Fear-Setting (Goal-Setting for Anxious Peeps)

In my recent post about podcasts, I mentioned there was another TED talk I listened to, but I wanted to dedicate a separate post to it. So, here it is:

This is Tim Ferriss. He writes a lot of books related to work, productivity, entrepreneurship etc. But, in this talk he discusses his battles with manic depression and a tool he developed to over-come fear and indecision. He calls it “Fear-Setting”. It’s like goal setting, but for people with fears that cause decision paralysis.

While I listened to his talk, I found myself pausing, going back, taking notes… Then I was Googling for templates of this process. In the end, I decided it would just be easier to make my own, which I did. I can’t attach a word document to a blog post, so if you’d like a copy feel free to message me with your email address and I can send it to you. Here is the gist though…

Write down what decision is causing you anxiety / making you hesitate. 

On the first page write down every possible bad thing that could happen as a result of doing whatever it is you are considering.

  • For each of those things figure out and write down what you could do to prevent or minimize that bad outcome.
  • Also, for each of those things figure out if the worst happened, how could you repair the damage.

On the next page list all the possible benefits you can imagine for doing the thing.

On the final page list all possible consequences of inaction (emotional, physical, financial etc) in the short term (immediate to 6 months), in a year and in 3 years.

I  think this tool would be very helpful to me for the bigger things that cause me anxiety. One example is my upcoming trips. I have travel anxiety, which has become significantly worse after a horrific trip to Alabama where I literally had panic attack after panic attack and spent most of the trip doped up on Xanax to survive. I want to take these trips. One is a couple nights away with dear friends. The other is a longer trip to the other coast to visit family and friends we haven’t seen in ages. I know I’ll take these trips, anxiety or not. I’m stubborn as hell and each time I bowed out of something important, my anxiety and panic may have receded in the immediate time-frame, but it got worse in the long run. Knowing I’ll shove myself into that car or onto that plan doesn’t change my apprehension at all. Going through “fear-setting” would help me to spell out all the things I’m worried about and help me make a plan for how to handle it, should they come to pass (a sense of control is helpful to me). It would also confirm the benefits of going. And finally, working through the risks of inaction, it would be a reminder that if I avoid travel out of fear, I’ll get to where I can’t travel at all.

Another example is my boss has been hinting that she’d like me to apply for an open supervisory position. This would be a raise, great for the career track, be a self-confidence booster… but the recent increase in my anxiety and panic levels causes me to hesitate. When I first heard about the opening, I was excited by the prospect.

Last week, she pulled me aside and said if I was interested, she’d like me to apply soon so I could start the very long interview process with the goal to start in the position near the end of the year. Outwardly, I said “that’s great!’ Internally, my gut fluttered with what-ifs. Last week was a bad anxiety week – each shift I was forcing myself to leave the house to go to work despite being on the verge of panicking. Also, I was having little mini-flares of anxiety throughout my shift, when I least expected it. Yes, I had a few moments in a bathroom square breathing till I could stop obviously sweating. I guess you could say it’s not great timing to be presented with such an opportunity. But here’s where this tool may come in handy for me.

My plan this week is to sit down and do some Fear-Setting about applying for the position. I want to see what comes of it and how I feel after hashing it all out. I think it will be an interesting experience. Luckily, by “apply soon” she meant in the next month. Nothing moves quickly in our work-world of hiring… so I don’t have the intense pressure of DECIDE TODAY. But I do need to think things through so I can mentally prepare rather than freeze.


*I think the embedded video is working now… fingers crossed.

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