Fear Setting Before Performing to Conquer Fear & Stage Fright

Stoicism is an ancient philosophy designed to increase wisdom, happiness, virtue and resilience to the adversity that the world often throws at us. A stoic concept, made popular by author and entrepreneur/investor Tim Ferris, is ‘Fear Setting’. Fear-Setting is where, instead of setting goals, you visualize & clearly define the worst possible outcome of an event you’re considering in detail. In this article, we look at how fear-setting can be used to define, and then completely conquer, your biggest fears and anxieties.

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Fear Setting Key Takeaways

Without revealing the whole article, here are the most interesting & useful takeways about Fear Setting:

  • Fear Setting is a philosophical exercise that was originally called premeditatio malorum in Latin, or the premeditation of evils.
  • Fear setting is the practice of imagining in detail all the things that could go wrong during a situation or following a decision, which helps us be better prepared to handle stressful situations when they happen in real life.
  • The Fear Setting exercise comes from Stoicism, a philosophy that author Tim Ferris calls an operating system for thriving in high-stress environments, and making better decisions.

Is there something that you really want to do, but the fear of a negative outcome is holding you back?

Maybe you want to pursue a career as a musician, public speaker, or an actor, but you are overwhelmed by the fear of having to perform in front of an audience.

Or perhaps the fear of rejection and humiliation is holding you back from applying for a job or finally asking out that special girl or guy.

Maybe you set goals, make plans to sign up for auditions, apply for jobs, or to ask for a date. But when the time comes, the fear gets to be too much, and you revert back to the status quo, even though deep down you know that you need to make a change to be fulfilled.

Social anxiety can manifest itself in various ways. It can make you nervous during an interview, cause you extreme stress when you’re on stage (stage fright), or prevent you from taking the next step in your career or personal life because of the fear of rejection/failure.

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Positive thinking or stoicism?

The typical advice out there goes something like this: set goals, think positively, and visualize success.

While positive thinking is definitely a healthy practice in general, sometimes it isn’t enough to provide the jumpstart that you need to put yourself out there.

One philosophy highly popular among people who are really good at performing under pressure is stoicism.

Stoicism is a philosophy designed to increase your wisdom, happiness, virtue, and the ease with which navigate through different aspects of your life.

But instead of positive thinking and visualizing success, stoicism trains you to separate the things you can control from the things you can’t control, and then only performing exercises to focus exclusively on the former.

Stoicism seperates what you can control from what you cant control, and focuses on the former

Stoicism improves your emotional reaction to adversity or unexpected situations. The philosophy is popular among extreme high-achievers like professional athletes, CEOs, political leaders, among others.

A quarterback who overthrows a pass cannot let that affect his emotions on the next snap unless he wants to mess up again and lose the game.

And it’s not only athletes and business leaders. Some of the most impactful people in our society, both throughout history and in recent times, have been students of stoicism. Some of the founding fathers, along with Theodore Roosevelt, Adam Smith, and more recently, General James Mattis, Bill Belichick (the winningest coach in the history of the NFL), and Tim Ferris, the famous entrepreneur/author.

Stoicism and fear-setting

In fact, Tim Ferris calls stoicism “an operating system for thriving in high-stress environments, and making better decisions.

And he uses a tool known as fear-setting, which is rooted in the philosophy of stoicism. Instead of setting goals; you visualize the worst possible outcome in detail.

While it may sound counter-intuitive, In his TED talk, Tim Ferris explains in detail how he uses the concept of fear-setting when faced with difficult choices, and to overcome the fear of making those choices.

Tim Ferris calls stoicism “an operating system for thriving in high stress environments,” and in this popular TED talk, shares the ‘Fear Setting’ concept used to overcome fear & anxiety.

Here, we’ll discuss how fear-setting can work for you.

We’ll discuss what it is, include step-by-step instructions, as well as how to use fear-setting to overcome the fear that is holding you back from pursuing your passion.

We’ll also include a bonus tip to help you stay calm under pressure when it matters most.

What is fear-setting?

“We suffer more often in imagination than in reality” – Seneca, famous stoic philosopher.

Although he is mostly responsible for its recent popularity, Tim Ferris didn’t invent fear-setting. It is a practice that is thousands of years old, known initially as the stoic premeditatio malorum, or the premeditation of evils.

Let’s face it, things don’t always go according to plan. After all, you don’t plan on getting nervous to the point where you’re unable to perform for an audience or at an audition.

Fear-setting is the practice where you imagine, in detail, all the things that could go wrong, and in the process, become better prepared and equipped to handle stressful situations when they happen in real life.

How does fear-setting work?

The exercise of fear-setting is designed to help you visualize your worst-case scenario in detail. The things that you fear the most, ones which are preventing you from applying for that job, auditioning for a role, or from asking that special someone out on a date.

By gaining clarity on your worst outcomes, you can then take steps to overcome that paralysis and finally take action.

There are three steps to fear-setting:

Step one is making a list of all the things that could go wrong if you took action on your idea. For example, if you go for the audition, you might fail miserably, everyone might laugh at you, you might lose faith in yourself as an actor, etc.

By listing everything that can go wrong, you can then define steps to prevent them. It could be that you practice your lines ten times harder before your audition. You also think of ways to recover and repair the damage if things do, in fact, go wrong.

The second step is aimed at getting you thinking about the potential upside and the benefits of even attempting to do the thing you’ve been putting off. For example, even if you go to a few auditions, you might meet some people who could potentially open doors for you in the future.

Explore what your life would look like in the near future as part of fear setting

And finally, you want to explore what your life would look like in the near future if you don’t take any action. You might find out that your fear of the status quo is greater than of failure, which would push you into action.

Let’s take a look at how you could use fear-setting to overcome social anxiety/stage fright.

How to use fear-setting to overcome social anxiety & stage fright?

In this section, we’ll break down the three pages of fear-setting you can create in further detail. You can also find the exercise slides from the Tim Ferris TED talk here.

Page 1: What if I….?

This page will have three columns.

Column 1: Define: Define your worst fears if you took action. All the things that are causing you anxiety and preventing you from taking action. Try to think of 10-20 things that you’re fearful of.

Are you afraid that you’ll be humiliated on stage? Are you fearful that your crush will reject you for a date? Are you worried that you won’t hear back from the jobs that you apply for?

Column 2: Prevent: In this column, you write down things you can do to prevent or decrease the likelihood of your worst outcomes from happening. If you’re worried about getting rejected for a date, you could invest in some new clothing, and visit a salon for a makeover before you ask the girl/guy out.

Column 3: Repair: In this column, you’re assuming that the worst-case scenario did, in fact,come true. And now, you’re trying to think of how you can repair the damage, or who you could ask for help. If you get rejected at your audition, can you take an acting class in your area to improve your odds the next time?

According to Tim, one thing to ask yourself when you’re filling out the first page is this; Has there ever been anyone in history, who might be less talented or less qualified than you, who has succeeded at what you’re trying to do. It is extremely likely that the answer is yes.

Page 2: What might be the benefits of even a partial success?

The idea of fear-setting is to be conservative when estimating the upside, while really playing up the potential negatives.

So, in this section, you’re not assuming that you’ll succeed. You’re only exploring the benefits of even attempting, or partial success at best.

Would you build confidence by taking action? Maybe you’ll develop new skills that would benefit you in other endeavors.

One potentially significant benefit could be that you learn to accept rejection or failure, which could then liberate you from the fear of taking action in the future.

Page 3: The cost of inaction

This page could provide you the boost you’ve been looking for all throughout.

You might have given a lot of thought to what might go wrong if you pursue your goals. But maybe you haven’t considered what life will look like if you don’t take any action. What is the emotional, physical, financial cost of the status quo?

What if you never pursue a new career? Would you be fulfilled with what you’re currently doing? How would you feel if you never took the chance to find out if you could date your crush?

Try to get as detailed as possible. Think of every aspect of your life, and how it might look like in six months or a year if you didn’t take any action.

People often find this part of the exercise terrifying enough to finally take a step towards their dreams. Maybe you’ll also find that inaction is no longer an option for you.

Remember, try PerformZen for an added boost of calmness under pressure

Overcoming your fears and deciding to take action is most of the battle. If you can do that part, you’re definitely well on your way.

But you also need to perform at your best when it’s time for the audition, the interview, or if all goes well, your date.

And that’s where PerformZen can help. It’s a natural supplement designed to help you stay calm and focused under pressure.

PerformZen works by boosting the neurotransmitter GABA in your brain.

GABA works by inhibiting brain signals to reduce nervous system activity. Being deficient in GABA has been linked with a higher risk of anxiety [1].

GABA supplements are particularly helpful for those who experience social anxiety, like before performing in front of an audience, at an audition, etc.

PerformZen also contains other ingredients that boost cognitive performance so you can keep nervousness at bay and focus on your performance, speech, interview, or date:

  • GABA – A boost in GABA would allow you to stay calm and focused, so you can deliver a great performance for your audience.
  • L-theanine – L-theanine is an amino acid that promotes calmness, and it also helps boost GABA [2].
  • Magnesium– Magnesium is a natural relaxant, and helps with absorption of GABA in your body [3].
  • Vitamin B6 – Magnesium and Vitamin B6 work together to improve mental focus and cognitive performance. B6 also promotes GABA synthesis in the body [4].
  • Theacrine – When you’re about to go on stage, Theacrine will boost your energy levels, similar to caffeine but without the jittery ups and downs [5].
  • Ginkgo Biloba – Ginkgo Biloba will keep your fight-or-flight response under control and prevents the symptoms of performance anxiety [6].

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Final thoughts on fear-setting to overcome fear

Once you define your worst fears and you come to terms with them, then you’ll find that fear will control you less. Especially when you also list out ways to potentially prevent them from happening, and how to repair the damage in the worst-case scenarios.

And when you really think about what your life may look like if you don’t make a change, you might find that your fear of the status quo is much greater than that of failure or rejection.

Take a few minutes to watch Tim Ferris’ TED talk to learn about his story, and you’ll really understand the power of fear-setting.

And when you do overcome your fear and decide to go for your goals, remember to check out PerformZen Calm Performance Formula, so you can be at the top of your game when it matters most.

Fear Setting Frequently Asked Questions

We have recently received a (digital) sack full of questions about Fear Setting. Rather then keep our responses solely in emails, we figured it’s a good idea to share the questions and their answers here so that we can refer anyone with questions to this section in future:

Why should you define your fears instead of your goals?

The hard choices in life that we most fear doing, asking or saying are very often exactly what we need to do. By visualizing a potential worst-case scenario in detail, you gain clarity on the situation, and you can then take steps to overcome any paralysis (fear) and take action.

What is Fear Setting?

Fear-setting is a stoic practice where you imagine, in detail, all the things that could go wrong in a situation. In the process, you become better prepared and equipped to handle stressful situations when they happen in real life.

What are the Fear Setting steps?

Fear-setting is an exercise with three steps: 1) make a list of all the things that could go wrong if you took action on your idea; 2) define steps to prevent all of the things that could go wrong and 3) define what your life would look like in the near future if you don’t take any action.

Resources List:

  1. Tim Ferris Fear Setting Slides
  2. Tim Ferris Fear Setting TED Talk

Agnit is a performance expert and the lead writer for PerformZen. As an avid health and fitness enthusiast, he is passionate about helping people take control of their health to live happier, more productive lives. Someday, he plans to listen to his own advice and drink less coffee.

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