Today I wanted to write about something that has been extremely crucial!
It has helped me take action in the pursuit of escaping the 9-5 and designing an exceptional lifestyle, among many other seemingly scary things.
Let me introduce the exercise of fear-setting… defining your fears, and analyzing the cost of inaction… what will you miss out on if you don’t do _______?
I give credit and thanks for this concept to Tim Ferriss!
It was first introduced to me in his book on escaping the 9-5, I’m sure you know the title well ;), and it was also recently presented by Tim at a TED Talk – “Why you should define your fears instead of your goals“.
To get started, here’s the video of the talk. It’s 13mins long and sparks some powerful thoughts!
I go through the key points below for those that are short on time.
“A person’s success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have.”
“If you are insecure, guess what? The rest of the world is, too. Do not overestimate the competition and underestimate yourself. You are better than you think.”
Tim Ferriss – New York Times Best-Selling Author, Entrepreneur.
Quotes that many of us should live by, and try to work on regularly. I have many more insecurities than I would like to admit, but often overcome these using a combination of this quote and a brief session of defining my fears.
So the exercise of fear-setting as Tim describes, can be boiled down to three concise steps.
Step 1: Define Your Fears
Write down on a piece of paper, or go through in your head.
(1) DEFINE the worst case scenario:
- What is the worst thing(s) that could happen if you do ______?
(2) PREVENT the worst case scenario from happening:
- What thing(s) could you put in place to prevent these events from occurring, or at least lessen the impact they have on your life, business or career?
- What have other people done in similar scenarios?
(3) REPAIR the worst case scenario:
- What thing(s) could you do in order to recover if the worst case scenario did in fact happen?
- Has anyone else been through the same scenario and recovered? If so, how?
Step 2: Define Your Positive Outcomes
List all the positive things that may come about from fully or partially achieving success in your endeavor. Ask:
- What could happen?
- How will you feel? How will the ones you care about the most feel?
- What opportunities may arise? Where will you be financially, emotionally or physically?
- What impact would you have made, no matter how large or small?
- What experiences, knowledge or skills would you have picked up?
Step 3: Define the Cost of Inaction
Write down what would happen if you didn’t do _____? Do this for 6 month, 1 year and 3 year timelines. Ask yourself, if you didn’t do this:
- How will you feel emotionally? How will the ones closest to you feel?
- How will you be physically?
- What will be your financial situation?
- What opportunities may you have missed out on? What skills, knowledge or experiences would you have missed out on?
- What will your life look like?
The basic concept here is Opportunity Cost! What opportunities would you have to forego for the alternative option of not taking action, and what is the true cost of this? What is the cost of not changing anything…
How I Used Fear-Setting Recently
So things are often best illustrated by an example, and I used this technique recently to make one of the biggest decisions in my life so far.
Action: What if I… left my job to work full time on online business?
My worst case fears defined:
- I might run out of money.
- I might fail at online business.
- I might upset my parents or my partner’s parents.
How I could prevent the worst case scenario or lessen the impact:
- I have savings and could restrict my expenses to survive. My partner will continue working.
- I have already done a lot of learning, and have mentors to guide me along the way. If I fail, try again. If I fail again, try again, but fail better. Failure is inevitable in some way or form, just persevere until you succeed.
- Have a sit down and talk with them before I take action. Explain my reasons and address their concerns. Communicate!
How could I repair the situation if my fears eventuated:
- Find a new job, whether it is part-time or full-time and continue working on the business as a side hustle.
- If I still don’t succeed at online business within my time window, then go back to my career as an engineer. Though there is nothing stopping me from continuing to learn how to be a better entrepreneur after hours!?
- Results speak louder than words. I will push and drive for the success and results to show my parents.
The benefits of a full or partial success:
- Able to spend more time with family and friends.
- Able to separate my income from my time.
- Will feel happier, healthier.
- Will have experienced a change and something new.
- Become financially free.
- Do more of what I love.
- ….I could go on and on…
The costs of not changing anything:
- Not able to spend as much time with family (leave restrictions).
- More drained and unhappy.
- Unable to spend as much time to build and grow my online business.
- Continued lack of fulfillment.
- Miss out on precious time for family. My parents aren’t getting any younger and the time to see them is important, as I live far away from them.
- Missed out on broadening my horizons with a new experience, and potentially traveling more of the world.
- Less time for kids than what I would have liked (will probably have started a family by then).
- Will feel tired and drained as the expectation would be to work long hours at the office.
My 3 Year Comparison Exercise
This is a little something extra that I developed to provide some clarity on the decision.
Derived from the 3-year timeline and the cost of inaction, I performed a separate mental exercise where I compared my life on two different pathways.
(1) What would my life look like in 3 years, if I stayed on the current pathway?
- I would be a senior engineer or maybe even a manager.
- Working at least 10hrs a day, as expected of a person at that level (normal working hours is 8).
- I would definitely be feeling tired, and most probably disengaged from my work.
- We would have one child, and maybe even a second on the way. I would only see them briefly before and after work, and on the weekend.
- Be able to see my parents the usual 1-3 times a year for a week or so at a time.
- Between taking leave to see our parents and a holiday for ourselves, my partner and I would have probably only seen 2 or 3 new places around the world and for no more than 2 weeks at a time.
(2) What would my life look like in 3 years if I took action?
- I would probably have established a couple of online businesses and grown them to a level where they at least cover our necessary living expenses.
- Given the business model I am following, I would require 15-20hrs a week to manage these businesses.
- The remaining time would be used to spend time with my partner, kids and parents, as well as pursuing new opportunities.
- I would be feeling happier and more fulfilled, having created something for myself!
- We would have one child, and maybe even a second on the way. I would be able to see them much more often, including their first steps and words.
- Able to spend extended periods of time visiting my parents, and running the business remotely.
- Able to take longer holidays, probably 3-4 weeks at a time and not feel so rushed to cram everything in. Holidays will be more relaxing, and we’ll be able to enjoy the culture and experiences of a destination.
Performing this comparison highlighted the fact that I basically had no excuse not to take Option (2), and that Option (1) effectively became the Plan B if all else failed.
Many of the most difficult decisions we come across in life, are difficult because of the fear surrounding uncertainty.
However, when we go about defining these fears, the worst case scenarios, and begin to think about the likelihood of these occurring. Things become a little more certain and aren’t so scary after all!
If we then look at the potential positive outcomes and weigh up the costs of not pursuing our endeavor. We often develop a very powerful argument to take action.
As Tim explains, more often than not, what we fear the most is actually what we need to do the most.
What are you afraid of doing the most? Maybe this exercise can help!
Maybe you do something similar? Please share your thoughts below, I’d be keen to hear them!