By SANDY CLARKE
When the Movement Control Order was announced by Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin on March 16, most of us found ourselves in unchartered territory: for our safety, our freedom of movement and travels were to be restricted.
Measures such as social distancing and self-isolation have meant that we spend less time in the physical presence of family and friends, and for a time we also miss out on the familiarity of our work routine and interacting with colleagues.
Under the current circumstances of containing the spread of the novel coronavirus, these are necessary steps to help ensure our health and well-being. Nevertheless, in these unprecedented times, even though we understand the need for these measures, it can be psychologically jarring to have our normal habits and patterns derailed.
In times of normality, many of us will know the uncomfortable seduction of FOMO (the Fear of Missing Out). At work, we feel the need to be present in key discussions and initiatives so that we can stay relevant to the conversation and move ahead. In our personal lives, we build social capital by attending gatherings, parties, networking events, and conferences.
Even when we’re supposed to be ‘unplugged’, be it on holiday or lazing on a Sunday afternoon, the pull of FOMO can be so strong that, even while lying on a pristine beach, many people find it difficult to resist checking on work issues to stay up-to-date.
In 2018, a survey on LinkedIn showed 70 percent of employees admitting that when they take a holiday, they still don’t disconnect from work.
In the early 1900s, when telephones first entered into people’s homes, some were concerned that the new technology might disturb our downtime and rob us of our privacy. In 1910, around 67 percent of American households had a telephone. Now, anyone with a phone could simply call you without arranging a visit.
Such an intrusion appears mild. Today, 110 years later, our digital habits are so interconnected with our lives that we are constantly plugged-in. It has become nearly impossible to ‘live in the present’ and enjoy the moment.
We might ask: “What does that achieve? What progress is being done? What goal is reached by enjoying the moment?”
This is the effect of FOMO: we’ve become so conditioned by the need to do, to get, to know, to learn, to grow, to achieve, to succeed. And since none of these have a finish line, we keep striving and pushing until our minds and bodies reach burnout and we’re forced to rest for a while. Probably, with phone still in-hand.
Our language of hustling and grinding and competing and being the best has become so pervasive that, if someone isn’t embracing the grind-till-you-drop culture, it’s seen as something abnormal. Why wouldn’t you be pushing every minute of the day to be the best version of yourself?
And yet, it’s exactly that attitude that leads to burnout, to work-related stress, mental health and physical issues that, from an economic point of view, has cost Malaysia alone close to RM15 billion.
The ‘just one more’ mentality does to our minds what flooring the accelerator and brake pedal at the same time does to a car’s brake system over time. It could be argued that FOMO is an emotional sickness, due to our addiction to chasing something that’s forever out-of-reach.
The emotionally-intelligent remedy to FOMO is JOMO – the Joy of Missing Out. The purpose of JOMO is to be content with who and where you at this point in life. Does that mean you stop trying to better yourself or achieve goals? No. But these efforts are done because they align with our values and sense of purpose, rather than being driven by constant comparisons to the highlight reels of other people’s lives.
The ‘just one more’ mentality does to our minds what flooring the accelerator and brake pedal at the same time does to a car’s brake system over time.
During this time of restricted movement, we might reflect on how we can deploy more JOMO into our lives and turn down the volume on the FOMO. It’s good to ask yourself what you’re striving for in the first place and why. Is it for yourself or to impress others? If everyone in the world was blind, would you still strive for some of the goals you set yourself?
People inclined toward the JOMO are able to let go of comparisons; they don’t need to be a part of every conversation; they feel comfortable with saying ‘no’ on occasion; and they are very comfortable with taking digital breaks to help ground their minds and centre their focus on what matters.
So, how do we develop more of this JOMO? Here are a few steps you can take and some of the benefits that come with taking the foot off the accelerator. When we ease off our constant struggle against life, life eases up on us.
1. Be proactive in living in the present
Living in the present can sound airy-fairy only because we leave it hanging as an idea instead of bringing it into our reality. Our work will always be there; social media will always be there; opportunities to socialise will continue to present themselves. When you feel like you need to take ten minutes or a whole evening to unwind, go ahead and treat yourself.
If you’re working in the office, take five minutes to take some deep, relaxing breaths or tune into some calming music. If you receive a compliment or good news, embrace it rather than resisting it. Enjoy an evening with a glass of wine or cup of tea and a good book, for the simple reason of enjoying one of the pleasures we’re blessed to receive.
Remember, you’re a human being, not a machine. Living in the present moment can reduce your sense of struggling and overwhelm and reminds you that life carries on perfectly well without the need for constant striving.
2. Set some ‘digital free time’ in your day
From the time we awaken until the moment we go to sleep, many of us can be glued to the screen, whether it be our smart devices, TVs, or laptops. Setting aside an hour or two each day to enjoy a short digital detox can bring about a wonderful sense of relaxation and calm.
If you find that social media platforms cause you more grief than pleasure, feel free to deactivate for a time. I did this with my Twitter account after realising I was spending too much time following the same old political and current affairs stories over and over, It needlessly consumed a lot of time.
Now, I restrict my social media time to work tasks and check the news from direct websites. It’s freed up an extra hour or two each day, and it feels great to put that time to better use.
3. Get out more and do something for yourself
During this period of movement restriction, I’ve been running up and down my living room to make sure I get enough cardio exercise now that I can’t play badminton or go to the gym. Previously, I wasn’t a keen runner (playing football aside), but I’ve discovered that I’m enjoying it, and will definitely aim to take a daily morning run once life returns to normal.
Usually, mornings have been about checking up on news, emails, and getting some work done (FOMO), but I’ve resolved to making the morning one that is focused on taking care of my health and enjoying the experience (JOMO).
4. Slow down and say ‘no’ more often
If you’re someone who’s constantly running around and saying “yes” to every invite and initiative, ask yourself: “Is this helping me? Does it bring value and meaning to my life?” If the answer is no, then it’s worth examining why you expend so much energy for so little gain. Your bosses, colleagues, family and friends are all important people – but so are you.
Everyone has things to do and we all have a desire to be liked; however, is it worth overdoing it if the price we pay is our health and well-being? Taking care of your commitments and duties is noble, but there is nothing noble in running countless extra miles to the point where you burn out. Slow down and say “no” once in a while. Not only will it free up more time for self-care, it also means that when you are serving others you’re able to give them your very best.
Sandy is a freelance writer based in Malaysia, and previously enjoyed 10 years as a journalist and broadcaster in the UK. He has been fortunate to gain valuable insights into what makes us tick, which has deepened his interests in leadership, emotions, mindfulness, and human behaviour.