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Tim Ferriss on Fear-setting instead of Goal-setting →

Tim opens his TED Talk with a personal story that helps frame his context: on the brink of suicide, he decided he needed a way to manage his ups and downs. Tim has bipolar depression and was not coping well with it. He goes on to describe his discovery of Stoicism.

This is part of his recipe for “avoiding self-destruction.” He describes stoicism as “an operating system for thriving in high-stress environments.” While Stoicism encompasses a far-ranging philosophy for living one’s life, Tim hones in one just one tenet: training yourself to separate what you can control from what you cannot control. Through exercises, one can use this to decrease “emotional reactivity.”

We suffer more often in imagination than in reality.

  • Seneca

Ferriss finds from this a tool Stoics like Seneca use in their practice: premeditatio malorum, or the premeditation of evils. This simply means visualizing the worst-case scenarios one fears which are preventing one from taking action in order to aid one in taking the action being prevented. His written exercise is fear-setting, which he does each quarter.

  1. Finish this sentence: “What if I…?” Define an action that you don’t want to take.
  2. List the fears you have. You want 10-20.
  3. For each fear, list how you can prevent the fear, or decrease the likelihood of it happening.
  4. For each fear, what could you do to repair the situation if the fear came true? Could you ask someone to help?
  5. Then ask yourself: What might be the benfits of an attempt or partial success?
  6. Now consider the cost of inaction, emotionally, physically, financially, etc.
  7. List what your life would look like in 6 months, 1 year, and 3 years if you took no action.

This is exactly how my brain works: I immediately think of the worst-case scenario and overwhelm myself with possibilities until I’m stuck. It often means I can only take small, incremental actions until I assuage my fears. Working through a more wholistic fear-setting exercise for big decisions and bigger actions seems like a good step forward.