Use The Power of Fearsetting

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How can defining your fears help you to reach your goals?

Let’s start with a quote:

We suffer more in imagination than in reality.


This quote from the philosophy of stoicism tells a painful truth. All too often, our own thoughts are the cause for our worst suffering. If you struggle with depression and / or anxiety, you probably know the feeling. I often find mindself worrying about gruesome scenarios for important events, that I play out in the most horrible ways in my mind for days or even weeks. This goes on to the point of utter exhaustion. And when the event finally comes, guess what, none of them come true.

How can we train our mind to separate what we can and cannot control? How can we play out scenarios in an encouraging and empowering way? This blog posts highlights some ideas from the inspirational TED Talk about fearsetting from Tim Ferris.

Tim Ferris explains the concept of fearsetting in this TED-Talk

What is fearsetting?

Fearsetting is an excercise for the mind, that helps you to differentiate between the things you can change and cannot change. The goal is to overcome the state of paralysis your anxiety pushes you into. Use it to take the necessary actions for the best possible outcome. Knowing you did all you can do, and even having a course of action ready for the worst-case-scenario, can reduce self-destructive thoughts significantly.

How do you set your fears?

First, you need some time alone, you really want to focus on this excercise and not rush. Sit down in a place where you feel safe and won’t be interrupted. You will also need either pen and paper or a laptop or tablet to write your thoughts down.

Fill out the following table:


3. 3. 3.
4. 4. 4.
Continue the list if you need more scenarios.

1. Define

Define the scenarios, that scare you. This could be anything, whether it’s an upcoming exam, a trip, a difficult talk or the current pandemic. Write down small fears, big fears, anything that’s on your mind. One concern could be: unemployment because of a worldwide pandemic. Sounds made up but that’s the reality we’re living in 2020. And yes, this might be a real life example from myself.

So for the example the scenario might look like this: I lost my job – I can’t find a new job soon – I can’t go back to my old job – I don’t have any career options – all my hard work will be lost – no money for anything etc.

2. Prevent

Now, write down, what you can do to prevent these things from happening. If you can’t prevent them from happening, what can you do, to decrease the likelihood for them to happen?

In our example we could: write applications to suitable jobs – stay patient – claim unemployment benefits – do career networking – find new ways to make money – use our emergency savings – learn new skills.

3. Repair

In the next step, supposed the scenario we fear does come true, despite our efforts to prevent or limit them – What can you do for damage control? What can you do to make it better, even if it’s just a little bit? Who can help you out?

Think about what someone who is an expert in the field would recommend or how someone who has gone through the same situation handled it. Chances are you are not the first person in this situation. And chances are, you are not the worst prepared or least qualified person who went through this. In fact, people who are less driven, less talented and less equipped than you, have found a way out. So why shouldn’t you?

For our example we could: set up a LinkedIn account, reach out to friends, work on projects to set up passive income and broaden our job search field. Apply for different kinds of jobs and be open to new opportunities. Accept a job that will get us by temporarily.

How do you overcome your fears?

Now that your fears are set, it is time to overcome them. For this, you need to weigh the benefits and the cost of inaction.


To know the benefits, ask yourself:

What might be the benefits of an attempt or even partial success?

Think about all the benefits that you would get, if your fear doesn’t play out in its entirety. What are the emotional, personal, financial, universal positive outcomes of a happy or at least not all that bad ending?

In our example scenario this might be: finding a new job with new opportunities, learning new skills that will lead to a pay rise in the future, building multiple income streams. Doesn’t sound that bad, right? Let’s keep going!

Cost of Inaction

Last but certainly not least, you need to calculate the COST OF INACTION.

COST6 months1 year3 years
Add more types of costs, depending on your scenarios.

Ask yourself, what might your life look like in 6 months, in 1 year, in 3 years, if you don’t take action and just submit to your fear scenario.

For our example it might mean, that if we don’t take action, we really won’t find a job, learn no new skills and still rely on unemployment benefits in 6 months. It will be emotionally and physically unhealthy, financially desastrous. In 1 year we will feel even worse about it, and maybe we are still unemployed. In 3 years we will see grave setbacks from not taking action now. With no job experience and no new skills, there’s not much of a perspective and we’re far from our financial and personal goals.

Weigh it all off

Do the benefits of trying outweigh the cost of inaction? Probably yes. In our example the benefits outweigh the cost of inaction by far. You can use this knowledge to overcome your fear and motivate yourself with the waiting benefits. You don’t want to pay the cost of inaction.


Fearsetting can be a useful tool to overcome many fears and empower us to take actions. By reflecting in this structured way, we can outlive the thoughts that haunt us, without letting them overwhelm us and taking control over our life. Of course there might still be scary scenarios left, but not as many as if you do nothing. The benefits of fearsetting outweigh the cost of not setting your fears.

Let’s end this blog post with an inspiring quote by one of Tim Ferris’ friends:

Easy choices, hard life. Hard Choices, easy life.

Jerzy Gregorek

Remember that it’s often the things we fear the most, that we’re too scared of to even try, are exactly the things, that will bring us the farthest in life.

What’s on your mind? Are you going to try fearsetting?

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