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Fear-Setting

I’m starting a new project called TEDtalk Tuesday and today is the inaugural video. I love learning from experts in all mediums (books, podcasts, videos, etc.) so not only do I want to share my thoughts on books like I have been doing, but I also want to give people other mediums to learn. I know not everyone loves reading, so hopefully by sharing these shorter videos and podcasts it will provide more ways to inspire and influence you as well.

I love Tim Ferriss. His ideas and his books have resonated very deeply with me. Though I have never met him, I feel as if we value the same things in life because of what I have read from him. We have gone through many of the same situations and felt the same feelings, and I can’t help but hold onto every word of his and try to apply it in my life because I see so much of myself in him.

When I read The 4-Hour Workweek, I remember there was a section that really stood out in my mind. It was the section that Ferriss calls fear-setting. I am not exaggerating when I say that this practice changed the way I live my life forever. It helped me be more realistic in the sense that I’m not as trapped in my own false thoughts anymore.

“We suffer more often in imagination than in reality.”

– Seneca

For those of us who struggle with seeking validation or fear of failing and having others see us fail, this technique really changed everything for me. Our worst enemies are our own thoughts. They attack us and chip away at our self-worth and value. We usually project these feelings and thoughts onto other people and assume that because we feel this way, others feel the same way about us. It’s horribly self-destructive, and it’s also how I’ve lived my whole life.

The great stoic, Seneca, said, “We suffer more often in imagination than in reality.” Wow. Take a minute and really let that sink in. Basically, he explained why my life felt full of sufferings and pains, and it had nothing to do with anything in my life; it was because of me. Whenever I would think about my hopes and dreams for the future I would purposefully harm myself with my thoughts and try to justify not pursuing them.

It’s not that I didn’t want to be happy. It’s that I didn’t want to be unhappy. I cared more about avoiding the potential negative feelings than embracing the potential positive feelings. I didn’t want to have others see me as a failure. I assumed that not reaching my dreams made me a failure (noun) and defined me as such. Let me tell you, that’s a sad way to live life. If you have ever been through life like this I can promise that you know what I’m talking about.

Fear-setting is what has helped me not me paralyzed in the face of my fears. Think about the things that you are avoiding doing because of fear and write down the absolute worst-case scenario of things that can happen. Next, write down any possible measures you can take to prevent that outcome. Last, if the worst-case scenario did happen, what could you do to repair the damage, even a little bit? 1. Define, 2. Prevent, 3. Repair. Ferriss gives some examples in the video above, so please watch it.

In my opinion, fear of the unknown is one of the most destructive types of fears, as it paralyzes us and prohibits action. I want to change the way we think about it, however. I view it not as not knowing what the outcome will be, but instead as not preparing ourselves for each possible outcome. We need to be ready for both positive and negative outcomes. We should believe in the positive outcomes, but we must acknowledge potential negative outcomes.

I believe deep down we aren’t as scared about the outcome as we are about what we are going to do after that possible outcome. For that reason, after I do fear-setting I can pursue my dreams. The possible outcomes are still the same, but my preparation is not. I feel more in control. When we feel in control we have more confidence, which also promotes action.

Studies have shown that when we give words to our worries or fears we reduce them dramatically. This is the reason so many people suggest talking or journaling as effective ways to deal with stress. By doing so we define our fears. We narrow them down to a few sentences or paragraphs. This limits the power that our fears have over us.

Parkinson’s Law states that work expands to fill the amount of time we give it. I believe there’s another related law: fears expand to fill the amount of space in our brain that we give it. When we don’t explicitly define our fears, we allow them to control all our thoughts. When we define our fears intentionally by writing them out and planning how we will handle the potential outcomes, we force them to occupy a much smaller space in our brain. This allows the rest of our brain to function and help us take action and not be paralyzed by our fears.

All of us have fears. I wouldn’t be surprised if most of you are much better at handling your fears than I am. I’m 25 years old and I still get paralyzed by fear more often than not. What has helped me turn the corner is this process of fear-setting that Tim Ferriss describes in the video. Stop letting fear control your dreams and do something about it. Start using fear-setting in your life and you will see that your fears are much smaller than you originally thought.

Read any good books? Any questions or thoughts? Leave a comment below!

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