Taking on resistance with Tim Ferris’ “Fear-Setting” approach

In recent posts, I’ve talked about habits and B.J. Fogg, author of Tiny Habits and James Clear, author of Atomic Habits.  I’ve come to believe in the sustainable power of habits to achieve our aspirations achieving goals or milestones along the way.   I’m very confident in saying that working through those two books and the ideas they present will positively impact your wellness and success rate in closing the gap between where you are today and where you aspire to be in any aspect of your life.  Strategies that help me stick to the process, establish easy routines and see a way forward are key.  Strategies that help me restart as quickly as possible and get back at it that’s where the gold is found. 

I’ve enjoyed much of Tim Ferris’ writing Tribe of Mentors and Tools of Titans provides a wealth of resources and ideas drawn from the interviews with a spectacular spectrum of individuals. Still, it’s an interesting twist on goal setting that Tim refers to as fear-setting that I’d invite you to ponder today.   Woven into Tim’s explanation of Stoicism (I recommend the writings of Ryan Holiday for a deeper dive into Stoicism) is the notion of working through your fears in advance. We waste a lot of energy in worry, ultimately suffering twice, once in the worry and once IF the event occurs.  

I’d suggest that fear-setting invites us to confront the possibilities on the other side of our fears, opportunities we can only realize fighting through the resistance that inevitably exists when we try to improve.  Whatever you are pondering, write it down by asking, “what if I….” and fill in the task.  First, define all the worst-case consequences or outcomes if you do what you are contemplating.  Second, ask yourself what you can do to prevent those worst-case scenarios and finally, what you can do to repair the situation should the worst case occur.   

I love the idea that Tim then suggests we give ourselves some room by contemplating not what happens if we succeed beyond our wildest dreams but instead invites us to answer the question, “What might be the benefits of an attempt or partial success?” Think of how often we stop because we only lost 10 pounds when the goal was 30 pounds; failing to acknowledge the 10 made a difference and is a start, not an end. The principle can apply to any challenge we undertake. 

Finally, where the first what-if exercise invited us to define worst-case consequences, steps we’d take to prevent and repair those situations, the last question in the process invites a reflection on “The cost of inaction” 6 months out, one year, three years and perhaps beyond.  This is a challenging opportunity cost exercise that admittedly is not an exact science but give it a try. Positive and negative possible outcomes over that span help establish the acceptable risk of what we’re contemplating. 

Our choices define our life.  This exercise provides another way to reflect on some of the uncomfortable, risky decisions that come into our lives, push the “fear button,” and sometimes stop us when great rewards are just beyond the challenge or fear.   Give it a try. 

Tim’s Ted Talk – https://youtu.be/5J6jAC6XxAI

Tim’s Blog post: https://tim.blog/2017/05/15/fear-setting/

Clear, J. (2018). Atomic habits: An easy & provin way to build good habits & break bad ones. New York, NY:

Avery.Fogg, B. J. (2020). Tiny habits: The small changes that change everything. Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

One thought on “Taking on resistance with Tim Ferris’ “Fear-Setting” approach

  1. Sandra Black

    I have been working on these techniques/coping strategies with my psychologist for the last 8 months. It has been a journey of healing through changing my mindset. Tim Ferris’ TED talk and “Fear-setting” resonates and affirms all the daily work I’ve been doing.
    “We suffer more often in imagination than in reality.” With my acute anxieties I tend to catastrophize everything and in assuming the worst case scenarios I have/had developed crippling fears.
    “Defining your fears may be more important than defining your goals.” I appreciate this statement especially because this is the exact thing I have to make a conscious effort to do.
    Thank you for sharing!

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