Today’s Fast Summary:
Fear setting is a recipe for avoiding self-destruction. The practice helps you take action on the thing you fear doing most.
Fear setting decreases emotional reactivity. Look closely at your fears and adopt a conservative view of your decision’s upside.
Visualize in detail the worst-case scenario that’s preventing you from taking action, and rationalize it. Put it into perspective.
Today’s newsletter is brought to you by Brilliant, one of my favourite learning resources on the internet.
A few minutes a day is all it takes to supercharge your analytical skills while mastering essential concepts in data science, programming, logic, and more. And best of all, you can try it free for 30 days.
How To Stop Overthinking Everything And Act (According To Stoicism)
“We should project our thoughts ahead of us at every turn and have in mind every possible eventuality…Rehearse them in your mind: exile, torture, war, shipwreck.”- Seneca The Younger
Famous Greek philosophers such as Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius had a process called "Premeditatio Malorum,” meaning the premeditation of evil. The practice means to visualize possible evil or negativity.
Stoics believed that “it’s impossible to prepare for or prevent something you’re unaware of.” So why waste energy on problems that could be earlier solved?
Premeditatio Malorum prepares you for immediate crises.
The practice was popularized by Booker T. Washington again in the 19th century. Washington woke up each morning and prepared himself for “some disagreeable accident” that could happen.
In advance of major decisions, each of these key thinkers used this process to assess possible outcomes.
Fear setting, developed by Tim Ferriss, is an adapted version of Premeditatio Malorum. It’s a recipe for avoiding self-destruction before important decisions.
It operates on the principle that we must separate what we can control from what we cannot. According to Ferris, “This decreases emotional reactivity, which can be a superpower.”
Fear setting requires you to closely look at your fears and adopt a conservative view of your decision’s upside. The goal is to visualize in detail the worst-case scenario that’s preventing you from taking action.
It’s a key tool to stop worrying and get started.
The exercise is a simple 3-part process.
Let’s look at an example of the decision to leave a job.
Step 1 is to Define: What are the 10-20 worst scenarios that could happen if you make the decision to quit your job?
What is the worst thing that could happen in the context of the problem? List each of these.
If you quit your job, you won’t get hired again in a role you want.
You'll lose all of your savings and investments.
You'll eventually lose your house.
These are a few examples following the job predicament.
Tim Ferriss used this to think about moving to London, the worst-case scenario of which was, “It'll be rainy, I'll get depressed, and the whole thing will be a huge waste of time.”
Come up with your own.
Step 2 is Prevent: Ask yourself what could you do to prevent or decrease the likelihood of each of the worst possible scenarios occurring.
Using the same example, you could leave on good terms so the door is open to return, start applying for jobs, conduct networking chats before you quit, and limit your expenses.
In step 2, also answer the question: “What might be the benefits of an attempt or partial success?” Potential sub-questions include:
What might be the benefits of this financially, emotionally, spiritually, physically, or otherwise?
What might be the benefits of a home run?
Successful or not, partial success benefits are reasons why the venture wouldn’t be fruitless. Being one step closer to knowing what you’d like to do with your life is a partial success benefit. Increasing your confidence in making difficult decisions is another.
Finally, list the benefits of a home run. You could get hired at a great firm and land your dream job, or find an opportunity that lets you enjoy years of financial freedom.
Step 3 is Repair: If the worst-case scenario did happen, what could you do?
Or, “How could you repair the damage or help yourself if the worst were to occur?”
Step 3 asks us to consider the cost of inaction. Humans are great at considering what might go wrong. What we often fail to consider is the cost of the status quo: not changing anything.
Remember: We live two lives. The life we live and the life unlived within us.
Ask yourself, “If I avoid this action or decision (and actions and decisions like it), what might my life look like in 6 months, 12 months, or 3 years?”
Consider your physical, emotional, spiritual, and financial health. Be as detailed as possible.
Ferriss notes that, in his London example, “[he] could fork over some money, fly to Spain, get some sun —undo the damage, if I got into a funk.”
Following the job example, you could go back to your last job, ask friends, family, and connections for referrals, or move back home until you find one.
At this step, he recommends asking yourself, “Has anyone else in the history of timeless intelligent or less driven figured this out?” and says, “Chances are, the answer is ‘Yes.’”
If the answer is yes, then you can have confidence that with a little bit of thought and effort, you can do the same.
Looking Bird’s Eye
By now, you've premeditated:
1: What might go wrong and how you can prevent and repair
2: The benefits of a partial success or a home run
3: The cost of inaction
Now, compare the cost of inaction or a failed decision to the benefits of partial success or a home run. More often than not, the benefits of partial success or a home run far outweigh a failed decision or the cost of inaction.
As the old saying goes, "We regret more what we don't do than what we do."
Tim Ferris reports that he “can trace all of [his] biggest wins and all of [his] biggest disasters averted back to doing fear-setting at least once a quarter.”
The world expands in proportion to your willingness to make hard decisions. That's the process of fear-setting.
This week, we’ll take a high-level look at fear-setting techniques for implementation. Use a pen and paper, and reflect on what’s holding you back from making difficult decisions. List your responses to each question.
a. What are the 10-20 worst scenarios that could happen if you make the decision to [insert something you’ve been thinking about lately]?
b. Visualize the scenarios in detail, thinking about the specific sequences of events.
a. Ask yourself, “What can I do to prevent or decrease the likelihood of each of the worst possible scenarios occurring?”
b. Then, answer, “What might be the benefits of an attempt or partial success?”
c. Finally, consider the potential benefits of a home run. List potential ‘home run’ scenarios.
a. Answer, “If the worst-case scenario did happen, what could you do?” or, “ How could you repair the damage or help yourself if the worst were to occur?
b. If you’re having trouble, think of and search for others who have encountered your problem.
c. Finally, consider the cost of inaction. What would happen if you did nothing?
I've used fear-setting to make difficult career decisions and can't imagine making them without it. Next time you face a difficult decision, this is your playbook.
I’d love to hear from you:
How can you practically incorporate fear-setting?
When might you use it?
What difficult decision are you struggling with?
Tweet at me (@_alexbrogan) or respond to this email — I’ll try to respond to everyone.
Have a wonderful Saturday, all.
Until next time,