by David Fideler

Drawing on the practices of Stoic philosophy and the work of Seneca, Tim Ferriss developed a technique to identify and test the validity of one’s fears — and he suggests convincingly that being able to define your fears is at least as important as being able to define your goals.

The tool I’ve found, which has proved to be the most reliable safety net for emotional free fall, is actually the same tool that has helped me to make my best business decisions, but that is secondary. And it is … Stoicism. — Tim Ferriss

Entrepreneur Tim Ferriss, author of the best-selling book The 4-Hour Workweek (2007) and the creator of one of the most popular podcasts ever, makes it no secret that he’s a huge admirer of Stoic philosophy and the Stoic writer Seneca.

Tim rates Stoicism as his favorite philosophy and describes Seneca’s Letters as “my favorite writing of all time.”

Ferris describes Stoic philosophy as “a no-nonsense system designed to produce dramatic real-world effects. Think of it as an ideal operating system for thriving in high-stress environments.”

The Power of Fear Setting

Ferriss frequently cites the Stoic practice of premeditatio malorum or “the premeditation of adversity,” which he learned from reading Seneca (left). This technique involves imagining negative events that could happen to you in the future, so that if those things actually take place, you’ll be prepared for them, and they’ll have far less emotional impact.

Since fear often holds people back in their personal and professional lives, Ferris drew upon the ancient idea of anticipating adversity to create a technique that he calls “fear setting,” as a way to overcome paralysis and take action, and as a needed complement to “goal setting.”

First described in The 4-Hour Workweek, Ferris noted that defining fear is the easiest way to conquer it, and that “What we fear doing most is usually what we most need to do.” Most importantly, one needs to question, “What could I be missing out on if my fear holds me back?”

Expanding upon the idea of fear setting, which he practices on a regular basis, Tim created a step-by-step process, which he describes in the short TED video below, “Why You Should Define Your Fears Instead of Your Goals,” which now has millions of views.

As Ferris notes,

I can trace all of my biggest wins — and all of my biggest disasters averted — back to doing fear setting at least once a quarter.

He explains the process fully in the video. But if you like the video and the idea of fear setting, you can download the free fear-setting worksheets below, which you can print and fill out as needed.


Get the Fear-Setting Worksheets 

Like the video? If so, you can download the free PDF Fear-Setting Worksheets. Print and fill out as needed.

David Fideler is the editor of Stoic Insights and the author of Breakfast with Senecapublished by W. W. Norton, which is the first clear and faithful guide to the practical teachings of the Stoic philosopher Seneca. You can read more about his work here.


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