“We suffer more often in imagination than in reality.” – Seneca
American author Mark Twain once said, “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.”
Can you relate? Before running a race or workout, we fill our minds with things that could go wrong. Before anything happens, we toe the starting line filled with doubts, worries, and fears. The same happens outside of running with decisions with our family or at work. We get so disconcerted we are driven to inaction. The fear of negative outcomes holds us back.
Positive thinking and visualization are ready-made remedies. Visualize your achievement of a goal, and you will be well on your way to making it happen. The problem is that some of the fears are well-founded. Some obstacles will hinder your way.
An alternative approach was conceptualized by the ancient philosophy of Stoicism and rebirthed by author, entrepreneur, and podcaster Tim Ferris. Instead of visualizing success, Stoicism teaches you to separate what you can from what you cannot control and to do exercises focused on the former. Ancient Stoics practiced premeditation malorum, considering the evils and troubles that might lie ahead. Practically, Stoics would imagine all the bad things that could happen to them or be taken away to better prepare for life’s inevitable setbacks. Tim has rebranded this conceptual and self-reflective tool as Fear Setting.
Fear Setting: How to Get Started
Fear-Setting is a tool to visualize potential bad outcomes so that you become less afraid of inaction.
- Grab a clean sheet of paper, and across the top, write the decision you are afraid to make.
- Divide the paper into three columns. Add the following titles to the columns: DEFINE, PREVENT, and REPAIR.
- In the DEFINE column, answer the question, what are all the worst things that could happen to me if I take this step? Ideally, write five to ten bullet points.
- In the REPAIR column, answer, “If the worst case scenario does happen, what could I do to repair the damage, even a little bit, or who could I ask for help?”
- Now, flip the page over and divide it into a top and bottom half. On the top half, write down answers to “What might be the benefits of an attempt or partial success?”
- On the bottom half of the page, write down answers to “What is the Cost of Inaction in the next three months, six months, and twelve months?”
Fear Setting is not a panacea because some of your fears are well-founded. But you should not conclude this without putting your fears under a microscope, as Tim Ferris says. Fear Setting will help you define and confront your fears, consider the costs of inaction, and remember the potential positives.
How to Apply to Running
Fear setting is not reserved for life decisions such as leaving your job, moving, or changing careers. Fear setting can apply to your running endeavors. Here’s my example of whether to train for the Grandmas Marathon and push for a personal best.
I have always been a scared runner, often afraid to push myself beyond my comfort zone. Fear-setting and a running coach have helped me confront fears when pushing against the edges of my ability. I still fail. But I am less afraid of failing – if only a little bit, which can make all the difference.