Why you should do Fear Setting as opposed to Goal Setting

In the last of my personal journey style articles, I realised how much fear influenced my life and that I was, in fact, a coward.

To put a positive spin on this, I believe I have found the route cause to what has been holding me back in achieving my fitness, financial and family goals. If I can defeat my fears in their many forms, I can find a way to impact my life positively.

I am finding that it has been commonly understood for millennia that fear is one of the most significant factors in all our lives.

Seneca stated over 2,000 years ago that:

“courage is knowing what not to fear”.

Nelson Mandela added:

“The brave man is not he that does not feel afraid, but he who conquors that fear”.

And even Muhamed Ali made the prognosis that:

“He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life”.

And here was me thinking that I had stumbled upon the mystery of the universe. I am only just catching up.

Fear and how someone deals with it have been the difference between people achieving great things and doing nothing remarkable at all. This being said, the topic of dealing with fear is not something that is widely debated. If you start to do some research, there is practically no advice other than the ‘man the f’ up!’ style of motivational approach.

Now it is queue stage left Tim Ferriss, his blog post and supporting TED talk video in which he describes a strategy for dealing with and facing fears — particularly from a big life-changing decision perspective.

I have tried it on a few more minor matters and have had some success getting clarity and perspective on my fear. You will maybe need to justify the time invested for something that is ultimately trivial, but the more you fear-set, the better you will get.

Photo Credit: TED.com

Fear setting is the term used by Ferriss in the context that we would use goal-setting. However, fear setting deals with issues you have right now rather than setting a goal to achieve in the future. The process gives you a framework to identify where fears are holding you back and allows you to put them into perspective and make a decision to Accept (and move on), Avoid (with a sense of acceptance) or Change (even in the presence of fear) the situation.

The method for setting your fears is as follows:

#1 Your Question

Be clear in what it is that is causing you to fear or anxiety. Just focus on one at a time, starting with the question “What if I…?”. Try to stick with action rather than inaction; you will see why later.

“What if I…?”

You may find that the outcome of one question can be attributed to numerous questions. Ferriss says, “the tool I’ve found which has proven to be the most reliable safety net for emotional free fall is actually the same tool that has helped me to make my best business decisions. But that is secondary”.

Example questions could be:

  • “What if I quit my job and become a freelance writer?”
  • “What if I agree to present at a networking event in front of 200 people?”
  • “What if I say ‘no more holidays until I’ve paid my credit card’?”
  • “What if I asked out the girl in the office I’ve liked for a while?”

#2 Fear Definition

The next step is to create three columns on a page titled Define, Prevent and Repair.

Now spend 10–15 mins, or however long you need to list as many of the worst things you could imagine happening in that particular scenario. Take your time to think of everything, no matter how wacky and unlikely, until you have 10–20 listed out.

One example for each of the above could be:

  • “I make no money. I lose my house and wife and live on the streets.”
  • “I slip on the way up to the stage, everyone laughs at me, and I become a laughing stock in my industry.”
  • “My friends will know I have been foolish with my money, and my wife will leave me because we can’t go on holiday.”
  • “She laughs at me, tells everyone in the office about it, and I need to find a new job somewhere else.”

#3 Prevention Opportunities

Once you have completed the above, in the middle column, start to write down what you can do to prevent the outcome or reduce its likelihood or consequence. You may find that you have more than one action for each fear you defined.

An example for each of the above could be:

  • “Keep existing job and work freelance in the evenings and weekends.”
  • “Wear suitable footwear on the day.”
  • “My wife and I sit with a financial planner and decide together.”
  • “Start small by asking would she like to grab lunch on a particular day.”

#4 Repair the Damage

If the worst was to happen, what could you do, or who could you ask for help to repair the damage, even if just a little bit?

Examples of the above:

  • “Could ask my existing employer for my old job back.”
  • “Make light of it on the day and continue the presentation.”
  • “Seek the advice of people who have been here before.”
  • “If I am treated like that, it is time for a new office anyway.”

#5 What does success look like?

Now start a new page and write down the following question:

“What are the benefits of a failed attempt or partial success?”

We’ve tried to be realistic and optimistic when considering the worst-case scenarios when taking action. It is now time to be super conservative when you think about the benefits of taking action by taking 10–15 minutes to write all the benefits if you failed or partially succeeded by taking action.

Some benefits considering the above could be:

  • “The respect of my kids for attempting to follow my passion.”
  • “New fame in my industry leads to job opportunities in another company within the sector.”
  • “A weight is lifted from me when the burden of my credit card debt is out in the open, and people can see I’m paying it down.”
  • “I will realise rejection wasn’t that bad, and I should put myself out there more.”

#6 The cost of inaction

This is the gem. Start a new page with three columns labelled 6 months, 12 months and 3 years. For each of the columns, consider from an emotional, physical, financial, family, career etc., perspective what might go wrong if we take no action.

You are asking yourself here what your life will look like in the future if you accept the status quo. Try to take some time and get specific here.

Examples from the above could be (without considering the time scales):

  • “I stay in my job but always wonder what-if. I’m unfulfilled in work which carries over into my personal life. I don’t feel like a great role model for my kids, and I am counting the days until retirement.”
  • “I see my colleagues who made the presentation grow in themselves and their career whilst I sit at my same desk doing the same work for the next 25 years.”
  • “My debt continues to spiral downwards, and I risk losing the house and my wife.”
  • “10 years later, when I bump into the ‘girl from the office’ at a bar, she comments that she always had a thing for me but didn’t think I was interested in her.”

#7 Framing your Fear

When I first completed this exercise, I had naturally already made this assessment in my head as I worked through the practice. The final step is to score from 1 (no impact)–10 (end of my world) the outcomes of the worst-case scenarios and cost of inaction based on the negative impact if the worst did happen and the likelihood of the event happening.

For example, the effects of losing your house are massive. Still, if it is an improbable scenario, you may be able to score it as a 3, whereas being embarrassed in front of your peers has little consequence in the grand scheme of things but may have a high likelihood that you could score it a 6.

It is ultimately an objective exercise, but it is vital to provide a general scoring for the worst-case scenarios.

#8 Valuing the Benefits

Building on the above, now score your benefits from 1 (no change)–10 (defining moment).

For example, an improved relationship with your children is an 8. Getting a promotion could be scored a 6, but you may only score it a 3 if it means staying in a career you do not enjoy.

#9 Change, Accept or Avoid

Now you have put your source of anxiety under the microscope. It is time to assess the worthiness of facing your fear.

This is not an exact science. You can not use the sum of your scoring to decide for you. However, in many instances (in my case as a coward), you will see that you have a worst-case scenario scored as a 3 with the pessimistic benefits achieved as a 7. And in this case, I need to face my fear, knowing I am doing what must be done.

Before I conclude, I wanted to point out that some of your fears will be well founded, and the right outcome is to avoid and accept them. Quitting your job to set up an art studio could leave you with a 4 as the benefits and a 9 for the consequences if you have never painted a picture before in your life.

However, do not decide not to pursue something until you have taken the time to run them through this process. The process may lead you to a better question.

So what?

I like to finish with the question of ‘so what?’ in much of my day-to-day life. Not with the question of what is the meaning of life in mind, but as a means to maintain a purpose for what you are doing — I have probably picked this up from my time as a project manager.

I’m pretty excited about the above and taking some time periodically to review any fears and anxiety I am feeling about certain situations and decisions within my personal and business life.

I am ready for the challenge of facing my fears in controlled areas of my life in actions that I know must be done.

Credit: mindfulambition.net

My last sentence of the main body of the above leads to a better question and reminds me of a quote from Tim Robbins:

The quality of your life is a direct reflection of the quality of the questions you are asking yourself”

This is so true, and the process above allows you to confirm if your question is the thing that you must do, despite your fear, or at the very least, it will lead you to ask a different, better question of yourself.

And this is what I am going to be doing. My documented journey so far has changed my approach to my career in the following ways:

  • From one of passion to one of building rare and valuable skills (that people are willing to pay for),
  • Taking a look at myself and realising that I am a coward and,
  • I have now provided myself with a tool to identify where fear is holding me back and make informed choices about what I must do.

Now it is time for me to sit down, identify the things in my life that are causing me anxiety and stress and work to identify 2–3 things that I can act on despite my fear.

Give me a follow if you want to hear more from me. I talk about all things personal and career development, climate change, sustainability and nuclear energy.

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