Fear Setting, A Mental Framework

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“I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.” -Mark Twain.

More often than not, people choose unhappiness over uncertainty. It’s what keeps us in bad jobs, bad relationships and, keeps us from taking chances, for example.

Why is this?

One reason is a fear of the unknown. We get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Another reason is that we’re busy and put things off for “later.”

One of my favorite mental frameworks to logically break down fear is one I learned from Tim Ferriss (author of the 4-hour books). He calls this framework "Fear Setting" (learned from stoic philosophers).

I used this framework when considering quitting my cushy job as a Recruiting Manager to start Holtz & Bernard. I had a lot of uncertainty and a lot to lose.

I had a comfortable salary, solid benefits, security, stability and, I loved my co-workers like family. On top of that, I have a daughter (6-months old at the time) and family that counts on me.

To put things into proper perspective, I did the “Fear Setting” exercise that I’m about to share with you. Once finished, I realized the real risk was not going for it.

Here’s the framework. Break out a pen and paper and give this a try!

Draw two lines vertically down a blank piece of paper to give yourself 3-columns.

Left column

In the left column, write down all the things you fear will happen if you take x chance.

Middle column

In the middle column, write down next to each point what you can do to mitigate the risk of this happening if you went for it.

Right column

In the right column, write down how you would rebound if your worst-case scenario were to happen.

Bonus column

As a bonus, add another column to the right and write down what it costs you by not going for it.

As you go through this exercise, you start to realize the worst-case scenario is not that bad after all and, if that were to happen, it wouldn’t be so hard to get back to where you're at now, if not into a better situation.

When you put your thoughts down on paper, it allows you to get out of your head so you can process your thoughts logically rather than emotionally.