Your Fear of Missing out Just Might be Causing you to Miss Out.

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By Dr. Allison Belger

I spent this past week in Disneyland with my family.  We don’t vacation often, but when we do, I usually try to get in as many workouts as I can—not because I’m doing any serious training, but because I know I am a better person when I exercise, and I enjoy my vacation far more when I keep up with the endorphin production.   Despite my ongoing drive to move my body, there is typically a moment when I start my internal discussion about how necessary it really is for me to work out while away, and how nice it might be to rest completely.  The voices on both sides of the ‘argument’ always make great points.  This is a process I avoid completely when I’m in my routine at home; working out is pretty automatic for me, so the dialogue rarely kicks in except when I’m away.  I believe that people are either inherent exercisers or they’re not; some individuals have to force themselves to be consistent, and for others—like me—it’s almost like breathing and eating.

While negotiating with myself about one final hotel workout yesterday morning, I got to thinking about what makes people train when they are sick and not feeling up to it, or are not scheduled to do so.  I started thinking about people I know who are unable to hear about other people’s training and workouts without feeling the need to train themselves.  These are athletes who are compelled to match the personal bests of others, even on a day when they are supposed to be recovering.  These are individuals who read about workout sessions going on at their gym and must join in, despite a planned rest day, or a head cold, or an extremely busy schedule. These are athletes who can’t stand to hear about their team’s training session if they were unable to attend, so they cram in a workout at night to be sure they don’t get left behind.

Ever hear of FOMO?  It stands for Fear of Missing Out.  It’s a social phenomenon of sorts that has exploded with the proliferation of social media in our culture.  Fear of Missing Out is a type of anxiety that one experiences when not involved in some kind of social outing or event; it is the discomfort caused by not being part of an opportunity that we think others are enjoying.  With Facebook posts, Twitter Feeds, Instagram photos, and other streams of happy faces doing extra-fun and super-amazing things, onlookers have endless reasons to feel they are missing out. Much like my sense that people are either natural exercisers or not, my gut feeling about FOMO has always been that people are either wired to have lots of FOMO or not.   There are recent studies exploring some psychological correlates of FOMO, but I’m not going to delve into that research here.  I’m on vacation, after all!

I’ve often thought about the compelling pull to be a part of a social event; the wonder of unknown happenings with so much seductive power has puzzled me since middle school.  It seems that when we succumb to FOMO, we allow that fear of missing something to prevent our full engagement in what we are doing in the moment, making it unlikely that we will enjoy or benefit from our current activity. If our gut says that being at home with a good book is desirable, then why question this choice simply because we discover that someone else is partying?  If we have a family commitment that will allow us to connect with our loved ones, then why intrude on that gift simply because some friends are at a bar posting cute photos on our social media channels?   Maybe we are snuggled up with hot cocoa and that book because we are feeling stressed and know it’s time to take care of ourselves. Until, of course, we get a text from a friend saying she is getting together with a running group to do a favorite trail run.

Athletes hear it all the time now: rest and recovery are as important to your success in your sport and to your long-term health and wellness as is your training. But when training Fear Of Missing Out kicks in, many will question whether today should actually be a day of rest.  Athlete FOMO also seems to occur in the context of missing out on “THE” way to train or “THE” best coaching method, or “THE” best programming approach.  Individuals can be so busy searching for the latest fad in training that they compromise their focus in their current workouts and never get out of them what they had hoped to accomplish.  The dangers of FOMO may be especially prevalent for those engaged in the relatively new sport of CrossFit.  Despite the frenzy for finding just the right individualized program, training route or theoretical approach, CrossFit athletes who have had consistent success on the competitive playing field will tell you over and over that hard work, consistency, and full immersion in your training is key.  There is no magic ticket, and you’re not missing out on some secret path.

Indeed, there is no “Right Way” to train for any sport, and the bottom line is, and always will be, that full engagement in what you are doing is far more important than searching for the perfect training scheme as seen on Facebook or Instagram or even your favorite blog. Greater success might be attainable if only you could buckle down and focus, free from that wandering eye of FOMO that tricks you into thinking you’re missing out on something better.

My father, a physician whose specialty is infectious disease, talks about the FOMO he experienced as a young resident.  There was an allure about caring for a critically ill patient at three in the morning.  If you had finally gone home from the hospital but thought that this kind of excitement was happening without you, you could lie awake missing precious minutes of sleep, feeling that you’d missed out on The Big Case that night.

In the end, all kinds of FOMO can be self-defeating. As we engage our psychological and emotional resources in wondering what is so exceptional outside the doors of our domain (or with the typical “grass is always greener” syndrome), we ensure that we cannot possibly be fully present where we actually are.   We guarantee that we won’t take in completely the smell of our mom’s home-baked bread, or absorb our kids’ jokes, or respond to our best friend’s sadness, or take the time to reflect on our own thoughts and dreams.   Perhaps it’s time we rested assured that whatever is going on out there will still be there tomorrow.  And when tomorrow comes, bringing with it the opportunity to participate, let’s hope we do so without checking Twitter updates on our iPhone, yearning to be elsewhere.

**Related articles from the PsychologyWOD archives:

On Living in the Moment:  http://wp.me/p3fbdX-6H

On the Mental Toughness it Takes to Rest and Recover:  http://wp.me/p3fbdX-7u

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Comments

  1. Great article. When people feel as though their life is falling apart if they take a break from their WOD or target activity it may also give pause to consider the presence of obsessive-compulsive features or traits. While total immersion leads to success in whatever the endeavor, it is also healthy to program in rest and recovery in the “total immersion” schedule.

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