Why you should define your fears instead of your goals | Tim Ferriss

Why you should define your fears instead of your goals | Tim Ferriss

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00:12
So, this happy pic of me was taken in 1999.
00:15
I was a senior in college,
00:18
and it was right after a dance practice.
00:20
I was really, really happy.
00:22
And I remember exactly where I was about a week and a half later.
00:26
I was sitting in the back of my used minivan
00:29
in a campus parking lot,
00:31
when I decided
00:32
I was going to commit suicide.
00:35
I went from deciding to full-blown planning very quickly.
00:40
And I came this close to the edge of the precipice.
00:43
It’s the closest I’ve ever come.
00:45
And the only reason I took my finger off the trigger
00:48
was thanks to a few lucky coincidences.
00:51
And after the fact,
00:53
that’s what scared me the most: the element of chance.
00:57
So I became very methodical about testing different ways
01:00
that I could manage my ups and downs,
01:02
which has proven to be a good investment. (Laughs)
01:06
Many normal people might have, say, six to 10 major depressive episodes
01:10
in their lives.
01:12
I have bipolar depression. It runs in my family.
01:14
I’ve had 50-plus at this point,
01:17
and I’ve learned a lot.
01:19
I’ve had a lot of at-bats,
01:21
many rounds in the ring with darkness,
01:23
taking good notes.
01:25
So I thought rather than get up and give any type of recipe for success
01:29
or highlight reel,
01:30
I would share my recipe for avoiding self-destruction,
01:35
and certainly self-paralysis.
01:38
And the tool I’ve found which has proven to be the most reliable safety net
01:42
for emotional free fall
01:44
is actually the same tool
01:46
that has helped me to make my best business decisions.
01:48
But that is secondary.
01:50
And it is … stoicism.
01:53
That sounds boring.
01:55
(Laughter)
01:56
You might think of Spock,
01:57
or it might conjure and image like this —
02:00
(Laughter)
02:02
a cow standing in the rain.
02:04
It’s not sad. It’s not particularly happy.
02:07
It’s just an impassive creature taking whatever life sends its way.
02:11
You might not think of the ultimate competitor, say, Bill Belichick,
02:16
head coach of the New England Patriots,
02:18
who has the all-time NFL record for Super Bowl titles.
02:21
And stoicism has spread like wildfire in the top of the NFL ranks
02:26
as a means of mental toughness training in the last few years.
02:30
You might not think of the Founding Fathers —
02:34
Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, George Washington
02:37
to name but three students of stoicism.
02:40
George Washington actually had a play about a Stoic —
02:44
this was “Cato, a Tragedy” —
02:46
performed for his troops at Valley Forge to keep them motivated.
02:50
So why would people of action focus so much on an ancient philosophy?
02:54
This seems very academic.
02:56
I would encourage you to think about stoicism a little bit differently,
03:00
as an operating system for thriving in high-stress environments,
03:03
for making better decisions.
03:05
And it all started here,
03:07
kind of,
03:09
on a porch.
03:10
So around 300 BC in Athens,
03:13
someone named Zeno of Citium taught many lectures
03:16
walking around a painted porch, a “stoa.”
03:19
That later became “stoicism.”
03:22
And in the Greco-Roman world,
03:24
people used stoicism as a comprehensive system
03:27
for doing many, many things.
03:29
But for our purposes, chief among them was training yourself
03:33
to separate what you can control from what you cannot control,
03:37
and then doing exercises to focus exclusively
03:40
on the former.
03:41
This decreases emotional reactivity,
03:43
which can be a superpower.
03:45
Conversely, let’s say you’re a quarterback.
03:48
You miss a pass. You get furious with yourself.
03:51
That could cost you a game.
03:53
If you’re a CEO, and you fly off the handle at a very valued employee
03:57
because of a minor infraction,
03:58
that could cost you the employee.
04:01
If you’re a college student who, say, is in a downward spiral,
04:06
and you feel helpless and hopeless,
04:08
unabated, that could cost you your life.
04:10
So the stakes are very, very high.
04:14
And there are many tools in the toolkit to get you there.
04:17
I’m going to focus on one that completely changed my life in 2004.
04:21
It found me then because of two things:
04:24
a very close friend, young guy, my age, died of pancreatic cancer unexpectedly,
04:29
and then my girlfriend, who I thought I was going to marry, walked out.
04:33
She’d had enough, and she didn’t give me a Dear John letter,
04:37
but she did give me this,
04:40
a Dear John plaque.
04:41
(Laughter)
04:42
I’m not making this up. I’ve kept it.
04:44
“Business hours are over at five o’clock.”
04:47
She gave this to me to put on my desk for personal health,
04:49
because at the time, I was working on my first real business.
04:53
I had no idea what I was doing. I was working 14-plus hour days,
04:56
seven days a week.
04:58
I was using stimulants to get going.
05:00
I was using depressants to wind down and go to sleep.
05:03
It was a disaster.
05:04
I felt completely trapped.
05:06
I bought a book on simplicity to try to find answers.
05:10
And I did find a quote that made a big difference in my life,
05:14
which was, “We suffer more often in imagination than in reality,”
05:19
by Seneca the Younger,
05:21
who was a famous Stoic writer.
05:23
That took me to his letters,
05:24
which took me to the exercise,
05:27
“premeditatio malorum,”
05:29
which means the pre-meditation of evils.
05:32
In simple terms,
05:33
this is visualizing the worst-case scenarios, in detail, that you fear,
05:38
preventing you from taking action,
05:40
so that you can take action to overcome that paralysis.
05:43
My problem was monkey mind — super loud, very incessant.
05:46
Just thinking my way through problems doesn’t work.
05:49
I needed to capture my thoughts on paper.
05:51
So I created a written exercise
05:53
that I called “fear-setting,” like goal-setting,
05:55
for myself.
05:57
It consists of three pages.
05:59
Super simple.
06:01
The first page is right here.
06:03
“What if I …?”
06:05
This is whatever you fear,
06:07
whatever is causing you anxiety,
06:09
whatever you’re putting off.
06:10
It could be asking someone out,
06:12
ending a relationship,
06:14
asking for a promotion, quitting a job, starting a company.
06:17
It could be anything.
06:18
For me, it was taking my first vacation in four years
06:21
and stepping away from my business for a month to go to London,
06:24
where I could stay in a friend’s room for free,
06:27
to either remove myself as a bottleneck in the business
06:30
or shut it down.
06:32
In the first column, “Define,”
06:34
you’re writing down all of the worst things you can imagine happening
06:37
if you take that step.
06:39
You want 10 to 20.
06:41
I won’t go through all of them, but I’ll give you two examples.
06:44
One was, I’ll go to London, it’ll be rainy, I’ll get depressed,
06:47
the whole thing will be a huge waste of time.
06:50
Number two, I’ll miss a letter from the IRS,
06:52
and I’ll get audited
06:54
or raided or shut down or some such.
06:57
And then you go to the “Prevent” column.
06:59
In that column, you write down the answer to:
07:01
What could I do to prevent each of these bullets from happening,
07:04
or, at the very least, decrease the likelihood even a little bit?
07:08
So for getting depressed in London,
07:11
I could take a portable blue light with me
07:13
and use it for 15 minutes in the morning.
07:15
I knew that helped stave off depressive episodes.
07:17
For the IRS bit, I could change the mailing address on file with the IRS
07:21
so the paperwork would go to my accountant
07:23
instead of to my UPS address.
07:25
Easy-peasy.
07:27
Then we go to “Repair.”
07:30
So if the worst-case scenarios happen,
07:32
what could you do to repair the damage even a little bit,
07:35
or who could you ask for help?
07:38
So in the first case, London,
07:39
well, I could fork over some money, fly to Spain, get some sun —
07:43
undo the damage, if I got into a funk.
07:46
In the case of missing a letter from the IRS,
07:48
I could call a friend who is a lawyer
07:51
or ask, say, a professor of law
07:54
what they would recommend,
07:55
who I should talk to, how had people handled this in the past.
07:59
So one question to keep in mind as you’re doing this first page is:
08:03
Has anyone else in the history of time
08:05
less intelligent or less driven
08:07
figured this out?
08:09
Chances are, the answer is “Yes.”
08:11
(Laughter)
08:12
The second page is simple:
08:16
What might be the benefits of an attempt or a partial success?
08:19
You can see we’re playing up the fears
08:21
and really taking a conservative look at the upside.
08:24
So if you attempted whatever you’re considering,
08:27
might you build confidence, develop skills,
08:29
emotionally, financially, otherwise?
08:32
What might be the benefits of, say, a base hit?
08:34
Spend 10 to 15 minutes on this.
08:37
Page three.
08:38
This might be the most important, so don’t skip it:
08:41
“The Cost of Inaction.”
08:42
Humans are very good at considering what might go wrong
08:45
if we try something new, say, ask for a raise.
08:48
What we don’t often consider is the atrocious cost of the status quo —
08:54
not changing anything.
08:56
So you should ask yourself,
08:58
if I avoid this action or decision
09:02
and actions and decisions like it,
09:05
what might my life look like in, say, six months, 12 months, three years?
09:10
Any further out, it starts to seem intangible.
09:12
And really get detailed — again, emotionally, financially,
09:16
physically, whatever.
09:18
And when I did this, it painted a terrifying picture.
09:21
I was self-medicating,
09:23
my business was going to implode at any moment at all times,
09:27
if I didn’t step away.
09:28
My relationships were fraying or failing.
09:30
And I realized that inaction was no longer an option for me.
09:35
Those are the three pages. That’s it. That’s fear-setting.
09:38
And after this, I realized that on a scale of one to 10,
09:42
one being minimal impact, 10 being maximal impact,
09:45
if I took the trip, I was risking
09:47
a one to three of temporary and reversible pain
09:50
for an eight to 10 of positive, life-changing impact
09:55
that could be a semi-permanent.
09:57
So I took the trip.
09:59
None of the disasters came to pass.
10:00
There were some hiccups, sure.
10:02
I was able to extricate myself from the business.
10:04
I ended up extending that trip for a year and a half around the world,
10:08
and that became the basis for my first book,
10:11
that leads me here today.
10:12
And I can trace all of my biggest wins
10:15
and all of my biggest disasters averted
10:18
back to doing fear-setting
10:20
at least once a quarter.
10:23
It’s not a panacea.
10:24
You’ll find that some of your fears are very well-founded.
10:27
(Laughter)
10:28
But you shouldn’t conclude that
10:29
without first putting them under a microscope.
10:33
And it doesn’t make all the hard times, the hard choices, easy,
10:36
but it can make a lot of them easier.
10:39
I’d like to close with a profile of one of my favorite modern-day Stoics.
10:43
This is Jerzy Gregorek.
10:46
He is a four-time world champion in Olympic weightlifting,
10:50
political refugee,
10:51
published poet,
10:53
62 years old.
10:54
He can still kick my ass and probably most asses in this room.
10:59
He’s an impressive guy.
11:00
I spent a lot of time on his stoa, his porch,
11:02
asking life and training advice.
11:05
He was part of the Solidarity in Poland,
11:09
which was a nonviolent movement for social change
11:11
that was violently suppressed by the government.
11:14
He lost his career as a firefighter.
11:16
Then his mentor, a priest, was kidnapped, tortured, killed
11:19
and thrown into a river.
11:21
He was then threatened.
11:22
He and his wife had to flee Poland, bounce from country to country
11:25
until they landed in the US with next to nothing,
11:28
sleeping on floors.
11:30
He now lives in Woodside, California, in a very nice place,
11:34
and of the 10,000-plus people I’ve met in my life,
11:36
I would put him in the top 10,
11:39
in terms of success and happiness.
11:42
And there’s a punchline coming, so pay attention.
11:44
I sent him a text a few weeks ago,
11:46
asking him: Had he ever read any Stoic philosophy?
11:49
And he replied with two pages of text.
11:51
This is very unlike him. He is a terse dude.
11:54
(Laughter)
11:55
And not only was he familiar with stoicism,
11:58
but he pointed out, for all of his most important decisions,
12:02
his inflection points,
12:03
when he stood up for his principles and ethics,
12:07
how he had used stoicism and something akin to fear-setting,
12:11
which blew my mind.
12:12
And he closed with two things.
12:13
Number one: he couldn’t imagine any life more beautiful
12:17
than that of a Stoic.
12:20
And the last was his mantra, which he applies to everything,
12:23
and you can apply to everything:
12:27
“Easy choices, hard life.
12:29
Hard choices, easy life.”
12:34
The hard choices —
12:36
what we most fear doing, asking, saying —
12:40
these are very often exactly what we most need to do.
12:45
And the biggest challenges and problems we face
12:48
will never be solved with comfortable conversations,
12:51
whether it’s in your own head or with other people.
12:55
So I encourage you to ask yourselves:
12:57
Where in your lives right now
12:58
might defining your fears be more important than defining your goals?
13:04
Keeping in mind all the while, the words of Seneca:
13:08
“We suffer more often in imagination than in reality.”
13:11
Thank you very much.
13:13
(Applause)

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