Quite Frankly

Hey Frankie,


I regret almost every decision I have ever made, which makes it hard to make decisions. How can I make better choices so I can stop having FOMO?


Sincerely, FOMO Fiend

Dear Fiend,

Quite frankly, decisions are hard for pretty much everyone, but particularly for people whose brains constantly remind them of the ramifications of every minute choice. Maybe I’m projecting my own decision-making mindset here, but that sounds like you, too.

You’re probably not going to love my advice at first, but I implore you to give it a shot.

I bust my FOMO by making myself realize just how unavoidable it is—this is a part of a subset of anxiety coping mechanisms that I like to call brain tricking devices (BTDs). While anxiety seldom responds to logic, sometimes BTDs let you work around logical blocks. For my own FOMO, I use the following BTD: No matter what choice I make, I get FOMO. Thus, when making a decision, the possibility of getting FOMO need not enter into the decision. FOMO will happen regardless, so it’s better to evaluate my choices without thinking about the FOMO possibility at all.

So the solution doesn’t revolve around stopping your FOMO, but rather how you can remind your brain that no one course of action is more or less likely than any other to incite FOMO. If you stop thinking about your FOMO so much, your decisions will get better because you won’t be bogged down by the same consequential calculus. My suggestion to embrace your FOMO might seem counterintuitive, but there’s something to be said for recognizing that a particular kind of anxiety is unavoidable. For me, at least, that constancy (sometimes) allows the anxiety to fade into the background of my awareness.

In a 2005 commencement address at Kenyon College now co-opted by philosophy bros the world over, David Foster Wallace drew an analogy that we can coopt for our own purposes here, the crux of which is the following: “There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, ‘Morning, boys. How’s the water?’ And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, ‘What the hell is water?’” (“This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life,” 2009).

Wallace pointed out that we overlook prominent features of the world in which we spend our lives, but you can use that shortsightedness for your own gain.

Make FOMO part of your water, so you don’t have to devote so much of your brain space to it. Maybe you can use that brain space to notice the water Wallace wants us to think about, but maybe that’s going too far.

Best wishes, Frankie


P.S. Be well, friend.

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