Tim Ferriss on How to Overcome Your Fears

The art of confronting your fears head-on.

(CC) Brian Solis, www.briansolis.com

I had no idea what Stoicism was about until I watched Tim Ferriss’ TED talk on why we should define our fears before we define our goals.

In the talk, Tim described how some of the world’s top performers use the principles of Stoicism to confront their fears and methodically achieve their goals. Principles that are built on 4 virtues:-

#1 Practical Wisdom

The virtue of knowing which problems can be solved and which are beyond our control.

#2 Temperance

The virtue of being balanced and disciplined in life.

#3 Justice

The virtue of treating everyone with fairness, regardless of whether they have treated you well or not. A virtue that is all about seeing the grayness of the world and being realistic about the people in it.

#4 Courage

The virtue of being calm under fire and showing steely resolve.

But the most important bit of this presentation was not about Stoicism. It was about an exercise that Tim does every quarter to face his apprehensions and avoid making catastrophic mistakes.

An exercise he calls “Fear-setting”.

Photo by Janko Ferlič on Unsplash

The Fear-setting Exercise

Step #1: The “What if…” Clause

Take a blank sheet of paper (or open a new document on your phone/laptop), and then write this on top of it:-

“What if I did…[something you want to do but are afraid of doing]?”

Then divide the sheet into 3 columns — Fears, Contingency Plans, and Problem-solving Solutions.

Note: Tim Ferriss uses different headings for these columns. But I feel these ones sum them up better.

Step #2: List Your Fears

For example, if you are apprehensive about taking off for a year and traveling the world, then your column of fears may have the following in it:-

  1. Running out of money
  2. Getting stranded in an unknown locality
  3. Communication barrier
  4. Getting mugged

Step #3: List Your Contingency Plans

Ask yourself this question to help you along: what can I do to reduce the likelihood of my fears becoming reality?

For example, our contingency plans can be:-

  1. Having an emergency deposit in the bank.
  2. Using maps and GPS.
  3. Learning basic phrases with the help of language-learning apps or Youtube videos.
  4. Being careful at night, keeping a can of pepper spray, etc.

Step #4: List Your Problem-solving Solutions

In the last column list how you will repair the situation if your fears come to pass.

For example, our solutions can be:-

  1. Asking a friend/parent to wire some money. (Running out of money)
  2. Backtrack or go to the nearest consumer shop for help. (Stranded)
  3. Try communicating in universal signs and hand gestures. (Communication barrier)
  4. Notify the local police and go to the National Consulate. (Mugged)

Step #5: What are the Benefits of Action?

Now take a new sheet of paper and list all the benefits you will reap if you go through with your plan.

Step #6: List the Cost of Inaction

Finally, take another sheet of paper, write “Cost of Inaction” on top of it, and list all the ways inaction will cost you physically, emotionally, mentally, and financially in the next 6 months, 1 year, and 3 years.

For example, not taking the year-long world tour may end up costing you mental peace, life-time experiences, opportunities, and connections.

Photo by Teddy Kelley on Unsplash

The Power of Fear

There are two ways of living life — through love and courage, or hate and fear.

Unfortunately, most people live through the latter, which is the reason why they are so unfulfilled and unhappy in life. But they don’t have to.

For courage is not the lack of fear. It is the resolve to do something despite it.


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What is your greatest fear in life? Leave a response below.