top of page
  • Writer's pictureBrigitte Granger

FOMO: A Surprising Way to Stay Motivated

group of people doing yoga with the words "do something today that your future self with thank you for"

If you're like me, you have a general idea of what you need to do to achieve your goals. Knowledge isn't the problem: staying motivated is.

On my journey of self-improvement, I came across a trick that helped me stay motivated to do what I had to do. It's a little thing called FOMO.

What's FOMO?

For those of you who haven't been blessed (or cursed) with knowledge of millennial vernacular, FOMO stands for the "Fear of Missing Out". First, I must credit the term to Patrick McGinnis (HBS and Georgetown grad, #hoyasaxa), a venture capitalist and author of The 10% Entrepreneur, which is on my reading list. FOMO is feeling apprehensive about being absent for something good (usually a positive experience, such as a social interaction).

The term is particularly relevant in today's connected world, where at any given time you can know where your friends are and see all the things you're missing out on. Before the internet, people didn't know and see every single thing about their friends' lives and the happy occasions they might have missed out on. Not so today. Thus, the birth of FOMO.

Usually FOMO has a bad connotation because it makes us feel bad, possibly depressed, to be missing out on a good opportunity. In fact, a lot of research has found FOMO to be associated with internet addiction and even unhealthy alcohol consumption. Personally, I think that feeling left out is quite a miserable feeling, and that intentionally leaving someone out is one of the cruelest things you can do.

But FOMO, when used responsibly, can actually be motivating too.

woman waiting for friends at a bus stop

How to use FOMO fo' good

Take for example, a fitness class. Let's assume you enjoy at least one thing about this fitness class - it could be the music, the teacher, or the chance to sport your fly new sneakers. Maybe it's just that feeling of being done and feeling really proud that you came. No matter what, try to find something positive about the class.

Now let's say you have every intention of going to said fitness class - until you had a stressful day and all you want to do is crash on your couch and binge Netflix.

At this moment, you are faced with a choice. Netflixing may feel good in the near term, but afterwards you'll feel that twinge of guilt about skipping the workout that would have been good for your physical fitness. How do you fight that urge when the couch is looking so darn comfortable?

Enter FOMO. But instead of waiting until it's too late, use FOMO in that moment of decision-making. Think about those things that you enjoy about your fitness class. Maybe it's seeing your friend or instructor, or maybe it's the rush of endorphins you feel as you leave. Take a moment to really imagine that feeling of the good stuff. Now imagine missing out on it. Imagine if you never got the chance to go to that fitness class and feel those things ever again. Would you miss it?

It's a little dark and twisted, I'll admit, but for me, it's powerful. More and more fitness classes are active on social media and sharing photos of the class. If you can, look at those and think about how you could be in the photos. Feel some urge to be part of that? That's what I like to call FOMOtivation.

woman checking her phone and feeling fomo

The Science Behind FOMO

How can FOMO psychologically motivate us? Looking back through my coursework on behavioral economics sheds light on the relationship between FOMO and behavior.

1. First, the "f" in FOMO stands for fear. Fear is a highly effective motivator. If it weren't for fear, we'd do crazy things like share a burger with lion. We're wired to fear things that put us in danger. So maybe missing out isn't exactly a life-or-death opportunity, but it can certainly hold us back from progress. After all, we have an innate human desire for connectedness, so it's not unreasonable that we'd fear missing being connected with other people.

2. The "missing out" speaks right into the psychological concept of loss aversion. It turns out that people really hate losing stuff. In fact, the pain of losing is considered to be twice as psychologically powerful as gaining. Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky explained this as, “Losses loom larger than corresponding gains.” (If only that were true for weight loss, right?). When we miss something, we have a visceral reaction to it. We feel discomfort, unease, pain, at the prospect of knowing there was an opportunity that is now lost. So, it makes sense that FOMO is so powerful, knowing that we really don't like to miss out on or lose things.

3. FOMO is powerful because it is often visual (thanks, Internet). If we can't see an image of what we're missing, we need to imagine the feeling of what we would be missing in order to be motivated. Through this visualization, we can see what could have been. Many of us are great at visualizing our long term goals, the outcome (for more of a breakdown on goals, check out this article on SMART goal-setting). But strangely, if we just focus on the positive outcome, we become overconfident that we can do it. Instead, try visualizing yourself doing the small, consistent actions it will take to accomplish that goal.

Be strategic

So while FOMO is typically a negative feeling because it makes people feel bad about their lives, you can sprinkle it in for your goals when you need a little motivation. It's one strategy that you can combine with a multitude of others, such as getting an accountabilibuddy, that will bring you one step closer to achieving your goals. Luckily, Supporti is here to bring you the best strategies. Be sure to like us on Twitter so you don't miss out! (get it? #fomo)


Commenting has been turned off.

Subscribe to get new articles straight to your inbox!

Thanks! You're subscribed!

Subscribe to blog
bottom of page