When I was in college, I passed out in the middle of giving a speech.
While answering a few Q&A questions, my eyesight started to go black. The next thing I knew, I was slumped against the wall staring up at the ceiling of my classroom. Apparently, after losing consciousness, I leaned back against the chalkboard and slid down to the floor, where I came-to about a minute later.
The paramedics didn’t find anything inherently wrong, however, the damage was already done. As a college student, this was about as embarrassing as it gets. What I didn’t understand at the time was the impact of this experience.
Being able to define your worst nightmare is the first step in jumping when you’re nervous about doing so.
Fear Setting: The Most Effective Way to Jump Into the Unknown
Created by Tim Ferris and popularized in The 4-Hour Workweek, “fear setting” is a strategy to prevent your brain from avoiding difficult or scary decisions.
This strategy is a powerful way to push forward when fear of the unknown urges you to stay put. As Tim Ferris put it…
“Fear-setting has produced my biggest business and personal successes, as well as repeatedly helped me to avoid catastrophic mistakes.” — Tim Ferris
By answering these simple questions, you’ll more easily make rational, intelligent choices when faced with difficult, scary decisions.
Don’t just think about the questions — write down each of your answers. Aim for volume, spending a couple of minutes on each, and don’t edit as you’re going through. Brain-vomiting on the page will prove much more impactful than editing or reworking throughout.
Let’s get into it…
1. Define Your Nightmare
What’s the absolute worst that could happen if you did what you’re thinking about doing? Why are you hesitant to take the leap? What doubts, fears, and “what-if’s” pop into your head as you consider this decision?
What does your “slide down the wall while unconscious” moment look like? Imagine every aspect in painstaking detail. How would this impact you financially, socially, spiritually, etc.?
What would be the permanent impact, if any, on a scale of 1–10? How likely is this to actually happen?
“I realized that on a scale of 1–10, 1 being nothing and 10 being permanently life-changing, my so-called worst-case scenario might have a temporary impact of 3 or 4. I believe this is true of most people and most would-be “holy sh*t, my life is over” disasters.” — Tim Ferris
2. Repair the “Damage”
After you’ve defined the absolute worst-case scenario, next identify strategies to repair the imaginary “damage” to your life.
What steps could you take to repair the destruction? How could you get things back on track? How could you get things back under control?
Chances are, it’s much easier than you’d imagined.
3. Identify the More Likely Outcomes
Our brains are hard-wired to keep us safe.
This means is that they are constantly on the lookout for anything that can harm us. What you’ll find is that your brain often assumes the worst-case scenario, despite being the least likely to happen.
What are the outcomes, both temporary and permanent, that are more probable? What situations are more likely to happen if you take action?
What would the impact of these more likely scenarios be on a scale of 1–10?
4. Define Your Fear
What are you putting off out of fear? Are you afraid of taking action simply because the outcome isn’t certain? Is fear of the unknown keeping you from taking the leap?
“What we fear doing most is usually what we most need to do.” — Tim Ferris
Why are you afraid?
Now that you’ve defined the worst possible outcome, fear of the unknown shouldn’t be as severe. Define the worst-case scenario, weigh the risks, accept it, and then do it.
5. Measure the Cost of Inaction
What is the cost of not doing the thing you’re thinking about doing? Financially? Emotionally? Physically?
Evaluate the potential downside and upside. It’s equally important to measure the negative consequences of inaction.
If you don’t take action on things that excite you, where will you be in one year? Five years? Ten years? How will you feel knowing that you let circumstance define how you lived your life?
“If you telescope out 10 years and know with 100% certainty that it is a path of disappointment and regret, and if we define risk as “the likelihood of an irreversible negative outcome,” inaction is the greatest risk of all.” — Tim Ferris
6. What Are You Waiting For?
If you can’t answer this question without coming back to “timing”, chances are you’re in the same boat as the rest of the world:
Measure the cost of inaction, realize the unlikelihood and repairability of most missteps, and develop the most important habit of those who excel and enjoy doing so: action. — Tim Ferris
99% of the time, the story you’re brain tells you is a lie. The human mind desires comfort and safety, which is why we prefer decisions with known outcomes.
So how do you handle the fear of the unknown?
By answer a few simple questions, you’ll appeal to your brain through logic and reasoning, and ultimately make a better, more informed decision.
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