Fear-Setting: How To Remove Resistance and Take Action

a year ago   •   4 min read

By Zero Machina

We're told to "feel the fear and do it anyways"—of course, this is easier said than done.

Fear can paralyze us from taking action: the fear of the future, the fear of change, and the fear of not being good enough. When faced with a decision, our brain is designed to keep us safe and look for excuses not to take action.  But if we don't overcome our fear and step up to the challenge, we'll never achieve our goals.

Let's go deeper into why we need to overcome fear, and explore a simple process for removing resistance so we can take action.

Why Do We Need To Overcome Fear?

Fear is a natural emotion that helps you perceive danger.

It's designed to keep us safe.  But in unhealthy doses, fear holds us back from making important decisions.

Many of the greatest accomplishments and discoveries in history belong to people who overcame their fear.  Uncharted oceans were explored, Mount Everest was climbed, and the moon was landed on—all thanks to courageous action. Does this mean that all these explorers had no fear? Of course not.

They simply learned to take action despite their fears because they knew the reward was worth it.

We tend to exaggerate risks and rationalize why we should stay put.

This is known as the negativity bias, a survival mechanism that helped us avoid getting eaten by saber-toothed tigers. Nowadays, we don't have to worry about being devoured by wild animals, but we still default to this negativity bias whenever we're faced with change or uncertainty.  This has major drawbacks. Focusing on fear drains your energy, making creative thinking and problem-solving nearly impossible.

Amelia Earhart, the first woman to embark on a solo flight across the Atlantic, echoed this sentiment:

"The time to worry is three months before a flight. Decide then whether or not the goal is worth the risks involved. If it is, stop worrying. To worry is to add another hazard."

Fear is real and valid. But looping on a future event adds unnecessary stress to your plate, distorting reality and paralyzing you from taking action.

There's an exercise that can help you overcome these worries: fear-setting.

What Is Fear-Setting?

Fear-setting is a simple exercise popularized by entrepreneur Tim Ferriss.

It's a technique that helps busy professionals thrive in high-stress environments. It's also useful for overcoming procrastination and taking action towards your goals.

Fear-setting helps you audit your fear and consider the consequences. It forces you to confront reality. But, by confronting your biggest fears and examining the worst-case scenarios, you'll realize that the risks aren't as disastrous as you initially fantasized.

This helps you conquer fear and take action.

How Does Fear-Setting Work?

Being honest with yourself and confronting your fears is scary. 

But it'll free you from a self-induced prison and empower you to take action. As you go through this process, use one of your biggest fears to experience the greatest benefits.

Follow these steps, inspired by Tim Ferriss' fear-setting exercise.

1. Define Your Fears Instead of Leaving Them Vague

Start by answering yourself: "What's the worst that could happen?"

Lots of anxiety is ambiguous.  As you cut through the vague abstractions and consider the worst-case scenario, your fearful situation will appear less monstrous. Continue to shine a light on your fears by asking yourself, on a scale of 1 to 10, how impactful this worst-case scenario is–1 being no harm, and 10 being permanently life-changing.

Making your fears concrete will take the heavy charge out of them. They’ll be less scary.

And even if the outcomes are undesirable, you’ll feel capable of changing them.

2. Define the Benefits of Taking Action

Now that you've considered the worst possible outcome, what's the best-case scenario? Write it down in detail.

It doesn't need to be a perfect scenario either. Explore the potential benefits of an attempt or partial success.

This step balances your perspective and gives you insight into the benefits of taking action. If there's a lot of upside, then it'll increase your motivation. And if you compare the potential rewards to the risks, it's easier to see that the risks are worth taking.

In the same way as the worst-case scenario, score the best-case scenario on a scale of 1-10. If the downside is a 3 or 4 on the scale while the upside is a 9, then it makes sense to take the risk. But more importantly, this will give you the confidence to take action despite the fear.

3. What's the Cost of Inaction?

Facing your fears is scary. But the long-term consequences of not confronting them are worse. Ask yourself:

  • What will your life look like in one, five, or ten years if you don't take action?
  • What is it costing you?

This step flips your resistance on its head.

You're no longer focusing on the immediate discomfort of taking action. You're focused on the pain and suffering of not taking action over time. And it forces you to consider the cost of indecisiveness and inaction.

This gives you an increased sense of urgency and motivation.

Next Steps

Fear-setting is a powerful tool for overcoming resistance and taking action in the face of fear.

By thinking through these three steps, you can develop a more realistic picture of what’s truly at stake, overcome the negativity bias, and focus more on the rewards than on the risks. This will remove resistance and motivate you to take action. And when you do, you‘ll set yourself up for success.

Want to learn how to reframe challenges to your advantage? Check out our article: How Realistic Optimism Makes You More Effective and Successful.

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