Escaping FOMO: A Minimalist Millennial’s Guide to Social Media

FOMO: even if you don’t know the acronym, you probably know the feeling. FOMO, or Fear Of Missing Out, taps into our primal need for acceptance and validation.

And social media taps into that faster than an underground reservoir in the Sahara, leaving us feeling anxious, depressed and dependent on these services to boost our self-esteem.

Yet, studies show that the more we use social media, the more depressed we feel.

Two years ago, I quit all of social media to escape this cycle of dependence and anxiety. I signed out, deactivated and deleted EVERY social media account I had without warning.

I went cold turkey. I just ceased to exist on the Internet.

I thought that deserting social media would achieve minimalist bliss and happiness.

But an attempt to cure social media addiction by quitting all forms of social media forever is like quitting a shopping addiction by not ever buying clothes again. It’s unsustainable and you’re going to take a significant hit to your quality of life.

When I became a professional content writer, I realized that my digital hermitage had to come to an end. At a minimum, I needed a website for clients to find me.

However, I did develop a strategy for re-engaging social media in a healthy, balanced way that actually helps me achieve my goals.

Here it is, in three actionable steps:

Make a List of Your Social Media Goals

Have you ever thought about why you’re on social media? What are you trying to achieve by being on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and the rest of the multitude?

It is a strange question. When I first got on social media as a tween, I had no intention or goal with it. I had a Facebook because everyone did.

Now that I’m coming back to social media, I made a list of goals about what I wanted out of each of the websites I was joining.

This is my criteria for re-joining any given platform:

I could use that platform as a means to find clients for my business;

I could use that platform to connect with those who share my career or personal interests, AND this platform helps me meet and network with them offline.

I could use that platform to connect with those closest to me, who I interact with offline as well, in a meaningful way.

My strategy is around making sure everything I do online yields real, offline rewards. To that end, I don’t plan on following any celebrities or news sites that can distract me from what I’m doing.

On my personal account, I will only friend or follow actual, offline friends or family who I care about. At the very least, I will only follow an acquaintance with whom I have a genuine connection or real interest. ACTION ITEM: Make a written list of what your goals are with social media. Stick to three to five goals for the moment. I encourage you to take a day or two hiatus from social media while doing this.

Spring Clean (Your Friends + Follow List)

Once you are done making your goal list and have committed yourself to it, take a deep breath or two. After all, the next step is going to be a little brutal.

Open up and take a look at your social media friends and follow lists. Think of each person, page or brand on these lists as a contestant for your interest.

Because they are. Everybody wants a bigger slice of your increasingly divided attention. So, like a reality TV show, it’s time to eliminate a few contestants who are clear suckers.

Either on paper or on the computer, create several columns titled with “CRUCIAL,” “TANGENTIAL” and “COUNTERPRODUCTIVE.” Color code these if you’re visually-oriented like me.

With your goal list and columns in hand, return to your friends and follow list. Moving alphabetically through your list, make a quick decision whether this person, page or group:

Goes in the NECESSARY column: this person or group is absolutely essential to meeting the goals on your list. For me, I can keep several freelance writing groups, influential bloggers who offer useful information, a fitness support group, as well as my close friends and family.

Goes in the TANGENTIAL column: they don’t necessarily help you and may not be relevant to your life at all, but the costs of cutting them out are not worth it (i.e. old college friends, distant family members). Set them on ignore and set a periodic reminder to check up on them now in order to minimize their potential to distract you.

Goes in the COUNTERPRODUCTIVE column, or even TOXIC: The “friendly ex” or frenemy goes into this column, as do most time-waster sites (celebrity gossip sites, political news). People and pages in this column offer nothing of value to you, lower your mood and degrade your overall quality of life. Unfriend, unfollow and delete them and forget about them forevermore.*

ACTION ITEM: Rather than doing this exercise in pieces, I recommend scheduling some downtime to get this done. A clean break is best and will stop you from second-guessing.

If you have to follow the news, try reading a physical newspaper, or schedule a break in the day to get your fix.

Take Temporary Breaks to Revisit Your Goals

While permanent hiatuses are impractical for me going forward, I still plan on taking temporary hiatuses from time to time.

In fact, I have a weekly hiatus on Sunday, during which I go completely without a computer. Such a policy allows me to have a day of rest to focus on the many offline joys in my life.

Taking longer hiatuses is thornier and requires more planning in advance, but I do know of several prominent figures who even take a whole week off once a year to devote to reading and introspection.

Longer hiatuses are something I will work toward in the future as I plan on revisiting all my goals, including my social media goals, on an annual basis.

ACTION ITEM: Start with realistic hiatuses, especially if you have a hectic lifestyle with lots of demands on your time. To start, schedule at least a one hour hiatus, and work your way up to a morning or an afternoon free of social media.

Are You Happy with Your Social Media Usage?

My time away from social media was invaluable, allowing me to clear my head by eliminating the constant “white noise” from online distractions and figure out what I want out of life.

However, social media also offers a lot of resources and opportunities to meet and connect with great people, when used in the right way.

How do you feel about your relationship with social media? Do you need to rethink your strategy as well?