How to conduct a fear-setting exercise

There once was young warrior who had to battle fear.

She was nervous. Fear was aggressive and mighty.

“How can I defeat you?” she asked.

Fear replied:

“My weapons are that I talk fast.
I get very close to your face.
Then you get completely unnerved and do whatever I say.
If you don’t do what I tell you, I have no power.”

Fear continued:

You can listen to me.
You can have respect for me.
You can even be convinced by me.
But if you don’t do what I say, I have no power.”

Pema Chodron, “When Things Fall Apart”

Fear is an inevitable presence in our lives.

We fear giving a big presentation and screwing it up.

We fear walking alone in dark and desolate areas.

We fear entrepreneurship destroying our savings.

We fear the loss of loved ones.

Mark Twain wrote:

“I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.”

Most times, the things we fear don’t pan out.

Yet we must still honor that uncertainty, lack of control and impermanence are part and parcel of the human experience.

Can we have a healthy relationship with fear?

Left untethered and unmoored – our fears can paralyze us. They can eat us alive.

But like the young warrior, what would happen if we faced them?

Respected them. Honored them. Without succumbing to them.

In Tim Ferris’ blog post Fear Setting: The most valuable exercise I do every month he describes a 3-step process to de-fang many of his fears.

The first step is to Define the Fear and ask: What is the worst thing that could happen? Don’t hold back – it’s important to write it down so that you can see your actual thoughts on a piece of paper.

Ferris adds:

Envision them in painstaking detail. Would it be the end of your life? What would be the permanent impact, if any, on a scale of 1–10? Are these things really permanent? How likely do you think it is that they would actually happen?

The second step is to Prevent the Fear and ask: What can you do right now to reduce it from happening? In finance terms this is called risk mitigation and removing the left tail.

The third step is to Repair the Fear and ask: If this worst case does indeed happen, how can I get back on track? Think of this as the air masks on a plane. How many times have you had to use them? Yeah, I thought so.

But it’s still comforting to know that they’re available.

We’re not trying to eliminate fear

Remember what fear said to the young warrior:

If you don’t do what I tell you, I have no power.

Fear can be debilitating. And it also acts as our body’s warning system.

But if we put things off because of fear – particularly the imagined kind – fear has won. And we become victims of our own inaction. And that inaction, warns Ferris, also has a cost:

Inaction is the greatest risk of all.

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