong in her DBT treatment is a mindfulness practice that she adapted from Zen meditation specifically to help treat BPD. (Her therapeutic mindfulness for BPD is neither Zen philosophy nor meditation.)
Marsha Linehan’s introduction to DBT can be viewed at mindfulness in dialectical behavior therapy. A more detailed description of her mindfulness process in therapy is here: Mindfulness in therapy.
Keep in mind that borderline personality disorder is a serious condition. Self-diagnosing BPD or self-directed treatment with mindfulness meditation is not going to work.
Presence advises everyone to bring their FOMO from overuse of social media and FOMO in general under control and learn to appreciate JOMO.
In addition to FOMO, cyberbullying has also become a big problem on social media platforms. Learn how to help yourself or loved ones who may be battling this experience in our blog post here.
Join the movement #PrivacyFirst #JOMO