How to Deal With FOMO—Fear of Missing Out

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Algorithms to Live By" by Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

Like this article? Sign up for a free trial here .

Why do so many people suffer from FOMO? What do you think causes FOMO?

Information overload and “fear of missing out” may rank among the biggest contributors to chronic indecision. In their book Algorithms to Live By, Christian and Griffiths compare FOMO to a modem bufferbloat that slows down internet connection. Like their home modems, people who suffer from FOMO feel as if they have to do everything that’s expected of them and assume that there’s something wrong with rejecting a good opportunity.

Here is how to deal with FOMO by adopting the mindset of JOMO (the joy of missing out).

The Fear of Missing Out

People who suffer from FOMO feel as if they have to do everything that’s expectedd of them and assume that there’s something wrong with rejecting a good opportunity. As a consequence, they “buffer” everything into their to-do lists to attend to in the future. The result is an endless “bufferbloat” of tasks and events that make them feel increasingly more overwhelmed.

Christian and Griffiths describe one recent fiasco in the field of computer science: an unexpected phenomenon called “bufferbloat.” If you have fast Internet that still suffers from inexplicable latency and unreliability, bufferbloat is likely the culprit.

Christian and Griffiths explain that your home modem has what’s called a buffer—a short queue of received data that it accepts but waits before responding to. This helps it smooth out intense bursts of data without slowing down.

However, if your modem’s buffer is too big—if its “to-do list” is too long and grows too fast to ever get finished—the ACKs your computer sends to web servers through the modem take an extremely long time to get delivered, causing your download speed to plummet. Essentially, bufferbloat makes your modem tell your computer that it can handle far more information than it really can, causing your computer to send too much data, clogging up the connection between itself and the Internet.

The authors assert that to fix bufferbloat, your modem should not be sending ACKs back to your computer. It needs to entirely reject some of your computer’s data, signaling it to slow down and allow the modem to clear its backlog of tasks.

Christian and Griffiths argue that many people suffer from a version of bufferbloat in real life, too. Recent communication technology has increased humans’ ability to buffer each other. Emails can pile up in a never-ending queue, as can DMs on Instagram and Twitter. Instead of simply allowing messages from others to slip through the cracks, we add them to a never-ending to-do list. Similarly, we frequently buffer news and entertainment—there’s no excuse for not staying up to date on the latest controversies and TV shows, as they’re always asynchronously available. It’s easy to become overwhelmed, trying and failing to catch up on everything you’ve saved for later.

Christian and Griffiths argue that you can use the same solution as home modems to protect yourself from bufferbloat—just say no. Shrink your buffer down to only the most essential tasks. It’s better to completely reject the unimportant than to drown in it, no longer able to devote the time and energy to what you really care about.

The Joy of Missing Out

Real-life bufferbloat is arguably one of the leading causes of “FOMO”—the “Fear Of Missing Out” on the exciting events we see happening on social media. Like their home modems, people who suffer from FOMO feel as if they have to do everything that’s expected of them and assume that there’s something wrong with rejecting a good opportunity. Often, they end up spending too much time on social media, as the rush of endless interaction creates the illusion that you’re living the maximum amount of life.

The healthier mindset is to try and cultivate “JOMO”—the “Joy Of Missing Out.”  Following Christian and Griffiths’s advice and rejecting opportunities instead of buffering them doesn’t have to be a mere sacrifice for your health, like brushing your teeth. Instead, every missed opportunity has the potential to be a source of joy. Here is how to deal with FOMO by adopting the mindset of JOMO:

Commit to fewer things and invest in them more deeply. If you try to be friends with everyone, you’ll end up without a single true, deep friendship. In this way, many of the most meaningful things in life can only be gained by saying “no” to everything else. If you try to avoid missing out on anything, you’ll ironically end up missing out on the valuable life experiences that are impossible to post on Instagram. Staying home from a concert to spend time reading to your kids may seem like you’re trading the extraordinary for the ordinary, but many would argue that a deep, loving parent-child relationship built up over years is the most extraordinary experience possible.

Intentionally choose how you want to spend your time. The act of intentionally choosing how you want to spend your time is inherently satisfying, no matter what you end up doing. Saying “no” to an invitation reinforces the feeling that you’re in charge of your own destiny. Compare this to the alternative—going to a party because you feel like you have to. This is a recipe for feelings of helplessness and resentment.

Sympathetic, vicarious joy can be a great feeling. When you hear about an opportunity you’re missing out on, instead of feeling anxiety or pressure to get out and do more, try to feel empathetic joy for those out having a good time. Happiness isn’t a zero-sum game—if you’re missing a fun event for something you’d rather be doing instead, you and those at the event both win. Try to feel gratitude for the net positive of happiness in the world instead of worrying if others are happier than you.

How to Deal With FOMO—Fear of Missing Out

———End of Preview———

Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths's "Algorithms to Live By" at Shortform .

Here's what you'll find in our full Algorithms to Live By summary :

  • How to schedule your to-do list like a computer
  • Why making random decisions is sometimes the smartest thing to do
  • Why you should reject the first 37% of positions in your job search

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.