Fear Setting

Verbal to Visual has provided a helpful image to illustrate this TED Talk.


Seems like a backwards concept, right? Why would we want to amplify our anxieties when we could focus on our goals, our successes?

Tim Ferriss speaks of the value of better understanding our lowpoints in his TED Talk. As he lives with bipolar depression and has found himself many times on the edge of darkness and suicide, his insight is worth a listen.

So what do I mean by “fear setting”? Well, we all know about goal-setting, a practice even I’ve probably talked your ear off about. It’s most effective to physically write out what you hope to achieve for yourself so you can keep those thoughts at the forefront. You can then better align your daily actions with those goals and make them that much more tangible.

Yes, you’ve heard that one a few or plenty of times from me. But what about fear setting? Mental illness or not, we’ve had points of hesitation, of self-doubt. If an opportunity arises, we fear its implications and might automatically push it aside. This could be anything from accepting a new job, going out to a social event, or even just taking a break for yourself when you feel overwhelmed with work.

The first step is to make three columns. The first list, write out every fear you have associated with a particular situation. For example, if that’s going on a vacation to get away from a hectic schedule, you might fear the unknown of what could go wrong on the trip, or you fear getting so far behind in your work that you risk failure.

Now you list what you could do to prevent these fears from happening. In this case, you could research ahead of time your travel plans and prepare accordingly, and you could let others know of your plans and work ahead to get major assignments out of the way before you go.

Inevitably, there are some things you can’t control. Life is unpredictable, and no matter how much you plan and prepare, things can fall through. The third column then is listing how to repair the damages if your fears were to happen. So maybe your luggage is lost or a flight canceled. You can always readjust your schedule and make do with what you have. If something arises with your work or schooling, talk with those involved and work something out. Either way, no matter what happens, it’s not the end of the world. Admittedly, that’s easier said than believed.

But here’s another thought to think and write about. What would happen six months, a year, even three years down the road if you did not choose to partake in these opportunities? If you let your fears get the best of you, what effects will that have? If you’re anything like me, you’ll probably be working your tail off until you implode. You’ll fall into unhealthy, harmful behaviors, relying upon stimulants to get you through the day. You’ll regret not giving yourself some relief. You might find that you had less work to do than you realized, and then fall into depression for overthinking it all. Which, trust me, I’ve been through this pattern too many times to count.

Self-awareness and reflection is so powerful. Being able to look objectively at even a snapshot of our racing thoughts really can change your perspective. When we allow those thoughts to just continue buzzing through without questioning them, they can truly run our lives. They can isolate us into what we see as safe, comfortable status quos that, in reality, hold us back from truly living.

A single list probably won’t change your life. If you have specific fears, you probably will continue facing those even after listing and rationalizing them. But at least you’re becoming an active voice above your anxiety. You’re not entirely allowing it control. You’re making progress in the right direction. Hopefully you’ll realize your mental strength is far greater than you ever imagined.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

share your thoughts