#Weekly experiments / Healthy / Wealthy / Wise

Fear-Setting exercise (Week 10 experiment)

Easy choices – hard life. Hard choices – easy life. (Jerzy Gregorek)


Tim’s TED talk about fear-setting. Definitely an “idea worth spreading”.

My experiment for this week is based on Tim’s new TED talk, released just a few days ago. It is very personal (suicide is as personal topic as it gets), but at the same time very actionable. He talks about why we should regularly do what he calls Fear-Setting (also described in his Tools of Titans book and on his blog).

On the rational level, we all know that if we want to conquer our fears, we first need to understand them and see them clearly for what they are. But fear is intimidating. We don’t want to dig deeply into our fears because it’s scary and painful.

What if you had a simple step-by-step process to do exactly that?

Well, good news – now you have it. The Fear Setting Exercise only has 3 steps, and in each of them you will write probably around 1 page of text.

3 pages – that is very small price for potentially overcoming the paralysis for an important decision.

How to do Fear-Setting

Let’s say you are pondering some important decision. It may be quitting your job, ending relationship or starting a new one, moving to a new country or just taking 3 months off to go to Japan. Something that you feel you should probably do, but the consequences scare you.

Follow these easy steps, and you can use Tim’s pdf as a base, or this neat editable xls template which I will be using, because Tim’s pdf is white on black. Of course you can use just a blank paper if that’s your preference.

Step 1: Pre-meditation of evils

Write down what is your decision about. “What if I …?” (e.g. “What if I start business X?”)

  • Column 1: Define – Write 10-20 bad things that could happen if you take the decision/action
  • Column 2: Prevent – For each of “define”, write down what can I do to prevent these bad things happening or at least to minimize their impact
  • Column 3: Repair – For each of those bad things, write down what can you do to fix them if they really happen?
    (Think “has anyone figured this out before?” Most probably the answer is yes)

Step 2: Counting the benefits

Write down all the positive things that can happen as outcome of your decision/action. What can you achieve, learn, find, gain? What will improve? What will you be able to enjoy more of? What will you be able to avoid?

Step 3: Cost of inaction

I believe this is the most important step, take your time and go into deep details. We humans are so great at pondering all the risks of action, but we rarely think about the risks we bring by not acting, by keeping the status quo. We focus on the “seen” and forget about the “unseen”.
Example: How does my current job limit my personal growth over next 6 months, 1 year or 3 years? If I don’t change my job now, will I become obsolete in a few years? How does it impact my mood, self-confidence, relationships?

There is optional Step 4. If the decision is not clear yet, quantify the results. Look at the summary of risks and decide where on a scale 1-10 (1 minimum impact 10 maximum impact) you are if you take the action. Do the same for benefits. Compare those two numbers.

Of course, you may still end up deciding not to take the action.

Our internal risk avoidance system is there for a reason, and it guided our ancestors through the ruthless whims of evolutionary forces. Some of our fears are very well founded.

But chances are that after dragging your fears to a broad daylight you will realize that the “worst case scenario” that felt so scary is actually very manageable.

So how will I use it for my experiment?

Last year or two I’m pondering the possibility of starting my own business. I read a lot of blogs and books about startups, listen to podcasts, I even wrote down several pages pondering about what the product would be and how I could go about it. Rationally it makes great sense for me to try it. But emotionally this is very very uncomfortable for me. It feels way too difficult. I have no experience, and I’m scared. That’s why I never took any real action.

I will use the fear-setting process to understand what is it that I actually fear, how big are the risks, whether there are ways to mitigate them, and – most importantly – what I am giving up if I don’t act.

I’ll end this by quoting Mr. Ferriss himself:

“The hard choices, what we most fear doing, asking, saying – these are very often exactly what we most need to do. And the biggest challenges we need to be solved will never be solved with comfortable conversations, whether it’s in your own head or with other people.”

“Where in your life right now might defining your fears be more important than setting your goals?”

Watch Tim’s TED talk, read his Tools of Titans book, or his blog post about fear-setting. And put your own fears to the test using this little fear-setting template.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s