What Are We So Afraid Of, Exactly?

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Fear graphic strah-oči

Understanding Our Fear of Taking the Leap

            Cockroaches. They’re the ugliest, most disgusting-looking critters, and the thought of one pattering unannounced across a dinner table or flying over my head would send me- like many of you- into a tizzy.

            One day, I pondered why cockroaches invoke such fear in most of us…save for the few intrepid souls and those who eat them as a cultural norm. When we scream and squirm, when our hearts jump to our throats, what do we think they can actually do to us?

Introducing: irrational fear.

            As unsightly as they are, cockroaches cannot kill you. Cockroaches do not spew poisonous venom when apprehended or gnaw through human flesh and bone for nourishment. Yet, we let our fear get the very best of our worst imaginations…

…much like the thought of taking steps to the life we really want.

I’ve come across many people who want to drop their job and travel the world, or switch to a career that brings them fulfillment. When I personally felt the “tug” to finally move to London- my dream city- knowing I didn’t have it all figured out, I too became afraid of the thought of taking the leap.

But?  How?  I don’t have…  What if…?

In my irrational train of thought, I equated my fear of failure to fear of death, as if taking a chance to live my dreams could somehow lead to my funeral if it didn’t work. Thank God for Tim Ferriss, as I learned that if it’s too much to face your fears, you could at least begin understanding them for what they are.

Below is a “Question and Actions” exercise featured in Tim’s monstrously successful book The 4-Hour Work Week, and it greatly transformed my “dreaming fears” and gave me renewed courage to move forward. If you’re stuck or deathly afraid on navigating toward your dream life, this questionnaire will help you tremendously.

Got a pen or a Word document open? Answer Tim’s following questions:

  1. Define your nightmare, the absolute worst that could happen if you did what you are considering. What doubt, fears, and “what-ifs” pop up as you consider the big changes you can—or need—to make? Envision them in painstaking detail. Would it be the end of your life? What would be the permanent impact, if any, on a scale of 1–10? Are these things really permanent? How likely do you think it is that they would actually happen?
  1. What steps could you take to repair the damage or get things back on the upswing, even if temporarily? Chances are, it’s easier than you imagine. How could you get things back under control?

  1. What are the outcomes or benefits, both temporary and permanent, of more probable scenarios? Now that you’ve defined the nightmare, what are the more probable or definite positive outcomes, whether internal (confidence, self-esteem, etc.) or external? What would the impact of these more-likely outcomes be on a scale of 1–10? How likely is it that you could produce at least a moderately good outcome?
  1. If you were fired from your job today, what would you do to get things under financial control? Imagine this scenario and run through questions 1–3 above. If you quit your job to test other options, how could you later get back on the same career track if you absolutely had to?
  2. What are you putting off out of fear? Usually, what we most fear doing is what we most need to do. That phone call, that conversation, whatever the action might be—it is fear of unknown outcomes that prevents us from doing what we need to do. Define the worst case, accept it, and do it.
  1. What is it costing you—financially, emotionally, and physically—to postpone action? If you don’t pursue those things that excite you, where will you be in one year, five years, and ten years? How will you feel having allowed circumstance to impose itself upon you and having allowed ten more years of your finite life to pass doing what you know will not fulfill you?
  1. What are you waiting for? If you cannot answer this without resorting to the previously rejected concept of good timing, the answer is simple: You’re afraid, just like the rest of the world. Measure the cost of inaction, realize the unlikelihood and reparability of most missteps, and develop the most important habit of those who excel and enjoy doing so: action.

Alas, taking a chance at the life you want will not kill you…attempting something big, even if you fail your first time, will not destroy your livelihood.

The worse that can happen is going back where you started.

While this exercise won’t instantly cure your phobia of gnarly insects, it should help you better realize that living with regret is a much more terrifying reality.

 (If you know someone that could benefit from reading this article, please share it!)

 -Travis Levius

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