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Tim Ferriss’ books The 4 Hour Work-Week and Tools of Titans shared many powerful success tools with readers. Today we are going to focus on one tool that Tim covered in both books and in his podcast – Fear Setting.

“What’s the worst that can happen?”

Fear Setting, at its most basic level, is simply defining the worst case scenario for whatever action you are considering. An action always seems most risky when its downside is undefined.

Once you define the actual risk, you will often find the risk is nowhere near as bad as it seemed when it was cloudy in your mind. The downside usually seems catastrophic while it is not defined. But, once it is clearly defined, we realize the downside we so feared would only be a minor bump in the road of our lives. Meanwhile, the potential upside of taking action could be huge.

Tim once described this in a podcast as follows:

We often pass up opportunities that could be, on a scale of 10, a long-term 8, 9, or 10 type of positive outcome. We pass up on these opportunities because of fear of  what is really only a temporary 2 or 3 type of potential downside.

Once we start thinking of our decisions in this way, instead of obsessing over cloudy ideas of all the things that could go wrong, we will be much more open to taking risks.

An Example of Fear Setting

Starting your own business sounds scary. It feels like, if you do it, your life could be over if you fail. The truth, however, is that, if you fail, you are just out some time and money.

If things don’t work out, maybe you get behind on some bills. Maybe some things are temporarily not great for you financially. But, you still have food to eat. You still have a home. You can always just go back and get another job working for someone else. In Gary Vaynerchuk’s words, “The practical world is always waiting with open arms”.

When all is said and done, this outcome is a “2” or “3” on the scale of bad things that can happen to us in our lives. And, it’s temporary. You go back to what you were doing before, maybe you have some debt to work off, but, you recover and life goes on.

But, if your own business worked out, maybe your life is altered in a positive way for years. Maybe you achieve fulfillment and you are happy. Maybe money ceases to be a concern. You are setting your own schedule, you’re your own boss. This is maybe a 7 or 8 on a scale of positive events and this is a potentially permanent development.

Starting your own business is only one example. You could use the same exercise for taking a new job, moving to a new city, starting a band, writing a book. When you go through this exercise you will often be surprised to find that, for many things you are holding back from doing, you are being more held back more by fear of potential embarrassment than any real material loss.

The Art of Fear Setting

Take a piece of paper and draw a vertical line down the middle. On the left side, write down all the things that could realistically go wrong with whatever action you are considering taking.

Once that is done, on the right side of the paper, write the ways that you could minimize each of those things that could go wrong. “Cap the downside” is a term you will hear Tim mention often. For each of these bad things, is there a way you lower the chance of it happening? Or minimize the damage if it does?

Simply going through this exercise will help to free your mind from your fears. Fear Setting is one of the most powerful tools that I have found to get comfortable with taking risks. Give it a shot the next time you are faced with a big decision.

You might be surprised to find that you are bypassing a chance at a “10” positive outcome over fear of a “2” negative outcome.


Want to read more of Tim’s best tips and tricks from the best and brightest in the world? Check out Tools of the Titans by clicking here.

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