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Define Your Fears

Pursuing a more intentional life, one with a higher sense of fulfillment, can lead to some very serious decision making. At 28, I realized I was living a mindless routine that contributed to very little of substance, and that, if I had died suddenly, was robbing me of making the most of the chance I had been given on this earth. Of course, the job itself was not the problem, though it was a factor. The bigger issue was my lack of putting “the edge” at the center of my life. I was coasting down an easy and well-worn road. The fulfillment of living with more intention would require some hard choices.

FEAR: Forget Everything And Run! (Photo: Stuart Anthony via Flickr Creative Commons)

Discerning whether or not to walk up to that edge unleashed a perpetual state of anxiety in the months leading up to my decision. I was scared to death. I was scared to fail. Scenarios ran through my head day and night about debts piling up, being evicted, and, worst of all, having to crawl back to, well, somewhere – I didn’t exactly know where – with my tail between my legs. I feared falling flat on my face, returning to a life of mindless routine, and never putting my talents toward some higher and better use that I felt was out there waiting for me.

I eventually faced the fear, walked out, faced the inevitable ups and downs the come from such a choice – some better handled than others – and things worked out fortuitously in the end. But pushing through that fear was one of the most difficult things I had done to that point. But how might it have been if I had focused more on defining those fears instead of what I was hoping to do once I pushed past them?

In a recent TED Talk, author and life guru Tim Ferriss explains the idea of naming fears instead of goals. Ferriss calls this “fear setting” and presents a very simple process for working through them.

The first step is a simple listing exercise. It comprises naming the fear holding us back, actions that can be taken to prevent it, and steps that can be taking if that fear comes to pass.

Once you’ve defined the fears and laid out what can be done to mitigate them, the next step is to examine what success might look like, even minimally.

The third step is to identify what he calls “The Cost of Inaction,” and to define the impact of maintaining the status quo at various intervals into the future (e.g., 6 months, 1 year, 3 years, etc.).

You can watch Tim's presentation here. It is only about 12 minutes.

Tim’s story is engaging. I wish I had heard of this technique of his (or rather that he learned from a mentor) back when I was agonizing over my decision to find a higher and better use of myself. I encourage you to read up on Tim, watch the video, and so some fear setting of your own, even if you are not contemplating life-changing decisions. Identify what, if anything, might be holding you back from changing even the smallest bit of a status quo that isn’t working for you. My gamble paid off and I’m applying myself in more meaningful ways than I did previously. I just did this exercise anyway and it was eye-opening. I think it will be for you too.



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