Anxiety is something that most of us are familiar with and even the calmest people in the world will recognize those occasional feelings of being ‘on edge’ and unable to relax thanks to the racing thoughts. This is normal and fine – it’s only when we end up struggling with anxiety very regularly and to an extreme extent that it becomes a problem.
Anxiety can be triggered by many things, be it social situations, work or something abstract that you can’t quite put your finger on. No matter the cause though, it’s important that you learn how to get your anxiety under control as otherwise it’s only likely to get worse and more frequent with time.
Fortunately, there’s one powerful strategy you can use for managing anxiety that can be highly effective in a wide range of situations. This can help you to feel more relaxed in the short term and in the long term it can prevent repeated bouts of anxiety. It’s called ‘fear setting’.
What Is Fear Setting?
Fear setting is a concept that was popularized by author and productivity guru Tim Ferriss in his book ‘The Four Hour Workweek’. The idea is very similar to the ideas found in cognitive behavioral therapy in that it provides a framework for looking at the kinds of thoughts that can lead to irrational anxiety and then robbing those thoughts of their power.
The term ‘fear setting’ is a play on the idea of ‘goal setting’. When you ‘goal set’ you write down all of your different goals onto a piece of paper in order to visualize them and make them concrete and that way you can then work towards making them happen.
In ‘fear setting’ you start out the same way – only this time you are writing down all the things that frighten you and that cause you anxiety. These are all the things that are no doubt causing you to lose sleep.
The reason that you’re doing this is that it will then allow you to a) see how silly some of these concerns are and b) come up with contingency plans and ways to minimize the risk of them happening.
Tim Ferriss suggests using this tool to stop holding yourself back in terms of chasing your ambitions. However, you can also use fear setting for managing anxiety.
Fear Setting and Stress
The way you would apply fear setting to managing anxiety is simple. Instead of writing down the fears that are preventing you from going to for that dream job/setting up your own business/whatever your ambitions might be; instead you are going to write down the fears that are running through your mind and causing you to feel anxious when really you don’t need to.
So for instance, if you find yourself constantly on edge at work and feeling anxious at work, take a pen and paper and write down the things that are making you feel stressed. You may find you can’t think of anything – which is great because it right away tells you that you actually don’t have any good reason for being anxious.
Alternatively though you might come up with a host of reasons. Be as honest with yourself as you can and write down the things that are buried deep at the back of your mind – even if they aren’t at the forefront of your thoughts they may still be causing you anxiety.
So for instance, if you’re stressed at work then it might be that you’re worried you’re not going to finish your work on time. Maybe you’re worried that you’re going to finish on time and it will be to a bad standard. Maybe you’re concerned either of these things will lead to your boss having a word with you – maybe you’ll even get fired! Perhaps you’re stressed because the phone might ring and you might stumble over your words. Maybe you’re anxious that the person you just spoke to thinks you’re an idiot already…
This is all great, just write it down.
Now you’re going to go back over those things and ask yourself:
- How likely they are to happen/be true
- How you can deal with it if it is true
- How you can prevent it from being true
So for instance, if you’re worried that your last interaction with a colleague went badly and they’re angry at you. Realize that a) they probably don’t care, b) you can just apologize to them when you next see them, c) do you even care if they don’t like you?
Likewise, if you’re worried about handing work in late and being fired then obviously you must know that it’s not that easy to fire someone over something so petty, you can always just make a good excuse and even if you were fired you’d land on your feet in no time. And you really shouldn’t be working somewhere where they fire you at the drop of a hat.
By going through your fears and anxieties like this every time they come up, you’ll find you have an amazing tool for managing anxiety. Just identify the cause of your stress and ask yourself: is this reasonable? How can I deal with it?
Over time you’ll find this becomes habit and anxiety becomes a thing of the past!