What’s the worst that can happen?

Let me walk you through an exercise to help you confront your fears and take on the next challenge.

I’ve got a confession to make — I’m a worrier. I worry about big things. I worry about small things. Most often I worry about things that never actually happen. Sometimes I can convince myself that I’m worrying for no reason, things play out and the scenarios that I imagined don’t happen. That’s ok. But sometimes, the fear of the unknown, or of the imagined worst-case scenario, prevents me from doing something. And that’s not so good.

What if there was a way to visualise the worst-case scenarios that leave us paralysed and confront the fear head on? Meet fear-setting, a term coined by Tim Ferris and based on the Stoic exercise on the pre-meditation of evils. Here’s how it works:

  1. Define the scenario – describe all the terrible things that you’re imagining could happen
  2. Prevent or repair – is there anything you could do to prevent these things from happening or repair them if they do?
  3. Benefits of success – what are the positive outcomes likely to be if you go ahead anyway and achieve either full or partial success?
  4. Cost of inaction – what will it cost you physically, emotionally or financially to do nothing and keep things the way they are? 

The key thing for the early stages when you’re defining the fears, is to evaluate each item’s impact on a scale of 1 to 10. Where 1 is no impact and 10 is life threatening. This helps us to put our fears into context. When I’ve done this before I’ve quickly realised that most of my worst-case scenarios actually only register 4 or 5 on the scale when compared to the truly life threatening dangers in the world.

When we come to the end of the process we have more clarity and sense of reality about what could go wrong. But most of all, we have a strategy for dealing with those things if they do.

Can you think of an issue you’re worrying about that could benefit from the fear-setting exercise? If so, this Coda document template will help you to work through the process.

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