How to overcome fear

"We suffer more in imagination than in reality." — Seneca.

How to overcome fear

We all fear something.

Having a tough conversation with a partner. Firing someone. Starting something new.

But this fear is often a sign that the activity we avoid doing is important. It comes from knowing that doing the thing might make it worse. That it’s safer to bury your head in the sand and keep things as they are.

In reality, most of our fears are like Halloween pumpkin; they’re scary only when it’s dark. So knowing how to light a lantern is an essential skill for making important decisions and living a good life.

In this post, I want to outline a simple exercise for dealing with fear, which helped me to make all critical decisions in the past year. It was designed by Tim Ferris, who gave a TED talk about it. I publish the transcript here because it helped me greatly, and I believe more people should be aware of such a tool.



Page One — What if I…?

What if I...? — this is whatever you fear, whatever is causing you anxiety, whatever you're putting off. It could be asking someone out, ending a relationship, asking for a promotion, quitting a job, starting a company. It could be anything.

For me, it was taking my first vacation in four years, and stepping away from my business for a month to go to London, where I could stay in a friend's room for free, to either remove myself as a bottleneck in the business or shut it down.

Define Your Fears

In the first column, Define, you're writing down all of the worst things you can imagine happening if you take that step. You want 10 to 20.

I'll give you two examples. One was, I'll go to London, it'll be rainy, I'll get depressed, the whole thing will be a huge waste of time. Number two, I'll miss a letter from the IRS, and I'll get audited, or raided or shut down or some such.

Prevent Fears From Happening

And then you go to Prevent column.

In that column, you write down the answer to: What could I do to prevent each of these bullets from happening, or, at the very least, decrease the likelihood even a little bit?

So for getting depressed in London, I could take a portable blue light with me and use it for 15 minutes in the morning. I knew that helped stave off depressive episodes. For the IRS, I could change the mailing address on file with the IRS, so the paperwork would go to my accountant instead of to my UPS address.

Repair The Damage

Then we go to Repair. If the worst case scenarios happen, what could you do to repair the damage even a little bit, who could you ask for help?

In the first case, London, well, I could fork over some money, fly to Spain, get some sun, undo the damage, if I get into a funk. In the case of missing the letter from the IRS, I could call a friend who is a lawyer, or ask, say, a professor of law what they would recommend, who I should talk to, how had people handled this in the past.

One question to keep in mind as you're doing the first page is: Has anyone else in the history of time, less intelligent or less driven, figured this out?

Chances are, the answer is "Yes."

Page 2 — What The Benefits Might Be?

The second page is simple: What might be the benefits of an attempt or partial success?

You can see we're playing up the fears and really taking a conservative look at the upside. If attempted whatever you're considering, might you build confidence, develop skills, emotionally, financially, otherwise? What might be the benefits of, say, a base hit?

Spend 10 to 15 minutes on this.

Page 3 — The Cost of Inaction

This might be the most important, so don't skip it.

Humans are very good at considering what might go wrong if we try something new, say, ask for a raise. What we don't often consider is the atrocious cost of the status quo, not changing anything.

You should ask yourself, if I avoid this action or decision, and actions and decisions like it, what might my life look like in, say, six months, 12 months, three years? Any further out, it starts to seem intangible.

And really get detailed — emotionally, financially, physically, whatever.

From Tim

When I did this, it painted a terrifying picture.

I was self-medicating, my business was going to implode at any moment at all times, if I didn't step away. My relationships were fraying or failing. And I realized that inaction was no longer an option for me.

Those are the three-pages. That's it. That's fear-setting. And after this, I realized that on a scale of 1 to 10, one being minimal impact, 10 being maximal impact, if I took the trip, I was risking a 1 to 3 of temporary and reversible pain, for an 8 to 10 of positive, life-changing impact that could be a semi-permanent.

So I took the trip.

None of the disasters came to pass. There were some hiccups, sure. I was able to extricate myself from the business. I ended up extending that trip for a year and a half around the world, and that became the basis for my first book that leads me here today.

And I can trace all of my biggest wins, and all of my biggest disasters averted back to doing fear-setting at least once a quarter.

It's not a panacea. You'll find that some of your fears are very well-founded. But you shouldn't conclude that without first putting them under a microscope. And it doesn't make all the hard times, hard choices easy, but it can make a lot of them easier.


The hard choices, what we most fear doing, asking, saying, these are very often exactly what we most need to do. And the biggest problems and challenges we face will never be solved with comfortable conversations, whether it's in your own head or with other people.

So I encourage you to ask yourselves:


Thank you very much for reading my work.