“We suffer more in imagination than in reality,” said the Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca.

They ring true. So many of our fears, if not all of them, never become reality. And it’s our fears, the thoughts in our imagination, that hold us back.

Seneca’s wisdom helped Tim Ferriss, the New York Times bestselling author, to overcome the fear that held him back from making major changes in his life in 2004.

At this time Ferriss came across Seneca’s “Letters” and discovered the philosopher’s exercise “premeditatio malorum,” the “pre-meditation of evils.”

“In simple terms, this is visualizing the worst-case scenarios, in detail, that you fear, preventing you from taking action, so that you can take action to overcome that paralysis,” explains Ferris.

Ferris created his own version of the exercise which he explains in his TED talk. He calls it “fear setting” instead of “goal setting”. Check it out below or continue reading for our summary.

All you need are three pieces of paper and something to write with. If you follow his three steps, you’ll find out whether your fear of making the particular decision you face is really justified.

The first page has three columns: 1- Define, 2- Prevent, 3- Repair.

  • Under column 1 you define everything you fear about the decision, anything that could possibly go wrong.
  • Under column 2 you write next to every scenario in column 1 what you could do to either prevent it from happening or at least decrease the likelihood even a little bit.
  • In column 3 you write what you would do to repair the situation should the worst case scenario happen.

On the second page you list all the benefits that could come from even a partial success as a result of taking the decision.

On the third page you write down the costs of inaction, what he calls “the atrocious cost of the status quo” – not changing anything.

“I can trace all of my biggest wins and all of my biggest disasters averted back to doing fear-setting.

“The hard choices, what we most fear doing, asking [or] saying, these are very often exactly what we most need to do. And the biggest challenges and problems we face will never be solved with comfortable conversations, whether it’s in your own head or with other people.”

What do you think of Ferriss’ strategy for overcoming fears? Let us know in the comments. And check out these other articles about Ferriss’ ideas: