Sunday, July 3, 2022

The Demon's Name is FOMO

Nuns fret not at their convent’s narrow room;

And hermits are contented with their cells;

And students with their pensive citadels;

Maids at the wheel, the weaver at his loom,

Sit blithe and happy; bees that soar for bloom,

High as the highest Peak of Furness-fells,

Will murmur by the hour in foxglove bells:

In truth the prison, into which we doom

Ourselves, no prison is: and hence for me,

In sundry moods, ’twas pastime to be bound

Within the Sonnet’s scanty plot of ground;

Pleased if some Souls (for such there needs must be)

Who have felt the weight of too much liberty,

Should find brief solace there, as I have found.

        --William Wordsworth

    Have you ever felt "the weight of too much liberty"? It's a paradox, but I suspect that in our modern culture, it's a really familiar one. Having lots of choices available is only a good thing if we are actually willing to make a choice. The trouble is that a choice is always between two options: "yes" to this means "no" to that. And unless the preference is very, very obvious, we are mostly so crazy unwilling to say "no" to anything that we never say "yes" either. It's ironic, isn't it? FOMO, the Fear Of Missing Out, does not save us from missing out -- it causes us to miss out. 

    You know I take a lot of inspiration from the Desert Fathers (and Mothers), the Christian monks and nuns of 4th-century Egypt. There is a whole lot in common between their teaching on peace through asceticism and what I am learning about life-coaching. And also, Buddhist mindfulness meditation, and Greek Stoic philosophy, and Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy. It's all about paying attention to our thoughts, recognizing and challenging the fallacies that promise to make us feel good but end up making us feel worse instead. The Desert Fathers & Mothers sometimes called these thought distortions "demons." Fear Of Missing Out is a demon. It tempts us into unhappiness with a promise of happiness.

    So, how to exorcise the demon FOMO? How to choose? What kinds of choices is it important to make? Should I start with getting in the habit of making small choices daily, or go straight to the big questions in my life? How do I know which choice is right? We are not taught how to choose, we're taught we can have it all, which is really just a canny way of selling us more stuff than we want, need, or can afford. But I've begun to learn to exorcise FOMO, and it is making a huge difference in my overall happiness.

    First of all, there is not always a right answer and a wrong answer. Most decisions are morally neutral. I mean, chocolate or vanilla is a simple preference, right? But I can sit down in a restaurant, pick up the menu, and my mind just goes blank looking at all the options. There's no wrong answer -- just pick one. 

    Often, there are trade-offs, and I get bogged down in the fantasy that somewhere in the situation there must be a choice without a down side. Or my mind only sees the immediate reward or cost, and blanks out the future cost or reward. There are trade-offs, and pretending there are not doesn't work. It backfires. I get to be a grown-up woman and put up with the down sides, even grieve for the option not chosen, and still joyfully commit to the one I chose.

    Sometimes, I don't want to choose because I'm not sure how it will turn out. I think that if I choose a course of action, and fail, or struggle at it, or it's not what I hoped for, then it was the wrong choice. Not true. Sometimes I just can't have enough information to make the best choice until I have tried some things in real life. That's not a failure, it's information. So go ahead, choose something to try.

    And that's another thing: most decisions are not lifetime commitments. In most cases, I can change my mind later on, and that is not a problem. I mean, you don't get to change your mind about having children when they hit the terrible twos, or the terrible teens. But you can major in philosophy in undergrad, and then turn around and get a graduate degree in engineering, or go off and become a professional photographer or a social worker or whatever you want. And/or, I should say. Changing course is not a failure, it's just another choice.

    A lot of us (especially those of us with ADHD) hesitate to jump into new things, because we lose interest halfway through, we've always been better at starting than finishing. And maybe we lack practical skills, we don't know how to turn our ideas into reality. And we think that's bad. It's not bad. It's fine. There are other people out there who get their satisfaction from making an idea into reality, if they could just come up with some worthwhile ideas. No one of us gets to have all the skills and talents, we need each other. Lean into your own strengths, and partner with people who complement them. If you force yourself to finish what you started, you deprive the world of your gift, which is coming up with the next great idea.

    The most important thing is the Big Picture of your life and vocation. What do you want to do, how do you want to do it, and why do you want to do it? What do you struggle at, what makes you angry, what makes you dread your day job? What do you do for fun, that another person would call work? What are your daydreams about? You want all the money in the world? Yes, of course, but why? What would you do if money were no object? If money were no object, I would have a comfortable little house in the middle of 1,000 acres of rolling hills, a river, a mix of ecosystems. If money were no object, my brother would have a comfortable big apartment in a cosmopolitan city with all the shops and services at hand and easy access to a good subway system. YOUR vision is unique, and it is worth everything to take the time to explore it.

    The Big Picture, the overall vision for what you want your life to be like, then becomes the measure against which all smaller choices are made. Does this choice lead me toward the life I want, or away from it? It's no longer about whether I feel like doing x, y, or z. It's not about being in the mood to do this or that. Then ascetical, stoical, mindful living becomes much easier. And my life moves closer and closer to the life that I am uniquely called to. 

spinning out to distraction
choose: tranquility

††† PEACE †††

1 comment:

  1. I never heard that procrastination- unable/unwilling to make a choice framed as FOMO. But that is really helpful and a whole new way to think and act positively in every day life !!
    Thank you sister!