We all have fears. I do, you do, Tim Ferriss does. In a recent TED Talk, Ferriss says what we most fear saying, asking, or doing can often be what we most need to do if we want to be successful. But how do you get past the fear and actually do the things you most need to do to be successful?
To stop avoiding the things you need to do — or are afraid to do — first stop avoiding thinking about those things. Do what Ferriss calls fear setting. (I turned his three steps into four; sorry, Tim.)
1. Write down what you’re afraid of.
Name it. Don’t let your fear be vague or nonspecific. Write down what it is.
2. Then create three subcategories below each fear you’ve listed.
Category 1: Define. Write down 10 or 20 worst possible outcomes. If you’re afraid to start a business, write down 10 or 20 of the worst things that could possibly happen.
Category 2: Prevent. Then determine what you could do to prevent each of those worst possible outcomes. If you’re afraid to start a business because you don’t think you have the experience, consider bringing in a partner. If you’re worried about income, create a plan that lets you keep your full-time job while you get started.
Category 3: Repair. Then determine what you will do if you are unable to prevent one of those “worst possible outcomes.” Maybe you’ll create “eject” points along the way. Maybe you’ll plan to pivot if certain things do or don’t happen. Take the time to decide, ahead of time, what you will do if something doesn’t turn out well. That exercise will give you the confidence to know that if the worst does happen, you’re ready.
3. Write down the benefits of succeeding — or simply trying — what you’re afraid of.
What happens if you try? What happens if you succeed? How will your life change if you successfully start a business? How will your life change if you start working out, write that book, invest in an opportunity? List the positives.
4. Write down the “cost of inaction.”
Now list where you’ll be if you don’t try. Maybe you’ll still be working in a job you hate. Maybe you won’t have the work-life balance you hope for. Maybe you’ll still feel financially trapped. Maybe you will simply regret never having tried.
What might your life look like in six months, 12 months, or three years?” Ferriss asks. “Any further out, it starts to seem intangible. And really get detailed — again, emotionally, financially, physically, whatever.” In short, just as you spent time clearly naming your fear, spend time clearly describing what your life might be like if you don’t try to overcome that fear.
Granted, some of your fears will be realistic. And that’s OK. “But you shouldn’t conclude that,” Ferriss says, “without first putting [your fears] under a microscope.”
Try it. Name your fears, and then think critically about the worst that can happen. Most fears and almost all worries are groundless. Whenever risk is involved–and trying something new definitely involves risk–it’s easy to back away when you’re stewing in a pot of vague, indefinite concerns.
But nothing I’ve ever tried has ever turned out as badly as I imagined it could. (And I’ve done some really stupid things.)
Say you quit a full-time job and open a retail store. What is the worst possible outcome? Your business could fail, your savings could evaporate, and your family could be out on the street, homeless, and destitute. Possible? Sure, but not at all likely. If your store struggles, you will go into “Repair” mode. You’ll work even harder and adapt your business model, and if that doesn’t work, you’ll shut it down and get a job. Failing would hardly be ideal, but failure is something you and your family can overcome.
Back away from the fear of the unknown edge, determine the more likely “worst” things that can happen, and then create plans to deal with those possibilities. Worries are just possibilities you haven’t decided to face. When you don’t face them, you can’t control them.
Then go a step further. Recognize you aren’t different–in a good way. Spend time with a person who is very successful in some field or pursuit. It doesn’t matter what.
After a few minutes you’ll probably think, “Wait, this guy isn’t any smarter than me.” After a few more minutes, you’ll probably think, “Hey, I’m actually smarter than he is.”
Success doesn’t require a high IQ or some special intangible quality that you don’t have. Successful people only become “special” after they succeed; before they put in all that time and effort, they were just like everyone else. Spend time with a few successful people and you will realize you are just as capable of achieving great things.
Finally, think about a time you succeeded. How did you feel about yourself? How did others feel about you? Bask in the remembered glow. Bask in the memories of the praise you received. Remember when you took a deep breath, nodded your head, and thought, “Wow, that was awesome.”
You probably felt like you were almost floating. Hold on to that feeling. Then …
Think about a time you failed miserably. Think about how horrible you felt. Then promise yourself you’ll do whatever it takes to make sure you never have to feel that way again.
And go get started on conquering your fears.