Fear of Missing Out (FOMO).


FOMO. Like manflu but more socially acceptable. Photo by Paul Petch.

Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) is the social angst whereby one suffers “a pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent”.

Humans, being physiologically and psychologically engineered to engage in social activity will always feel a tug when they perceive that others in their social group are having a good time when they are unable to. I would suggest that we all have suffered from FOMO at one time or another in our lives. Sitting with feelings of distress, isolation and anxiety can be difficult, however ultimately, I believe that resisting FOMO, or at least sitting with FOMO, leads to us becoming more adaptive, integrated and healthier athletes.

FOMO is the enemy of meaningful progression. FOMO, which is ably abetted by the immediacy and autonomous intimacy of social media, is what can drive us to over-commit, over-compete and put our bodies through increased periods of stress without the necessary time to recover. Our systems become prone to physical injuries, endocrine stress, adrenal fatigue, not to mention the psychological, familial and financial stress that we may incur on our endless quest to never miss out on an experience, a race, or a competition.

The proliferation of ultra distance events in Aotearoa currently offers us more and more opportunity to train to undertake one of these mammoth challenges. The flipside of this has people entering more events and placing their systems under greater load than is wise to maintain good health. I fear that the anxiety that we may miss out on “something epic” has overshadowed our common sense when it comes to entering competition.

Pitting ourselves against others in competition is both integral to our development and an engaging and enjoyable process which in and of itself has many benefits. Delayed gratification, which manifests in consistent training towards a select goal, is one of the main benefits of a pursuit such as running. FOMO erodes our ability to delay gratification, our entry into events may become impulsive, obsessive and even addictive.

FOMO is the enemy of meaningful progression. Paul Petch.

We enter for the thrill of entering and the connection that this brings us with other like minded souls, often through social media. It appears that sometimes the race itself becomes secondary to the entry and social media process. Constantly distracting ourselves with banner events is not sustainable, nor should it be celebrated as a healthy manner to conduct ourselves.

Race, It’s a fantastic experience. Engage in running culture, it’s great to make connections. Strive for your goals and put in hard work to achieve them, but please consider that over-competition due to FOMO is not the way to make healthy, pain-free running a sustainable and adaptive component of your life.

Here are some strategies to use to limit the impact of FOMO

Acceptance is Key: You are not alone in feeling isolated. You won’t be the only person not doing X event. Focus on this fact. Acknowledgement that you are part of a wider group may help your distress.

Be Firm in Your Goals: Have a plan of what you want to achieve and why. Write it down. Feeling the FOMO? Review your goals and reflect. Visualise the negative impact of increased fatigue and potential injury. Likewise visualise your success. If your goal is a lifetime of running, consider how overloading yourself now may impact on you in later life.

FOMO struggle is real! Photo by Paul Petch.

Volunteer/Pace/Spectate: I do not know a single race director that will turn down volunteers. If you simply must attend a race but do not wish to over-compete consider volunteering. You are engaged, your friends will love seeing a familiar face and it is good for both inspiration and delaying gratification. Pacing is a worthwhile experience for those who love longer events, you are contributing meaningfully to someone’s day, you are running and you get to experience part of the course for free. Lastly, turn up to support. It’s fun. Cheer, heckle, high five and have a great time.

Unplug: It’s fun to follow athletes at races with the event apps that are so common, however this can exponentially increase FOMO as you feel you are missing out in real time. Consider checking in at set times during the day then focus on other things. You can relive the experience with your friends after the fact, not live vicariously through them whilst the event is happening.

Przybylski, A. K.; Murayama, K.; DeHaan, C. R. & Gladwell, V. (2013), “Motivational, emotional, and behavioural correlates of fear of missing out.”, Computers in Human Behaviour, 29 (4): 1841–1848, doi:10.1016/j.chb.2013.02.014

Also published at www.jameskuegler.com

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