Fear-Setting: A powerful exercise for making major life decisions.

Beware Fear Disguised As Optimism.

“There’s no difference between a pessimist who says, ‘Oh, it’s hopeless, so don’t bother doing anything,’ and an optimist who says, ‘Don’t bother doing anything, it’s going to turn out fine any way.’ Either way, nothing happens.”

— Yvon Chouinard

Most of us don’t call fear out for what it is. We often dress it up as something else. Many of us will even rationalise our fear as optimism.

We entertain thoughts that our situation will magically improve over time. This is common for someone working a job they dislike. 

But the truth is – if you feel the same way you did several months or years ago – things probably won’t get better by themselves. Unless you do something about it, the chances are you’ll remain just as unhappy as you are now.

This is what’s happened to me. 

Right now I’m standing at the edge of the precipice about to take a leap of faith. All of my gremlins have come crawling out of the woodwork. 

They’re whispering in my ear. Telling me this is a massive mistake, that it will end in disaster, that I have no idea what I’m doing… 

Of course fear wants us to play it safe. It wants us to choose certainty over happiness. That’s because the ego isn’t interested happiness. It’s only interested in survival.  

But that’s why it’s important to understand just how dangerous that leap of faith really is.

But to do that, you first have to embrace your demons. You have to give them the time and space to air out their concerns. So that you can really examine them. So you can hold them up in the light and see that fear for what it is:

  • False. 
  • Evidence. 
  • Appearing. 
  • Real. 

This helps us understand where our fears are really coming from. It helps us see what we can do to mitigate those concerns. Which fears are worth listening to and which really aren’t.

This in turn can give us the strength we need to take that leap of faith.

Fear-Setting: A powerful exercise for making major life decisions.

“You have comfort. You don’t have luxury. And don’t tell me that money plays a part. The luxury I advocate has nothing to do with money. It cannot be bought. It is the reward of those who have no fear of discomfort.”

— Jean Cocteau.

With this in mind I have an exercise you might consider. It’s an exercise I ran through the other night in an attempt to gain more clarity on my impending decision to divert from Hong Kong and my career in aviation.

It’s called fear-setting – an exercise that Tim Ferris called, “the most valuable one he does every month.” If you’re interested his article breaks it down in greater detail.

In a nut shell, here’s what you do:

  1. First, you write down the major life change you’re considering. 
  2. Second, define the worst case scenario in pain staking detail. Ask yourself if it really would be the end of your life? How permanent would it be? How likely is the worst case scenario?
  3. Third, ask yourself what steps could you take to repair the damage/deal with worst. Would you be able to get another job? What if you were fired from your job today? What would you do? How would you cope?
  4. Forth, ask yourself what the outcomes/benefits of a more probable scenario are. What are the definite positive outcomes (including for your self-esteem, mental and physical health etc)? What would the impact of these more likely outcomes be? 
  5. Fifth, ask what the cost will be if you do nothing? What is the cost of inaction? What will it cost you financially, emotionally & physically if you postpone this difficult choice?
  6. Finally, ask yourself what you’re so afraid of? What are currently putting off out of fear?

Perhaps It’s Better the Devil You Don’t Know?

“It’s not that we fear the unknown. You cannot fear something that you do not know. Nobody is afraid of the unknown. What you really fear is the loss of the known. That’s what you fear.”

– SJ Anthony de Mello

After running through this exercise the other night I came to a number of important insights.

I realised the nightmare scenario I’d been envisioning was one in a million. And the benefits – the positive outcomes – were much more likely. Even if the worst did come to pass, I realised that much of what I felt I was giving up was reversible.

But I also considered what the longer term costs of inaction might be. This presented me with another picture. One that was every bit as scary as the one that had been causing me to hesitate.

So I asked myself, ‘what I am really afraid of here?’ 

After giving it some thought it occurred to me that I what fear most – isn’t what the future might hold – but losing what I know.

I fear losing the gremlins that have kept safe for so long.

People often say it’s better the devil you know. But what if the devil you don’t know isn’t a devil after all?

After all, you don’t know.

What if it’s not an angel sent to save you? If only you had the courage to reach out to it – if only you had the strength to take that leap of faith and leave the shoreline behind.

The truth is, change is the only inevitability in this life. To cling to what we know only provides us with a false sense of security.

I would argue, to embrace change – to embrace the unknown – is to embrace life itself. 

***

You can find more of AP2’s writing here at: https://pointlessoverthinking.com

You can also find him on Medium at: https://anxiouspilot2.medium.com

Or on Twitter at: @AnxiousPilot

33 thoughts on “Fear-Setting: A powerful exercise for making major life decisions.

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