How to stop letting fear paralyze important decisions

Oct 31, 2023
2023-10-31 Intentional Productivity blog image - fear setting

Identifying your fears provides both clarity and comfort in the long run, and it helps you make difficult decisions with confidence.

When you have a decision to make (which happens an estimated 35,000 times a day!), it's natural to feel worried or afraid.

Sometimes the fear of the worst-case scenario paralyzes important decisions and prevents you from moving forward.

Today's exercise will help you address your fears through a structured framework so you can see and move past them more objectively. (I've done it numerous times, and it helps tremendously.)

Let's dive in.



1 thing to apply


Fear setting was popularized by Tim Ferriss through his book The Four Hour Work Week and 2017 TED Talk, Why you should define your fears instead of your goals.

This practice helps you make difficult decisions by exploring fears, worst-case scenarios, prevention strategies, benefits, and costs.


3 main benefits

  • Identifying your fears, worries, and imagined worst-case scenarios can shrink their power.
  • Fear setting reveals actions you can take to prevent or minimize risks you’re worried about.
  • This practice also helps you to explore potential upsides as well as the cost(s) of inaction.


5 minutes 30 minutes (but worth it) 😊


I'm shaking up my normal format to share an exercise that takes more than 5 minutes to do because it's so worth the time. Speaking from experience, investing 30 minutes into this exercise can save you hours of frustration, rumination, headache, and heartache.

To get started, you’ll need:

  • 3 pieces of paper
  • Something to write with
  • 30 minutes of focused time


Page 1


At the top of the page, write down the choice or action you’re considering but are putting off (ie. quitting your job, leaving your relationship, pursuing X, etc.). Then split the page into 3 columns.



Step 1: Define

Jot down anything you’re afraid might happen if you take action. Ferriss suggests aiming for volume so write without editing or judging what comes up. The goal at this stage is to get these things out of your head and onto the page.


Step 2: Prevent

Write down anything you could do to prevent or decrease the likelihood of each fear or imagined disaster from happening.


Step 3: Repair

For each of your imagined worst-case scenarios, ask:

  • What could you do to repair the damage (even a little bit or temporarily)?
  • Who could you ask for help?

Ferriss poses this question: “Has anyone else in the history of time, less intelligent or less driven, figured this out?” And of course, the answer is probably yes.


Page 2


This page explores only 1 question: What might be the benefits of an attempt or partial success? Essentially, what good might come from trying? Write down all your ideas without filtering.



Page 3


Finally, consider the cost of inaction. If you avoid the action or decision you're considering—and others like it—and you do nothing, what might your life look like in 6 months, 1 year, and 3 years? Consider the impacts to various aspects of your life: physical, emotional, mental, financial, spiritual, creative, social, and so on.





Once you’ve completed all 3 pages, go through your lists and give each potential outcome a rating on a scale of 1-10 to measure the significance of its impact.

  • How devastating/permanent would the worst-case scenario be?
  • How significant or lasting would the potential benefit be?
  • How significant is the cost of inaction?

Do this for each step to measure the potential risks and impacts so you can make an informed decisionand one that will serve you.



Conclusion: We often let fear paralyze important decisions. Fear setting pulls imagined disasters out of your head so you can assess risks (more) objectively, uncover upsides, and evaluate tradeoffs.

In 30 focused minutes, this exercise helps you put pervasive fears into perspective and gives you clarity and confidence in your decision.




Your time and energy are your most precious resources. As always, thank you for sharing some of yours with me today.

— Melissa



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