One of the biggest reasons that we feel stressed on a regular basis is that we feel as though there are things hanging over us. That or we’re afraid of something that’s going to happen – something that is up-coming. For instance, you might be afraid of a speech you know you have to give in two weeks and you may feel it hanging over you like a black cloud.
Alternatively you might be stressed because of debt. But if you really look hard at that stress you’ll probably be able to ascertain that it isn’t so much the debt itself you’re stressed about but rather what you think that debt could lead to. You’re scared of getting into trouble with the law. Or you’re scared that your partner will find out your bad spending habits got you into debt and so left you.
Fear is what leads to stress. And stress leads to… suffering?
Point is, these kinds of fears affect us all but they aren’t helpful. That’s why you need to look for ways to deal with them. And one great strategy you can use to do exactly that is Tim Ferriss’ ‘Fear Setting Technique’.
What Is Fear Setting?
The basic idea behind fear setting is that you’re going to take your fears and then define them. By defining them, you turn them into more effective targets and you give yourself more concrete means of tackling them. This is the basic idea behind fear setting but we’re applying them slightly differently.
When Tim Ferriss explained fear setting in his book The Four Hour Workweek, he meant for the technique to be used to help us overcome fears that were preventing us from living our lives to the fullest – from taking chances or trying to live our dreams.
In this case though, we’re going to use the same technique as a way to combat stress and fear that is simply preventing us from being as happy and healthy as we otherwise could be.
Note that Tim Ferriss doesn’t deserve all the credit for fear setting either. Really this technique is simply an example of CBT – Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – and specifically of ‘thought challenging’ and ‘hypothesis testing’. In other words, it’s recycled and repackaged psychology. But there’s nothing wrong with that!
How to Use Fear Setting
So here’s how it works.
To begin with, you’re going to sit down and write down all the things you’re afraid of and all the thoughts that are causing you stress. Be specific and break the bigger things down into smaller constituents. For instance then, don’t just write ‘Work’, write ‘A fear of not meeting deadlines’ and ‘A fear of being fired’. Be honest with yourself and don’t leave anything out.
Now, what you’re going to do next is to go down the list and write down an honest appraisal of how likely each of those things is.
So for instance, you’ll write down how likely you are to get fired. Remember, it’s actually illegal to fire people without a very good reason and if you haven’t had prior warnings, an employer would probably be in trouble for firing you.
Likewise, assess how likely it is that your partner would leave you after five years. Unless you’ve done something terrible, they’re probably as likely to leave you as you are to leave them. Remember: they have all the same concerns as you do most likely!
Once you’ve gone through and done that, the next thing you’re going to do is look at each fear and then think how you would deal with it if it did happen. Come up with a great contingency plan that makes the best of a bad situation. In some cases you can even turn negatives into positives.
Afraid of being fired? Well then come up with your plan: move into a house share perhaps and live off your savings while you look for your dream job. Or maybe set up your own business? Or take on a simpler job as a personal trainer?
What if your partner left you? Well it would be heartbreaking yes but there would be upshots too. Maybe you could go travelling. If it didn’t work out, then presumably, it wasn’t meant to be anyway.
And don’t all these things just make you stronger? Just add to the rich tapestry that is your life?
Finally, look at the items and ask yourself: will it do any good to be worried about these things now? Is there any benefit in being stressed about debt?
Once you’ve done this, you should find that your stress becomes much more manageable and that it’s robbed somewhat of its power. The things you’re afraid of are very often unlikely and not as bad as they seem at first.
Now, each time one of these fears makes itself known in your mind, just remind yourself of everything we’ve gone over. Next time you’re in an argument with a boss, remember your contingency plans and remember they probably can’t fire you. Next time you’re worrying about your relationship while lying awake in bed, remember: there’s nothing you can do about it now.
Be practical about your fears and you may just find they disappear.