19 February 2020
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Do you suffer from FoMo?

Have you ever noticed that people under 40 seem to be constantly ‘wired’ to the point that their souped-up states could have long-run negative health effects? My son says it’s not just this age group and to some extent I agree because everywhere you go, people of all ages seem to be constantly on their phones or hooked up to some device.

I mix regularly with other employers and business owners and their feedback reveals that many of their staff find it hard to concentrate. They walk into the office ‘wired’, they’re constantly texting, with their mobiles at hand all day (even if office policy asks for them to be kept in their bags during working hours) and they even wear headsets while working, presumably listening to music or podcasts. And even though using Facebook/Twitter/Instagram during working hours is a no go zone, they seem compelled to regularly log in to catch up with their thousands of friends to check out their activities or show others the sandwich they’re about to eat.

Another business owner friend recently said that a staff member described themself as a jack-of-all-trades, master of none. My friend commented: “It’s no wonder. They want to be involved or across everything because they have a fear of missing out. They’re constantly checking Facebook/Instagram. They’re repetitively texting, as if there are emergencies by the minute. And most of these ‘friends’ they hardly even know. It’s crazy how they just can’t operate in the moment and on their own.

Commonly called FOMO (fear of missing out), this social anxiety is pervasive among this over connected world. In 2013, the word “FOMO” was added to the Oxford Dictionary to describe an anxious feeling that can arise when you feel there’s a more exciting prospect happening elsewhere and you’re not there to experience it. And smart phones and social media feed this disorder.

Now I’m not even going to pretend to be a psychologist but commonsense tells me that for sanity’s sake, those who are constantly wired need to do a few simple things. The first one is easy: switch off their phones. I’m sometimes staggered that Telstra’s share price isn’t through the roof because everywhere you go, you see people walking around with a phone that looks like it’s an extension of themselves. In the workplace, constant use of phones is not only a productivity and concentration problem, it’s damn well annoying. A friend told me that he’d asked his employees not to bring their mobile phones into meetings because of the lack of focus resulting from people checking them. One bright spark thought this was archaic and so restrictive on their freedom, and said this to my friend, while simultaneously texting!

What the hell is going on?

In this world of instant response, social media has a lot to blame for this lack of concentration: the tweets, the Instagrams, the repetitive, irrelevant Facebook messages from people you hardly know or have no real attachment to but with whom you must constantly compare their day’s activities to yours. And how disappointing when you’re stuck at work in the middle of a cold dark winter watching these people brag about their fun-packed days in the sun on Mykonos. No wonder the anxiety virus spreads.

The FOMO addict needs help. And over connectedness– at least in the workplace — has to stop. Psychology Today lists 10 ways to overcome FOMO and here’s one of them: Do one thing at a time. “Since the 1990s, psychologists have conducted experiments on the limits of multitasking, and the studies are conclusive: Subjects exhibited severe interference when asked to perform even very simple tasks simultaneously. When people attempt to apply themselves to too many tasks at a time, they are usually not successful. When they are focused on a single task, and give their full attention to it, not only are they likely to be successful in producing a high quality result, but their level of satisfaction while performing the task is much higher.”

And for the jack-of-all-trades mentioned above, here’s a tip: Advancement in one’s career comes about from specialisation – understanding that there’s a need to be a master of things that make you stand out.

If this ‘wired’ state of being continues, one thing’s for sure: psychologists and psychiatrists are going to be inundated with work, not too far down the track.

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