I’m sure you’re familiar with the practice of goal setting.
Successful athletes, entrepreneurs, executives, and artists tend to be keen goal-setters. It’s effective because it’s an exercise of organizing your mind and resources to make the most of your time and energy.
In its essence, goal-setting is a personal development action plan. Whether that takes place in the privacy of your journal, a performance review, or conversations with close friends, it forces you to consider your aspirations and your determination.
Tim Ferris is a tech-investor, best-selling author, and podcaster who attributes his success to an exercise he calls fear-setting. In his own words, fear setting is “an operating system for thriving in high-stress environments. It’s a way to visualize all the bad things that could happen to you, so you become less afraid of taking action.”
In his TED Talk, “Why you should define your fears instead of your goals” Ferris prompts us to fully envision and record our fears in detail. He says that gaining an understanding of what gives us anxiety can help us overcome them when it becomes time to make important decisions. These fears can stem from money, health, lack of approval, relationships, etc.
Fear is necessary for our survival. It’s the guide that keeps us out of danger, however, it becomes a problem when it takes the wheel and stops us from taking chances for growth.
Are you afraid to ask for that promotion for fear of rejection?
Do you fear proposing your project because it might fail and make you look bad?
Do you have a fear of crowds and therefore networking events are dreadful for you?
These are some of the narratives that let fear get in the way of reaching goals you’ve set for yourself. In this way, fear-setting is a beneficial practice to have along with goal-setting.
Much of our fears stem from uncertainty—especially when it comes to emotional responses to stressful situations. What this practice does is help us analyze the things we can and cannot control.
Fear setting is composed of three main parts:
1. What if I…
Define— the more detail, the better— a list of the worst possible scenarios that could occur if you asked for that promotion. Instead of dwelling on the horrible outcomes of what could occur, create a contingency plan to help you better prepare against failure.
Even if all the fire alarms go off in the worse possible scenario, your life is unlikely to end right then and there. If failure is what you’re dreading are there people you could go to for help and mentorship to better help you prepare?
2. What are the benefits?
This is my favorite part of this exercise. What will you gain from this success or partial success?
In this scenario, your boss passes you over for the promotion simply because you aren’t ready and they chose a more qualified candidate. The partial success I can see from this situation is now your boss knows you’re interested in growing in the company, and you now have constructive feedback to work with to pursue your goal
3. Determine the cost of inaction
What is the outcome of not asking for that promotion? Use your imagination and make it detailed. If you don’t go for what you’re after, what is the outcome of remaining in the same situation look like months or even a year from now? Sometimes we get so swept up in what could go wrong, that we don’t recognize that the status quo that comes out of inaction is sometimes even more dismal.
This process can be extremely powerful and I use it often enough with my clients that I’ve created a worksheet.