Whenever I find my mind wandering and unfavorably comparing what I’m doing, or worse my entire life, to someone else’s a quote from Teddy Roosevelt floats into my head.
I know. It’s odd to rely on the 26th president of the United States for comfort. But Teddy wisely reminds me that:
“Comparison is the thief of joy.”
Granted, Teddy didn’t have to contend with Facebook, Instagram or SnapChat – to name just a few of the social media giants that prompt Fear of Missing Out or FOMO. He wasn’t lured to look at selfies of friends living it up on wild boar hunts in Borneo while he attended to the drudgery of running the nation. But he instinctively knew that losing our focus and fearing what we think we might be missing out on was a trap that could ensnare us in self-loathing, lament and loneliness.
Nowadays, FOMO is an undeniably real phenomenon fostered by social media use and capitalized upon by marketers to sell us everything from Uber rides to watches.
As many as 70 percent of adult Millenials fear missing out on something marvelous happening somewhere they’re not, according to a study from JWT Intelligence Communications. And the rest of us who are either younger and older than Millenials have bouts of FOMO, too.
In case you’re one of the outliers who has never experienced it, FOMO is that niggling anxiety that arises when you feel that something exciting or interesting is happening elsewhere while you’re at home paying bills. It’s that sour feeling in your stomach when you’re on Facebook and see a picture of your friends whooping it up at the bottom of the ski run in Mammoth, Ca. It’s the envy you feel when a colleague texts you a picture of herself on a white sand beach in Bermuda with the tag line: “Wish you were here!”
The reality is that we often serve ourselves a steady diet of FOMO when we mindlessly swipe, click and binge on our devices. American adults spend as much as 11 hours a day on computers, tablets and smart phones, according to the market research group Nielson. The average amount of time spent daily on social media nets out to about two hours, according to Stastista, another market research firm. Much of the time we’re unaware of the FOMO fallout from staring at so many screens. If you feel mildly disgusted after a social media session- a bit as if you’ve eaten an entire bag of sour gummies – blame FOMO.
But don’t be too hard on yourself. Social media giants notoriously designed their platforms to hook into our brain’s reward center and keep us clicking away. Many tech companies are now trying to help us break our bad device habits. Apple, for example, offers a screen time feature that lets you know just how much time you spend on various apps, websites etc.
That’s helpful. But there’s a decidedly less high-tech way to avoid FOMO and that’s by practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness is about paying attention to the present moment, on purpose, without judgment. And in the face of FOMO, it’s a powerful ally. We can use mindfulness to purposefully engage in social media, to notice how it makes us feel and to appreciate everything that’s already in our lives – even the small moments that aren’t Instagram worthy.
Here are three ways to apply mindfulness to your social media use:
Think of Social Media as a Substance: Viewing social media as substance can help us engage with it more mindfully. We all know how we feel after having too many margaritas. And, for most of us, that’s reason enough to use some restraint when drinking. But we often don’t consider using the same sort of restraint while using social media. It might serve us well to do so. Studies show that when we mindlessly engage with social media it can heighten our anxiety and depress us. Being deliberate about our social media use can be the difference between feeling digitally hungover or happily entertained and even more deeply connected to each other.
Pay Attention to Your Body: There’s an expression that says the body doesn’t lie. If we tune in to how we physically feel in any given moment, we often can get a sense of how we’re emotionally fairing. While using social media check in with your body. Does your body feel heavy or drained? Do you notice a sour feeling in your gut or tightness in your chest? If so, investigate the sensations a bit further and see if they’re connected to an emotional state. Do you feel anxious or a bit blue? Over time, such physical check ins can give you a somatic roadmap that quickly directs you to how you’re feeling, letting you know if it’s time to log off or if your time online has been well spent.
Savor the Small and the Good: Few of us will ever post a picture of ourselves having a nice chat with a neighbor or going for a quiet walk alone in the park. But these are often the moments that make us feel good on a daily basis. Sure, a trip to Paris would be nice. But whenever you feel FOMO creeping up on you, stop, take a breath and redirect your attention to the smallest thing you have to be grateful for in the present moment. Right now, for example, the feeling of the keyboard under my fingertips is as pleasant as playing a piano sonata. My chair is comfortable. And, my cat Peter, who is soundly sleeping at my feet, is the picture of peace. You can have Paris. Right now, this moment, in all its plainness is pretty hard to beat.
This blog post first appeared on eMindful.com
Admit it. It’s often difficult to celebrate in the success of others. Sometimes when others succeed – even those close to us – an embarrassing amount of envy can arise within the best of us. This is why in classical mindfulness teachings there’s a practice that cultivates “sympathetic joy” or the ability to delight in the good fortune of others. Sharing in the joy of others not only benefits them, but us as well as. It turns out that our happiness expands in proportion to our ability to care and connect to those around us. One of the best examples I’ve seen recently of shared joy comes courtesy of the UCLA Women’s Gymnastics team and their celebration of teammate Katelyn Ohashi’s exuberant, perfect 10 floor routine. Watch the following video and notice feelings of shared joy arise as you, too, celebrate Ohashi’s success. Watch again and pay particular attention to how Ohashi’s teammates delight in her triumph. Next time you feel envious, think of them.
My next UCLA MapsI class begins on March 14th from 7 pm to 9 pm at Hari’s RIE Studio in Santa Monica. The six-week class series is a wonderful way to begin a mindfulness practice or renew an existing one. Many students repeat the class as it’s a supportive way to continue to deepen and explore their meditation practice. You can sign up on my website under the Classes tab or on UCLA. Bring a friend.
For more information and to register go to: https://kellybarron.com/classes/
To read previous newsletters go to: https://kellybarron.com/blog/