Fear can be defined as “an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.” I don’t know about you, but fear has been no stranger in my life. Even on the brightest of days, fear comes knocking with a subtle, yet unmistakable, reminder that our joy is only temporary and that change is inevitable. But what is even more frustrating is that fear is arguably the one “thing” that can keep us from being content all the while holding us back from chasing our dreams and pursuing true self-transformation. Doesn’t seem fair, does it?
What I want you to take notice of today is the freedom that is found in the two words sandwiched in the middle of fear’s definition.
To believe something means to accept it as true. But you see, what we believe is up to us, and once we realize that, it becomes clear that fear doesn’t define us. Rather, we define fear.
If you happened to browse the seven TED talks on happiness I shared a few weeks ago, then you’ve experienced the interesting perspective Tim Ferriss shares on why we should be defining our fears instead of our goals. Watching his talk was a reality check for me, and to be honest, after listening to it, my previous post on personal alignment and goal-setting felt a little premature. That’s not to say that goal-setting isn’t important or doesn’t have its place. Rather, the issue is that if we fail to engage in some form of what Ferriss identifies as “fear-setting,” odds are, we won’t ever make it to goal-setting.
What is Fear Setting?
The concept of fear-setting can be traced back to the principles of stoicism, an ancient philosophy centered on the inner-being and an objective view of reality. There is a good deal of literature that dives deep into the foundational elements of stoicism, but in his talk, Ferriss challenges his audience to think of it as “an operating system for thriving in high-stress environments and making better decisions.” In essence, adopting an attitude that is grounded in stoicism allows us to hone our emotional reactions in a way that prevents self-destruction and mental paralysis.
To reinforce his story and findings, Ferriss references a quote by Seneca. He said, “We suffer more often in imagination than in reality.” Wow. The sheer power in those words — they are heart-wrenching, they are sobering, and if we allow them to be, they are oh so freeing.
Fear, shame, anxiety, embarrassment, self-doubt — they are all born out of the lies that we tell ourselves; lies we believe about ourselves. We hide inside of our minds and we create these fantasies and nightmares that are simply not real, and in most cases, never will be. It’s sad, it’s true, and let’s be honest, it’s downright ridiculous.
So, what can we do?
We can start by defining our fears. Ask yourself, if you pursue this goal, dream, or desired change of yours, what are you scared will happen?
Not that I’m eager to “fuel the fear fire,” but here are some possibilities:
- Unmet expectations
- Loss of relationships
- Loss of employment
- More responsibility
- Financial hardship
- Physical injury
- Disappointing others
- Increased anxiety
- Addiction or loss of sobriety
Some of these fears are broad while others may have more specific implications. The fear of failure applies to almost every change or activity we are afraid to pursue, while things like financial hardship and physical injury are largely dependent on the nature of the situation.
I’ll use my blogging journey as an example:
Before starting this blog and many days since, I allowed fear to influence my perception of the journey and, quite honestly, of myself. I have been guilty of setting unrealistic expectations and feeling devastated when I did not meet them. I have worried that my blog would never become profitable and that I will have “wasted” the money I spent on its development. I have been embarrassed to share my blog with others because I feared they would find it lack-luster or irrelevant. I have even feared its success because I felt unprepared for the change in lifestyle and personal exposure it might give way to. I am scared to fail and scared to succeed, and often times, that leaves me feeling paralyzed when all I really need to do is make the next right move.
That’s where the next step comes in.
So, once you’ve listed the potential outcomes that are the basis of your fears in relation to this particular “thing,” make a list of what you can do to prevent those things from happening.
- Set benchmarks or check-in points to monitor your progress toward your goals
- Give up some of your previous obligations to offset the demands of this new venture
- Take small steps to prepare for the bigger change
- Read books, research articles, and other informational resources related to your area of interest
- Share with your family and friends why this is important to you and ask for their support
- Make a conscious effort not to compare your beginning to someone else’s middle
- Use journaling as a method to reflect on your thoughts about your journey
The activities you identify in this section should be carefully selected. Don’t choose something you know you won’t do. This is you finding a way to hold yourself accountable and bring yourself back to reality when you are tempted to let fear take over. You can and should revisit and update this list throughout your self-development journey, but always take it seriously.
Having a contingency plan does not mean that you are planning to fail. The reality is that things don’t always go as planned and having a pre-defined answer to the question, “What if?” is both smart and necessary.
So, in the event that the things you are scared of do happen, what could you do to repair the damage?
This list could include:
- Try again
- Take a break
- Seek out advice from others who have been in your situation
- Reflect on your experience and identify areas for improvement
- Show yourself some grace
- Pursue another passion
- Try again, again
Though these examples are broad, I find they are also all-encompassing. You may feel the need to be more specific based on your individual fears, but if you find yourself struggling with this step, I encourage you to take Tim Ferriss’ advice. Ask yourself, “Has anyone else in the history of time, less intelligent or less driven [than you], figured this out?” Chances are, the answer is yes.
What is there to gain?
I know that felt like a lot of work, but there’s more, and I believe it’s worth your time to follow through.
Now that you have defined your fears and brainstormed ways to combat them, you need to ask yourself, “What might be the benefits of an attempt or partial success?” Stay grounded, but let yourself dream a little. What is there for you to gain by pursuing this dream, change, or activity?
- Valuable knowledge
- New relationships
- Spiritual growth
- Financial freedom
- Career advancement
- Improved physical health
Odds are, if it mattered enough for you to acknowledge that it scares you, there is something to be gained from it. It may change your life, and that’s okay. Change is inevitable, remember?
What is there to lose?
When we develop a new dream or set a new goal, we immediately start telling ourselves the millions of ways it could go wrong. That’s what fear is. We’ve established that. But what we haven’t done is flip the narrative in a way that encourages us to ask what will happen if we don’t pursue the opportunity. In other words, “What are the costs of inaction?”
Make a list of these consequences and place them on a timeline. If you do nothing, what will the consequences be six months from now? What about in one year? How about three years?
This is where you acknowledge that if you don’t seize this opportunity you may find yourself:
- In worse physical health
- Drowning in debt
- In a stagnant or unraveling relationship
- In an unfulfilling career
- In a spiritual drought
- Experiencing deep regret for the chances you didn’t take
You’ve heard the saying, “Nothing changes if nothing changes.” But you’ve also heard the saying, “It could always be worse.” I believe both of these statements to be true. Participating in fear-setting allows us to develop an awareness of the things that matter to us. It challenges us to address the possibilities and consequences of our actions and inactions in a way that regular goal-setting does not.
We’re only given one life, and what I want out of that life for myself is the same thing I want for you — to have the courage to use our God-given gifts and talents to bring peace, joy, and understanding into the beautifully complex world we live in.
This approach won’t make overcoming your fears easy, but it will make it possible.
Thank you so much for stopping by the blog today. In case you missed it, you can scroll back up to download your free fear-setting workbook. I hope it serves you well!
Until next time,