Tim Ferriss on How to Overcome Fear When Setting Goals

Whether it’s asking for a raise, starting a business or asking a guy or girl out, we can often feel paralysed from taking the first step- even if we have everything planned out. Tim Ferriss, author or “4-Hour Work Week” has a way to deal with this fear.


“We suffer more often in imagination than in reality.” is a famous quote by Seneca. It tells us that a lot of the fears we have in our heads- often the ones that stop us from taking action- are imaginary. In order to take these fears out of our heads, Ferriss recommends a writing exercise that should take no more than 30 minutes.


Ferriss recommends taking three pages to write on. On the first, he asks you to consider what could possibly go wrong if you do what you intend to under three columns.

The first column: ‘define’ is where you list 10- 20 possible worst-scenario issues you could face if you go ahead with what you want to do.

The second column: ‘Prevent’, is where you write how you can prevent or at least mitigate them from happening.

The third column: ‘Repair’, is where you write what you could do if the worst case scenario happens.

For example, say you have a public speaking commitment coming up. Under ‘define’ you could say “Get anxious and make an idiot of yourself”. Under “prevent” you could put, “Make sure you learn your lines well and practice in front of different audiences of family and friends beforehand”. Under “repair” you could ask people you know speak publicly very well how they managed to train themselves and what techniques they use to avoid nerves.

What Next?

The next two pages are simpler. On the second page, you should spend 10-15 minutes writing down the benefits of an attempt or partial success. On the third, he asks to consider the cost of inaction.

Although we’re usually great at preempting the costs of action, we often forget to consider what may happen if we do nothing and maintain the status quo. Often, 6 months, one year or even three years down the line, this could be a higher and more dangerous risk than the risks of trying.

No More Fear?

Although a great way to overcome fear, Tim warns that sometimes after this exercise, you may realise that some risks are too big to be taken. Nevertheless, he still recommends using this exercise every so often to assess big decisions and opportunities as they come.

To conclude, growing will likely never feel comfortable. But with fear setting, we can at least make those hard choices easier. In the words of one of Ferriss’s mentors, Olympic weightlifter Jerzy Gregorek, “Easy choices, hard life. Hard choices, easy life.”

Image by Randy Stewart under Creative Commons 2.0 License.

Sarah Chung

Raised in Hong Kong, now living in New York. A serial optimist, I love finding ways to improve to enjoy life even more.