Set your fears this scary season

by Oct 18, 2019

As Halloween fast approaches (T-minus two weeks people!) many of us begin to prepare for the annual celebration of fear… and some sneaky treats of course!

So, what better time to sit down and re-evaluate your fears? 

Now, as silly as it sounds, I promise it’s a thing. And it’s actually helped me to make some of the biggest decisions of my life over the past 2 years. 

I was first introduced to the concept of ‘fear setting’ by Tim Ferriss in his 2017 TED talk “Why you should define your fears instead of your goals” – a completely foreign way of thinking for me at the time.

As a highly driven individual, I’m constantly creating and reshaping checklists that align with other lists that include lists of personal and professional goals and milestones. Lots of lists, but up until that point, ‘fear setting’ was one list that I never had.   

In Ferriss’ Ted Talk, he explains how to handle life’s difficult choices, and the results from either taking action or not taking action. Ferriss shares his concept of ‘fear setting’ as an important tool that will help us overcome the fear of making difficult choices.

This is how it works…

Page 1, Column 1: Define the nightmare

INSTRUCTION for Column 1 of Page 1: Under the title ‘Define’, write down 10 fears you have in relation to making a particular decision. 

If I do __X__ what is the ABSOLUTE worst that could happen?

Let’s say, for the sake of this exercise, you’re thinking about moving into a career that doesn’t align with the university degree you’ve been studying for the past 3-5 years.

Well, your family might be extremely mad, to the point of disowning you. Your classmates could laugh at you, they may not want to hang out with you anymore and could consider you to be a flake – jumping from one industry to the next. What if you get into this new career and don’t like it as much as you thought? Maybe you’ll get overshadowed and beaten by people in the industry who have spent all their time and energy for the past 3-5 years studying and working in this industry only. Surely there’s no chance you could compete with that. After a short time of finding no success in this new role, you’ll be homeless, lonely and forced to live off food scraps, with no money in the bank account.

It’s a pretty grim picture, but Ferriss believes that defining your fear is the first step towards conquering it.

Page 1, Column 2 and 3: Unpack the nightmare

INSTRUCTION for Column 2 of Page 1: Under the title ‘Prevent’, write down one preventative measure you could implement to combat each fear you have outlined in Column 1.

INSTRUCTION for Column 3 of Page 1: Under the title of ‘Repair’. Recommend one thing you could do to repair the damage occurred from each Column 1 fear mentioned.

Ferris says,

“As soon as I cut through the vague unease and ambiguous anxiety by defining my nightmare, the worst-case scenario, I wasn’t as worried about taking a trip.”

(Trip = his first scary decision).

“I realised that on a scale of 1-10, (1 being nothing and 10 being permanently life-changing), my so-called worst-case scenario might have a temporary impact of 3 or 4. I believe this is true of most people and most would-be “holy sh*t, my life is over” disasters.”

The idea is that once having a clear picture of your exact fear, you’re able to approach the situation much more logically and you can implement preventative measures to reduce the likelihood of the nightmare coming to life. The structure of the ‘fear setting’ activity also has you thinking of repair measures you could implement, if the worst happens – aka, “how can I fix it?”

Using the example of changing to a career that doesn’t align with your degree, you could prevent the likelihood of shifting to an industry that you eventually dislike by interviewing someone (or multiple people) who is already in that industry before you move. Find out everything you can, so that your decision is based on thorough research, and when you make the shift, you know exactly what you’re in for.   

If you did end up making the move, and still weren’t feeling it, how could you potentially repair the damage? Well, you could for example, revisit the industry you originally studied, you could return to study something new, or you might simply get a job with a friend while you do a bit more soul searching. Quite often you’ll find that the possibilities here are fairly limitless.      

Page 1 should now look like this:

Black box with title 'What if I...?' and three columns below

Page 2: Acknowledge the potential benefits

INSTRUCTION for Page 2: Make a list of the possible benefits an attempt or partial success could bring.

Once the fear has been identified, it’s only fair that you explore the possible benefits from attempting what it is you’re looking to do or even receiving a partial success.

Using the previous example, could a move into a new industry mean growth in contacts or even appreciating a new way of thinking that a new industry brings? Could a ‘partial success’ lead to more satisfaction at work? More money? Shorter commute? Etc.  

Page 2 might look like this:

Black square with question 'what might be the benefits of an attempt or partial success?' as title

Page 3: The cost of inaction

INSTRUCTION for Page 3: Divide into 3 columns (6 Months/12 Months/3 Years) and write down your thoughts how the cost of inaction could your life at those particular times.

In other words, “If I avoid doing this thing, what might happen?” Or, “What might my life look like in, say, six months, twelve months, three years, if I don’t change anything?”

This is the final step of the ‘fear setting’ exercise and similar to the when you defined your nightmare, the idea is to get as detailed as possible – emotionally, financially, physically – the lot! 

With our example, perhaps inaction could lead to resentment of the people you feel who are pressuring you to stay in the same position, maybe long hours in that role could lead to the uptake of unhealthy habits, or perhaps sticking in a position that gives you zero stimulation, will leave you with less enthusiasm for life in general.

Depending on the picture you paint, you may just realise that inaction is no longer an option.

Page 3 should look like this:

Black box with title ' cost of inaction (emotionally, physically, financially, etc.)' with three columns

As mentioned, this activity has helped me make some of the toughest decisions I’ve had to face over the past 2 years in both my personal and professional life. If you’re struggling over a certain decision in your life, try this exercise and you might find it helpful too.

Furthermore, if your decision is career-related, don’t hesitate to speak with one of the UTS Career Advisors, at UTS Careers Drop-in, for a free 15 minute consultation. Don’t be scared!      

Happy Halloween!


Featured image courtesy of Unsplash

By Simon Jaeger

By Simon Jaeger

Marketing Consultant

Simon Jaeger is a dynamic Sydney-based marketing consultant, currently working at UTS Careers. With over 10 years of experience across a multitude of disciplines, including experiential, digital, and integrated marketing, Simon brings a holistic and data-driven approach to driving creativity and innovation to the tertiary education space.