Fear Of Missing Out

"I'll Have What She's Having!"

We follow the herd - and often without realizing it - we mimic other people's choices.

Fear Of Missing Out - "I'll Have What She's Having!" We follow the herd - and often without realizing it - we mimic other people's choices. Graphic of frazzled woman trying to do too much.

What Is Fear Of Missing Out - FOMO?

Fear of missing out - or FOMO as it is popularly referred to - is the feeling that everyone else in your peer group is having much more fun than you are.

FOMO is an emotional response of envy, jealousy, inadequacy and at root a deep seated insecurity reflecting fragile self-esteem.

The phrase "fear of missing out" is attributed to marketing strategist Dr. Dan Herman, who coined the phrase in a 1996 research paper. In 2004 author Patrick J. McGinnis re-framed it as "FOMO" in an article in the house magazine of Harvard Business School.

With the emergence and proliferation of social media over the past 20 years the fear of missing out has become more noted, discussed and researched, especially in the context of mental health.

Life lived through the lens of a smartphone

Life lived through the lens of a smartphone

This extensive use of social media has not only accelerated the prevalence of the fear of missing out, it has made it worse in a number of ways:

  • Unrealistic comparisons - where you are evaluating and contrasting your everyday life with the carefully curated highlights of other people's lives which can lead to a biased and distorted sense of "normal".
  • Competitive bragging - the social media platforms present you with these carefully curated highlights from people who compete to present the idealised and picture-perfect representation of their lives.
  • Everything is experienced through the lens of a smartphone -if you haven't recorded it on social media it has happened. You lose the sense of being present and in the moment in your phobic quest to get the perfect selfie.

    How much I missed, simply because I was afraid of missing it.

    [Paulo Coelho]

Personal experiences

Naturally I have a smartphone, and I use various social media for personal and business use.

When I am out with my daughter, I am quite good at selecting photo-opportunities for her to take a good selfie - in fact I often end up taking the pics for her!

But it wasn't until a few years ago, when I was in Singapore entertaining a group of Vietnamese young people, that I really understood what it meant to live life through the lens of a mobile phone.

These 3 young people were relatives of a friend of mine. Over the course of a long day I took them to see all the major sites and attractions at Marina Bay.

But all day they were continuously taking selfies. They paid no attention and showed zero interest in all the amazing things around them. Their sole focus was on lining up photo-opportunities for yet another selfie to be posted in real-time to Facebook or Instagram every hour.

I accept the generational differences, and as I have said, I use social media. But, this was something else!

Social media, young people and mental health

There is a growing evidence base that suggests that young people are experiencing a detrimental impact on their mental health as a result of intensive use of social media leading to what is increasing seen as "social media addiction".

The Centre For Mental Health have published a briefing paper to identify key themes in what is known about the impact of social media and the impact this can have on young people’s well-being, and the ways in which social media can be harnessed positively:

Social media, young people and mental health.

    I dropped the comparison game. Behind closed doors everyone carries a dark secret or a deep sadness - everyone suffers...no-one has the perfect life!

Unpacking Our Fear Of Missing Out

In my experience, our fear of missing out is one aspect of more complex behavioural patterns that are rooted in evolutionary psychology.

In my view there are 3 clear strands to this, and I propose these as a working framework to attempt to understand these impulses and suggest ways of dealing with them.

[1] Herd Mentality

Herd Mentality

Herd mentality is hardwired within our brains and this is evidenced in recent research.

This kicks in when we make decisions based on what everyone else is thinking and doing.

Herd mentality finds popular expression in the fear of missing out.

There are contexts where going along with the herd mentality can be useful, but more typically its an instinct to belong and to conform. This is all part of our stone age "pack mentality" when this was a necessary survival skill.

For a wider assessment of herd mentality and its impact on our impulses and behaviours, and some personal experiences, illustrations  and research please see:

Herd Mentality And How To Avoid It

[2] Social Comparison

Social Comparison

Here in the UK where I am based at time of writing, this used to be called "Keeping up with the Jones" [not to be confused with the US "Keeping up with the Kardashians"].

Social comparison is another hard wired instinct for fitting in and belonging, and establishing our social status - finding out where we fit into the group hierarchy. 

It is a natural human behavior for people to compare themselves to others in their wider peer group.

This instinct has evolved to foster social cohesion, personal learning, development and growth.

Social comparison comes in many different forms

Wherever people are gathered together, we have a natural tendency to compare ourselves and inevitably a hierarchy emerges - whether formal or unspoken.

Societies and clubs have elected officers. Members who excel in service to the club are given awards and as in "Animal Farm" some people are more equal than everyone else, and of course everyone knows who they are.

Mothers’ groups meet and their babies’ are compared and milestones in their growth and development are noted discussed and compared. As well as being an integral aspect of the social dynamic it offers the Mothers a measure of their own competency in their role and function as a Mother.

The theory of social comparison

"Social Comparison Theory" was first postulated in 1954 by psychologist Leon Festinger and as the name suggests it describes how people assess their own social and personal worth in relation to how they compare against other.

Subsequent research has shown that people who compare themselves regularly with others can find this motivational and a spur to personal development.

However the research has also shown that these self-comparisons with others can cause deep feelings of dissatisfaction, guilt, or remorse, and can lead to people to engaging in unhelpful and destructive behaviours such as lying or eating disorders.

The key determinant in how people will respond and react to social comparison is self esteem.

Unsurprisingly, people who have higher self-esteem tend to fare better with social comparisons.

[3] Self Esteem

Self Esteem

Self esteem is the product of the more developed parts of the human brain that facilitate self awareness and associated capabilities.

We can think of it as part of our internal software.

Self esteem is based on value. It is all about self worth and self respect. Your self esteem is grounded in how you value and respect yourself.

This is all about who you think you are and, in maturity, who you know you are.

I have shared my experiences together with other resources here:

6 Tips On How To Build Self Esteem

    Hope and fear come from feeling that we lack something; they come from a sense of poverty.

    We can’t simply relax with ourselves.

    We hold on to hope, and hope robs us of the present moment.

    We feel that someone else knows what's going on, but that there's something missing in us, and therefore something is lacking in our world.

    [Pema Chödrön]

Further Reading:

Bad News Addiction – Why Do We Do It & How to Stop

Doomscrolling – The New Drug of the 21st Century

Resource for readers who are students:

How to Deal with FOMO in College [+Turn It into JOMO]

Next Article:

Finish What You Start - Action Will Destroy Your Procrastination

Return from "Fear Of Missing Out" to: Walking The Talk

Contact me

English Chinese (Traditional) Russian French German Italian Spanish Vietnamese


  1. The Transformative Power Of Acceptance

    Experience The Power Of Acceptance. This website contains about 500,000 words. You could read every single word and it wouldn't make any real difference to you. You might become better informed, but t…

    Read More

  2. Inversion - The Power Of Opposite Thinking

    How To Avoid The Unwanted Outcome. The power of opposite thinking, also known as inversion, lies in its ability to stimulate creativity, enhance problem-solving, and provide a fresh perspective on cha…

    Read More

  3. Are You Aligned With Reality? Or Do You See What You Believe?

    We tend to see that which aligns with what we believe, and to act upon that rather than acting on reality. Being aligned with reality starts with a clear and accurate understanding of the world. It me…

    Read More

  4. The Law Of Response and Outcome

    A New Approach To A New Life At time of writing we are entering a new year which is traditionally a time of making resolutions to change our behaviour and improve the quality of our lives. And yet pow…

    Read More

  5. Clear Thinking - Turning Ordinary Moments Into Extraordinary Results

    There are two ways to handle the world - try to predict, or try to prepare. "Clear Thinking" by Shane Parrish, published in Oct 2023, is a laudable testament to the art of cogent thinking, and will be…

    Read More

  6. Self Dialogue - Working With Your Many Selves

    Self Dialogue Is About Working With ALL Levels Of Your Mind. The key to effective self dialogue is to have tools, techniques and resources that work with all levels of your mind. This simple self-faci…

    Read More

  7. The Balanced Brain - The Ultimate Route To Personal Transformation

    How To Experience The Benefits Of A Balanced Brain. Underpinning all of the belief systems and practices that offer routes to personal change, transformation and spiritual growth is the balanced brain…

    Read More

  8. How To Make Better Decisions - By Avoiding The Narrative Trap

    To Understand The Truth We Have To See The Whole Picture. One of the best ways to make better decisions is to have a deeper understanding of the many things that might stop that happening. To understa…

    Read More

  9. The Greatest Love - The Most Important Relationship You Will Ever Have

    Yet Most Will Never Know It Everyone of us has a place, in our hearts there's a space, that is home to the greatest love of all. This love transcends everything we think we know about the world of for…

    Read More

  10. Everything Is Connected And Why You Don't Feel It

    ...And Why It Matters As human beings we are skating on very thin ice with our sense of self and certainty about "how things are" and what we like to think of as reality:

    - What if everything we think…

    Read More

  11. Who Is In Charge Of Your Brain?

    How Not To Be Stupid. Who is in charge of your brain? This is not a silly questions. It matters because the outcomes that you experience in your life are determined by how you respond to the events th…

    Read More

  12. How To Be A Winner On A Very Large Scale

    The Incredible Benefits Of Selective Attention. This is not a typical article about how to be a winner. We are not going to talk about goal setting, the importance of habits, the power of focus and al…

    Read More

  13. The Metagame Approach To Life

    How To Achieve Your Biggest Objectives. The metagame approach to life is all about winning and achieving your biggest objectives by: - Understanding the bigger picture
    - Being better by doing things d…

    Read More

  14. Shantideva - The Way Of The Bodhisattva

    Walking The Path Of Compassion. Shantideva the 8th century Indian Buddhist sage is famous for his treatise "The Way of the Bodhisattva" delivered as an extended teaching to the monks of Nalanda monast…

    Read More

  15. Reframing History - Deconstruction And Discussion Not Destruction

    History is always about context, not imposing our own moral values on the past. For those of us fortunate enough to live within western democracies, we are living in an age where a vociferous and into…

    Read More

  16. Tao Te Ching - Connecting To Your True Source Of Power.

    How To Be Lived By The Tao. The Tao Te Ching is one of those books that many people read, few understand, and even fewer put into practice. The only way to know the Tao is to experience it, and it is…

    Read More

  17. How Things Really Are - The Inbuilt Design Flaws

    Chaos, Disorder And Decay Is The Natural Order Of Things. Nobody has the perfect life. We all struggle and strive to attain health, wealth and personal happiness. Yet these three big areas: our health…

    Read More

  18. Intuition Or Anxiety - Are There Angels Or Devils Crawling Here?

    How To Tell The Difference Between Intuition and Anxiety. How do you know whether the voice of your intuition is real or just the product of your inner anxiety? Several months ago I was having a drink…

    Read More

  19. What Is Truth - How To Tell A Partial Truth From The Whole Truth?

    How the truth and nothing but the truth is often not the whole truth. My great aunty Flo broke her arm and died. It is true that she broke her arm in 1923. It is also true that she died in 1949. But t…

    Read More

  20. Duality And Life Beyond Your Thinking Mind

    Duality and life beyond your thinking mind focuses on the limitations of time, foreground and background, duality and "stuckness". The first aspect of duality and life beyond your thinking mind focuse…

    Read More

  21. The Conscious Mind Is Limited - Be Aware And Be Prepared

    Being aware is the first stage of being prepared. The conscious mind is limited in so many ways. There are some who would argue that there is no such thing as conscious thought and that it is represen…

    Read More

  22. Your Inner Map Of Reality - Here's Why You Think The Way You Do

    The big picture of how your inner map of reality creates your feelings, thoughts, and behaviours. Your inner map of reality is based on the filters of your own ethnic, national, social, family and rel…

    Read More

  23. The Failure Of Cancel Culture - Suppression Not Engagement

    Why we need to wear our beliefs lightly and develop negative capability. Throughout history people have campaigned to fight beliefs, ideologies, and injustices that they perceived to be oppressive, di…

    Read More

  24. 4 Big Reasons Why We Get Stuck In Our Attempts At Personal Change

    Most People Spend Their Entire Life Imprisoned Within The Confines Of Their Own Thoughts. This first of the 4 big reasons why we get stuck is, in my view, the most important. The "self-help industry…

    Read More

  25. How Do I Change And Why Is It So Hard?

    We Would Rather Die Than Change, And We Usually Do In my experience, the vast majority of people who say they want to change don’t change. Most people reading this won’t change because they don’t real…

    Read More

  26. The Illusion Of A Separate Self - Windows 11 With Self Awareness!

    Beyond the content of your mind you are so much more than you think you are. When we talk of "myself" this is the conventional way of referring to our self image which is in fact the ego's constructio…

    Read More

  27. Finite And Infinite Games - Dazed, Confused & Ultimately Transcendent

    This is not an instruction manual, it is a wake up call! Over this past week I have read Professor James Carse's highly regarded "Finite And Infinite Games - A Vision Of Life As Play And Possibility"

    Read More

  28. The Gap And The Gain - How Your Brain Sabotages Your Happiness

    How Your Lizard Brain Sabotages Your Happiness We are hardwired to measure our progress in any and all areas of life where we have goals and aspirations. We can't not do it. But what we measure and ho…

    Read More

  29. How To Wake Up - 4 Simple Practices To Help You Wake Up Now

    So What Exactly Does It Mean to Wake Up - What Is "Enlightenment"? There is nothing magical, mystical or mysterious about waking up we’re actually having glimpses of enlightenment all the time. Enligh…

    Read More

  30. Situational Communication - Different Strokes For Different Folks

    Situational communication is about taking account of 3 often ignored factors about the other person. You are a situational communicator when you recognise that effective communication is not an event…

    Read More

Get new posts by email:


Support This Site