You've heard of "fear of missing out" syndrome, and anyone who's ever suffered from F.O.M.O. knows just how much anxiety it can fill you with. But what about F.O.B.O.? Or "fear of better options?"
While F.O.M.O. will leave you being pulled in a million and one directions and not investing enough in friendships and relationships that'll ultimately make you happy, F.O.B.O. leaves you feeling similarly anxious and uncomfortable but for an entirely different reason.
You can't commit to doing anything because you're constantly worried about making the wrong decision.
Isn't being human fun?
The term was first coined by Patrick McGinnis in this New York Times article. He's also the man behind naming "F.O.M.O." He spoke with Times writer Tim Herrera about combating this phenomenon that affects so many people, and how he came to study this widespread pattern of human behavior.
"F.O.B.O., the sister term of F.O.M.O., came out of my experience as a student at Harvard Business School. I noticed that my classmates and I were always optimizing. We hedged, lived in a world of maybes and were paralyzed at the prospect of actually committing to something, out of fear that we might be choosing something that wasn’t the absolutely perfect option."
As McGinnis states, F.O.B.O. is a consequence of privilege, it usually affects those of us who are flooded with different options and opportunities.
"I see F.O.B.O. as an affliction of affluence. In order to have F.O.B.O. you must, by definition, have options. It is a byproduct of a hyper-busy, hyper-connected world in which everything seems possible, and, as a result, you are spoiled for choice. It’s also driven by narcissism. People with F.O.B.O. put themselves and their needs and wants squarely around the people around them — all of the people who are adversely affected by their F.O.B.O."
OK, so if you're suffering from F.O.B.O., there are tons of different avenues at your disposal and you can traverse any one of them that you'd like.
You're at the crossroads — now what do you do? How do you navigate just where to go? How do you just pick a path and stick to it without allowing your mind to dissuade you from finally taking action, for better or for worse?
McGinnis has two strategies that he employs in the battle against F.O.B.O. It all comes down to just making a decision and sticking to it, with a little bit of (but not too much) pre-planning.
To begin, he has people classify what they want to get done into two categories.
First, you have your "everyday actionable items," or your "day-to-day" tasks that you find yourself stalling for time with.
"1. For everyday things, I do what I call “Ask the Watch.” I whittle something down to two options and then assign each item to a side of my watch. Then I look down and see where the second hand is at that moment. Decision made. It sounds silly, but if you try it — asking the universe — you will thank me."
The second, and probably the biggest causes of anxiety in F.O.B.O. sufferers, are the "big ticket," grand dreams or ideas that we want to explore.
McGinnis has some ideas on how to prioritize and ultimately decide on those "big-ticket" ideas.
"2. For the big things, I try to think like a venture capitalist. I write everything down on the topic — pros, cons, etc. — and I read it out loud. That process is basically like writing an investment memo for a V.C. investment, but in this case the investment is of your time, money, energy, etc."
A good friend of mine always told me that if you're on the fence about doing something, you've got to make a decision and play it out to the highest level. Overthinking and intellectualizing it will only screw you over.
If you manage to succeed at something or do well in it and it still doesn't make you happy, then you'll know right away that it's not for you. But you'll know, in evidence that it isn't. So did you waste your time?
Absolutely not. You succeeded in something: knowing exactly what you don't want, and you proved it, in action.
At least you accomplished something at the end of the day, and you'll have one victory against the crippling paralysis of F.O.B.O.