Tim Ferriss's 7-Step Checklist for Overcoming Fear
If you are nervous about making a big jump, the best-selling author has your antidote.
This article was originally published on Dec. 11, 2016
To do or not to do? To try or not to try? Most people will vote no, whether they consider themselves brave or not. Uncertainty and the prospect of failure can be very scary noises in the shadows. Most people will choose unhappiness over uncertainty. For years, I set goals, made resolutions to change direction, and nothing came of either. I was just as insecure and scared as the rest of the world.
Through a series of mistakes, failures, and accidents, I eventually learned how to create a scale that made decision-making an easier process. I realized that on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being nothing and 10 being permanently life-changing, my so-called worst-case scenario might have a temporary impact of 3 or 4. I believe this is true of most people and most would-be “holy sh*t, my life is over” disasters. Keep in mind that this is the one-in-a-million disaster nightmare. On the other hand, if I realized my best-case scenario or even a probable-case scenario, it would easily have a permanent 9 or 10 positive life-changing effect.
In other words, I was risking an unlikely and temporary 3 or 4 for a probable and permanent 9 or 10, and I could easily recover my baseline workaholic prison with a bit of extra work if I wanted to.
If you are nervous about making the jump or simply putting it off out of fear of the unknown, here is your antidote. I created this checklist for my new book Tools of Titans, which uncovers the lessons I’ve learned from 200+ interviews with the billionaires, icons, and world-class performers.
Write down your answers, and keep in mind that thinking a lot will not prove as fruitful or as prolific as simply brain vomiting on the page. Write and do not edit -- aim for volume. Spend a few minutes on each answer.
1. Define your nightmare, the absolute worst that could happen if you did what you are considering.
What doubt, fears, and “what-ifs” pop up as you consider the big changes you can (or need to) make? Envision them in painstaking detail. Would it be the end of your life? What would be the permanent impact, if any, on a scale of 1 to 10? Are these things really permanent? How likely do you think it is that they would actually happen?
2. What steps could you take to repair the damage or get things back on the upswing, even if temporarily?
Chances are, it’s easier than you imagine. How could you get things back under control?
3. What are the outcomes or benefits, both temporary and permanent, of more probable scenarios?
Now that you’ve defined the nightmare, what are the more probable or definite positive outcomes, whether internal (confidence, self-esteem, etc.) or external? What would the impact of these more likely outcomes be on a scale of 1 to 10? How likely is it that you could produce at least a moderately good outcome? Have less intelligent people done this before and pulled it off?
4. If you were fired from your job today, what would you do to get things under financial control?
Imagine this scenario and run through questions one to three above. If you quit your job to test other options, how could you later get back on the same career track if you absolutely had to?
5. What are you putting off out of fear?
Usually, what we most fear doing is what we most need to do. That phone call, that conversation, whatever the action might be -- it is fear of unknown outcomes that prevents us from doing what we need to do. Define the worst case, accept it, and do it. I’ll repeat something you might consider tattooing on your forehead: What we fear doing most is usually what we most need to do. As I have heard said, a person’s success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have. Resolve to do one thing every day that you fear. I got into this habit by attempting to contact celebrities and famous business people for advice.
6. What is it costing you -- financially, emotionally, and physically -- to postpone action?
Don’t only evaluate the potential downside of action. It is equally important to measure the atrocious cost of inaction. If you don’t pursue those things that excite you, where will you be in 1 year, 5 years, and 10 years? How will you feel having allowed circumstance to impose itself upon you and having allowed 10 more years of your finite life to pass doing what you know will not fulfill you? If you telescope out 10 years and know with 100% certainty that it is a path of disappointment and regret, and if we define risk as “the likelihood of an irreversible negative outcome,” inaction is the greatest risk of all.
7. What are you waiting for?
If you cannot answer this without resorting to the BS concept of “good timing,” the answer is simple: You’re afraid, just like the rest of the world. Measure the cost of inaction, realize the unlikelihood and repairability of most missteps and develop the most important habit of those who excel and enjoy doing so: action.
Tim Ferriss is an early-stage technology investor/advisor (Uber, Facebook, Shopify, Duolingo, Alibaba, and 50+ others) and the author of four #1 New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestsellers, including The 4-Hour Workweek, Tools of Titans, and his latest Tribe of Mentors: Short Life Advice from the Best in the World.