Niklaus Gerber

September 20, 2022

Fear Setting

Understanding your fear helps you make difficult choices, which can lead to happiness and peace.

Tim Ferris gave a fantastic Ted talk about "Why you should define your fears instead of your goals". You can watch it here.

As he puts it: "The hard choices -- what we most fear doing, asking, saying -- are very often exactly what we need to do. How can we overcome self-paralysis and take action? Tim Ferriss encourages us to fully envision and write down our fears in detail in a simple but powerful exercise he calls "fear-setting." Learn more about how this practice can help you thrive in high-stress environments and separate what you can control from what you cannot."

I think that fear setting is a tool everyone should know how to use. Even if it does not become a habit, it is not one for me; it is an exercise I suggest you try. You can also use fear setting the make tough decisions.

Here is the way I approach it

I use the following process:

  1. Name your fear.
  2. Define the worst-case scenario.
  3. What can you do to prevent the worst-case scenario from happening?
  4. How could you repair the damage or minimise the impact if the worst-case scenario happened?
  5. Be clear about the benefits and costs.

Name your fear

The first thing you want to do is name your fear. For example, this could be "I am afraid to take this job opportunity because I might not be good enough and end up without a job" or "I am afraid to speak up about what matters to me".

Once I defined my fear, I gave it a mental rating from "not scary at all" to "absolutely terrifying". Now that the fear has a name and I know its impact, I can move to the next step.

Define the worst-case scenario

I try to come up with any worst-case scenario that could happen. If we are going with my second example, "I am afraid to speak up about what matters to me",; what are the worst-case scenarios?

  • I fear that I could lose all my friends.
  • I fear that I will end up alone.
  • I fear that I will get retribution.
  • I fear that others will ruin my reputation by getting back at me.
  • I fear that I could not handle people not hearing me and ending up in a deep depression. 
  • Etc.
It is okay to take time and get back on the list. It is also okay that this list is bleak and dark. We are talking about worst-case scenarios. Next, we should consider how to minimise the possibility or prevent these scenarios from happening. 

What can you do to prevent the worst-case scenario from happening?

I would go over each scenario and ask myself what my options were. "What can I do to prevent or minimise the possibility of losing all my friends?"

You will need to put some thinking into this one. What could your options be?

  • Giving your friends a clear heads-up of where you are coming from and your wishes are how they react and not react.
  • To get professional help on how to share better what matters to you.
  • To understand real friends and accept that you might lose some, they would not be your friends anyway. Therefore you would not loos any friends.
  • Etc.
You will do this exercise for each worst-case scenario. Since we are clear on the prevention strategy, we can move on to damage repair.

How could you repair the damage or minimise the impact if the worst-case scenario happened?

Facing your fairs is change. And change is not always pleasant. So what can you do to repair or minimise the damage? "If I lose all my friends, how can I reduce or repair its effects?"

To look at this step, you can already see where this is going.

  • Give them some time to adjust to the change. Good relationships can heal. It might get bumpy, but with an effort from my side, I can reconcile.
  • I might lose some friends, but I can also find new ones that accept me for who I am.
  • Etc.

Again you will do this for each of the scenarios.

Be clear about the benefits and costs.

Understanding all the implications of the fear you want to face, you are ready for one final exercise. 

"What are the benefits of facing this fear even with partial success?". 

I would make a list of all the benefits I could think of.

  • I am feeling more comfortable around people.
  • Having more of my needs met. 
  • I feel understood.
  • Etc. 

Then I would also think about the costs of inaction. What are the charges if I stay in the current situation, in six months, one and three years?

There you are. You now did a complete fear-setting session. Even if the exercise will not do the trick to facing your fears, it is always beneficial to clarify your thoughts. I can highly recommend you to give it a try.

About Niklaus Gerber

My thoughts on leadership, life, productivity, design, and innovation.