This exercise called Fear Setting is designed to help anyone facing a challenging decision by analyzing and dissecting it in order to make informed choices.
Tim Ferriss is an author, speaker, entrepreneur, investor, and all around polymath. He’s most famous for writing books like The Four-Hour Workweek and for his popular podcast called The Tim Ferriss Show.
In a Ted Talk titled Why You Should Define Your Fears Instead of Your Goals, Ferriss introduces an exercise called Fear Setting which he uses to avoid decision paralysis.
The exercise is designed to help anyone facing an uncomfortable decision and lays out clear steps to dissect and analyze any decision in order to quickly get into taking action.
The first main steps involve laying out the decision in question and asking yourself three initial questions regarding it.
In order to face the decision head on, Ferriss explains that we need to first define it thoroughly. This involves laying out (in writing) the exact details of the decision or problem we are facing.
This is helpful because it allows us to remove any psychological baggage we may be associating it with and gives us a clear, undistorted view of the problem at hand.
During this step it is also important to list out any worries or foreseeable problems that the decision may cause for us.
After defining the decision or action clearly, Ferriss suggests we list out all of the ways in which we can prevent any of the damage that might be done by it.
For instance, if the decision involves some deal of personal risk it may be helpful to list out ways in which you can mitigate these risks. It’s important here to be completely honest with yourself and address even the smallest worries that you have regarding this important decision.
After listing out preventative measures, Ferriss explains that we should next list out ways in which we can repair any damage that might be done by the decision if we took action on it.
This is different from preventative measures in that they address what could happen after the decision is enacted rather than before.
This step is important because it forces us to see what the real consequences of the decision will be and allows us to separate likely repercussions from imagined catastrophizing.
After laying out these three steps, Ferriss suggests we ask ourselves a few more important questions to help us solidify the importance of the decision in our mind.
What might be the benefits of an attempt, or a partial success—6 months, 1 year, or 3 years down the road?
This first question addresses what could potentially go right, rather than focusing completely on the negative consequences.
If successful in our intended action, what could potentially be the positive outcome? Additionally, what benefits could be received if our success is only partial? And how would it look in the near future and far future?
This question is helpful because it allows us to clearly visualize the positive outcome that we could receive in a realistic way. Again, it is important to be very honest with ourselves when asking these questions as they will give us confidence and motivation when looked at with a critical and unbiased eye.
What are the costs of inaction (emotional, physical, financial, etc.)—6 months, 1 year, or 3 years down the road?
This last question is important because it addresses what will happen if we don’t make the decision or go through with our intended action. Sometimes this question alone can clarify whether or not the decision is worth the effort.
When we clearly lay out the costs of inaction we can see how important or unimportant the decision really is. It’s important again to be realistic and to look at the potential costs short term as well as in the distant future.
The exercise of Fear Setting may seem overly complex, however, when facing a challenging decision the thorough nature of the exercise can be just what we need to examine all sides of a situation. This exercise can really help to quell anxiety and give us an actionable way to examine our decision rather than catastrophizing over and over in our heads. Remember, the goal of Fear Setting is to get us to take action, so feel free to only perform the aspects of the exercise that you find most helpful or use it in its entirety to be completely sure you are making a good decision.
There’s a quote that Ferriss mentions in the end of his talk from a man named Jerzy Gregorek, which goes:
“Easy choices, hard life. Hard choices, easy life.”
Ultimately, remember this quote when making decisions because sometimes the hardest decisions are the ones that we most need to make.