Most likely. It sure messes with my own process from time to time, but not like it used to.
I decided I needed to do something about it when I began having trouble sleeping. I’d wake up around 4 or 5 am for no reason and I just couldn’t go back to sleep. What kept me up was the whirlwind of thoughts that washed over me.
All the things I didn’t do in time, the challenges I felt unprepared for, my endless to-do lists, the relationships I sincerely wanted to invest more time in – they all created a vortex that sucked in my energy and any chance of relaxing.
Feeling anxious and overwhelmed at 5 am is not the way I wanted my days to start.
So I tried using framing to cope with this. I decided to pick up a book and read when I experienced these insomnia episodes. It helped a bit and sometimes I managed to fall back asleep.
But I was ignoring the bigger, underlying issue: how FOMO (the Fear Of Missing Out) was messing up my sleep and days because I let it.
Training my response to triggers
Taming the urge for instant gratification can be a bigger challenge than expected. However, it’s also easier than expected once you get started.
As a member of the last generation before the Internet, I distinctly remember the sense of freedom and clarity that came with the minimal FOMO I experienced during high school or even college.
I felt bad for missing a movie I wanted to see on TV for 5 minutes and then completely forgot about it. There was no sign of pervasive anxiety because of that because I only rarely felt this.
It hasn’t even been that long since the Internet – and social media especially – have shaped our information-processing habits by pushing all our hot buttons a zillion times a day.
So what did I actually do about it?
1. Acknowledge the problem
I read The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains to gain a deeper understanding of what the issue is. As it turns out, FOMO can alter our brain’s physical structure so that it responds faster to emotional triggers.
The book depicts how this happens and how it screws up our brain, turning it into a shallow pond.
As Nicholas Carr, the author puts it:
“Once I was a scuba diver in a sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.”
I decided I wanted to be the scuba diver, exploring the depths of what life and focus have to offer, even it meant missing out on all the seemingly cool jet skiing.
So I acted on it.
2. Give up (some) social media
The best thing I did in the past years is to uninstall Facebook from my phone and then delete my account. I’d had it on and off throughout 2017 and 2018, but I finally decided to delete it altogether on September 1st 2018 and I never looked back.
The second best thing I did was to uninstall Instagram too and take a break from it for almost 2 years.
In December 2017, I frequently caught myself checking Instagram and mindlessly scrolling. My feed was full of great stuff like cats and puppies, books and amazing places, but it still felt like a huge waste of time (because it was). It also fuelled my toxic tendency to compare myself to others, which was a mental and emotional burden I didn’t want.
So I set my Instagram account to private and forgot about it. It was such a great thing!
I’ve come back to it after almost 2 years, unfollowed almost everyone, and limited my time spent on it to 10 minutes/day. I’m now in a much better place that allows me to control how I use social media based on a deeper understanding of my own needs and goals (from personal growth to just having some fun laughing at silly corgis).
Mind you, I haven’t given up social media altogether. I still love using Twitter (@ me anytime!) and check LinkedIn daily. On the plus side, I’ve automated some of my posts by using Buffer so I can focus on building meaningful relationships instead.
My mind has been a lot more peaceful since I’ve done this and my FOMO has died down considerably since then. And, honestly, I don’t miss any of it as much as to want it back. No, not even the cats and puppies. I have more time for my own fluffball.
3. Practice delayed gratification
Curing or at least minimizing FOMO is a great way to strengthen the decision-making muscle. Resisting temptation takes a conscious choice to give up immediate rewards in favor of long-term gratification.
“Specifically, when these children became adolescents, their parents rated them as more academically and socially competent, verbally fluent, rational, attentive, planful, and able to deal well with frustration and stress.”
Who doesn’t want that? The next time you’re dealing with FOMO, ask yourself what you’re looking to achieve and if getting what you (think) you want on the spot is the better deal.
This exercise has worked for me and continues to do so on a daily basis.
4. Have an untouchable day
This is the next step for me: to set a day during the weekend where I don’t touch any social media channel, not check my emails, not work on anything specific.
I ran into the idea in an article that talks about planning untouchable days for deeply immersing yourself into practicing your craft.
My take on it may be a bit different, but I truly believe it would make a huge difference in my life.
I’ve decided to start small:
- get up on Sunday morning with Wi-fi and the data connection on my phone cut off
- ditch all the devices for at least half a day to start with (maybe turn off the router and give it a much-deserved break)
- practice mindfulness and focus on what’s going on around me without thinking 5 steps ahead.
Can I just hit pause on everything for at least half a day?
I really think it’s doable, especially now that I’ve incorporated daily journaling and reading before I do anything else in the morning. My mind is clearer, calmer, and more focused already. Now it’s a matter of slowly and steadily layering more healthy habits on top of that.
Kicking FOMO out of your life
When you don’t make decisions as a response to outside triggers and when you don’t let the need for instant gratification to cloud your judgment, your choices improve.
If you’ve ever experienced the same anxiety, here are two guides you can use right now: one for work and one for, well, life. The second one is really great and I’ve used many of the tools and tactics included in it.
Plus, as it turns out, knowing too little of what’s going on in the media or on the Internet won’t kill you. This guy is proof.
Put your phone down after you read this* and enjoy the day!
*Heck, why just not read it at all and just enjoy the day? I’m rooting for you here!
P.S. This was originally sent on April 28th, 2018 (with minor updates added to reflect my current habits).
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