In 2012, comedian Mindy Kaling nailed the ever-festering fear that has emerged with the ubiquity of social media with the title of her memoir: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?
The truth is, a lot of the time, yes, they are. Unless you’re hanging out with every person you know all the time (which, in a way, is what Facebook is). Now that you have access to your friends’ (highly curated) feeds, you won’t just wonder anymore; you’ll be quite clear on what great party or event you missed out on, or where someone went to brunch, without even thinking of inviting you.
The famed “fear of missing out,” or FOMO, keeps you glued to your phone or tablet, feeds that fear, while turning us all into voyeurs, watching everyone else’s lives go by. (You can see why this isn’t necessarily great for mental health). You may feed into this on the job, too, checking your work email over the weekend, just in case you miss something “big” on a Sunday, even though no one’s at the office at all.
At meQuilibrium we’ve long believed that unplugging from devices, and the dizzyingly busy world they keep you connected to, is crucial for your peace of mind. And according to a recent report here on Huffington Post, trend watchers predict that mindful living — a careful choosing of how, where, and with whom you spend your time — will be a top priority for many people in 2014. But turning off thoughts is a lot harder than switching off your phone. How do you unplug your mind from the fear of missing out all things social or work? Here are three ways to start.
1. Reframe the fear. A few years ago, tech blogger and entrepreneur Anil Dash coined the acronym JOMO: the joy of missing out. Instead of focusing on the many, many events and happenings he couldn’t be part of, he honed in on the pleasure of mindfully choosing from the many options exactly what he wanted to do. And that included staying home with his family, or reading a book.
“Being the one in control of what moves me, what I feel obligated by, and what attachments I have to fleeting experiences is not an authority that I’m willing to concede to the arbitrary whims of an app on my mobile phone,” Dash wrote in a blog post at the time. “I think more and more people are going to retake this agency over their feelings about being social, as well.”
Try this: Flip your focus. Rather than wonder what everyone else is doing on Friday, consider what it is you really want to do. Maybe it’s meet a friend out for Thai food, see a movie, or maybe, just maybe, you don’t feel like doing anything at all. Instead of chastising yourself for not doing “enough,” or worse, posting on Facebook what a loser you are, make the decision for yourself and own it. In fact, if you’re feeling really bold, cancel plans that you don’t want to do, and give yourself what you want most: A night at home.
2. Start sitting still. Meditation must be the most counterintuitive approach to managing crazy-making thoughts. How can sitting still, with those thoughts racing through you, possible help? (And when do I find time?)
Simple meditation practices work because you actually interrupt those thoughts by consciously putting your attention elsewhere — on your breath, on a repeating phrase, on an object. When you do so, you engage your parasympathetic nervous system, which helps you relax, get perspective, and have the presence of mind to draw the boundaries you need. And meditation doesn’t need to take much time; often ten minutes a day is enough to reap the benefits.
Try this: The 60-second breathing exercise is one of my favorite simple meditation practices. On an inhale, fill your lungs fully, hold for a second or so, and then exhale in a relaxed way. Continue for 60 seconds. It’s that simple, and the science behind its effectiveness is sound.
3. Know thyself. Or, get to know thyself. This was good advice when the Ancient Greeks gave it, and it’s good advice now. You can’t choose where to spend energy in your social or work lives unless you know what you value. Yes, you will have to make choices. Some things will go by the wayside and you may not meet everyone’s expectations every time. But an authentic, value-driven choice will give you the confidence to miss out joyfully.
Try this: Reflect on your defining moments. One way to identify your values is to reflect on those moments in in your life that made such an impression on you that they underscored and helped define what it is you care about most. Psychologist Ryan Niemiec, Psy.D., writes for PsychCentral that “bringing a careful attention to the important moments in our lives can help us not only better understand ourselves, but help us realize we can take an active role and impact our life for the better.” Read more on how to use defining moments to understand your core values.
You will never be able to be in all places, with all people. But you can strive to choose to be where you want, when you want, with whom you want. That’s not missing out—that’s the definition of a life well lived.