It’s good to be a pessimist most of the time. It keeps you from making mistakes, it keeps you out of dangerous situations, and it protects you overall. Pessimistic attitudes are a result of natural selection. If a hunter gatherer was out searching for food and heard a noise in a nearby bush guess what happened? The optimistic one who assumed it was a cute bunny rabbit was usually eaten by a wolf while the pessimist had already ran away. What pessimism does not us do, however, is to reach financial independence. Fear, the closely related cousin to pessimism is the number one cause of failing to reach financial goals.
Phrases like “I’m not enough of an expert” and “I can’t afford to miss rent” are two of the biggest pessimistic excuses I hear for not starting a side hustle or working towards financial independence. Then there is pessimism disguised as optimism. This is the employee who doesn’t leave his company because “I’m only a month or two away from a raise, once i’m making more money I won’t hate this job as much.” This isn’t any better. This kind of thinking is what keeps you from reaching your goals. This kind of thinking enables a fear of failure. It leads to people choosing unhappiness over uneasiness.
I was the same way until very recently. A few weeks ago I read about author Tim Ferriss using fear setting in place of goal setting. By describing fears and all of the possible outcomes one is able to see how crazy and unreasonable these fears usually are. Tim developed a set of 7 questions that he uses to define his fears which he believes is the key to conquering inaction. Below I will outline his process as well as discuss how it was able to change my thinking to take the necessary steps to get to where I want to be.
1) Define your nightmare, what is the absolute worst case scenario?
The more detail you can provide here the better. For instance, my worst nightmare is that in trying to reach financial independence I lose income streams and I lose all of my friends. When it comes to income streams, I would be fired for focusing too much on my blog and other income streams, and the blog and other income streams all tank and fail to start generating money. I can no longer pay my rent and am forced to move to the streets. The stress of all this would lead me into a dark cycle of drug use and drinking to deal with the pain and embarrassment of failure. I would then spiral into homelessness. As for losing my friends, I worry that I will say no to an invitation out one night in an attempt to save money and that night will be the night they finally have enough. They will get sick of me saying no and decide I am no longer worth the effort. They will cut off all contact and cease being friends.
2) What steps could you take to repair the damage?
This is where I first realized how absurd most of my fear was. For step 2 you are putting in a plan to fix the outcome if your worst case scenario does come true.
For me, I would need to get off the streets. I have family I could stay with. As for the income I could sign up for Rover or do work for Task Rabbit to earn income while I find a new job. I would sign up for a club of some sort to meet new people and make new friends. Ones that will except me for the frugal bastard I am.
3) What are the outcomes and benefits of a more probable outcome?
Temporary: More than likely the temporary outcome will be that I have slightly less time to watch TV with my roommates on weeknights. I will get great experience that I can learn from should this blog fail or I may even start to gain a following.
Permanent: The most likely permanent outcome is absolutely nothing or something slightly successful. More than likely this blog will either become successful or if it fails I will stay right where I am. That spiral into homelessness will almost certainly not happen.
4) If you were fired from you job today, what would you do to get things under financial control?
As previously stated, I would find temporary work to earn enough money to pay the bills. It might suck and the hours might be long, but waiting tables, walking dogs, etc would pay the bills. Also, they all offer one benefit that is great for finding a new job… flexibility. These income producers would allow me plenty of opportunity to interview for new jobs while I get back on my feet.
I would also have more time to focus on building my own business so that I can get closer to getting out of the time for money trade-off and be one step closer to financial independence.
5) What are you putting off out of fear?
For me this answer is simple. I am putting off the effort needed to really grow my blog. I need to research and act on actively growing my viewership. I need to dedicate time to social media and I need to reach out to potential partnerships that can help add value to Millennial vs Manhattan. I am fearful that I will fail and have been avoiding it. Failing is part of learning though and won’t put me in a worse position than I am today. A quote from The Four Hour Work Week really brings this one home, “What we fear doing most is usually what we most need to do” Make it your goal to do one helpful thing for your business everyday that you are uncomfortable with. It could be contacting a potential mentor you have never met, contacting a potential client, or simply trying a new method out. Tim also says in his book “A person’s success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations she is willing to have.”
6) What is it costing you financially and emotionally to postpone action?
So far we have only evaluated the potential downside of inaction. But what about the potential upsides? At this point I’m confident that nothing I do by taking action will permanently destroy my life. What could temporarily or permanently better my life though?
If this blog is successful then I might start to earn income from it by partnering with local businesses to help my viewers save money. I might make a name for myself and be able to pickup some freelance writing gigs to temporarily earn some extra cash. I will gain valuable experience on what does and does not work that I can use in the future. I might make a connection by reaching out to a mentor that pays dividends far greater than I could have imagined. These are all more likely outcomes than my nightmare.
7) What are you waiting for?
Good timing is not the answer because good timing doesn’t exist. If you cannot answer this question with anything besides “the timing isn’t right” then you are just fearful like everyone else. The next step is to realize the repairability of any negative outcomes from taking action, realize the opportunity cost of not taking action, and put a plan in place to take action today. Even if you need more time to iron out all of the details start with something today. And do just one thing towards reaching your goal today that can help. The aggregate of marginal gains is an incredible tool to use!
Tim Ferris’ fear setting outline has been extremely helpful for me personally. It helps to put things into perspective and it helps me avoid making pessimistic excuses. I’ve used fear setting for everything from starting this blog to deciding to ask for a raise at work. I haven’t always had the best possible outcomes but none of my worst nightmares have come true. In fact a lot of the outcomes from taking action after fear setting have been more beneficial than expected.
If the idea of fear setting is intriguing to you then please do me a favor give it a shot today with something in your life, but also share this article with one other person in your life who could benefit from learning about this as well. Not only are you helping me but you are helping a friend overcome their fear of action as well.