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Practical PKM

👻 Fear Setting: An Essential Tool for Doing Hard Things

Published 19 days ago • 5 min read

In this edition of Practical PKM:

  • 💡 The Big Idea: Define your fears to make hard things easier
  • 😎 Something Cool: Funnel gets widgets and Shortcuts actions
  • 📚 My book notes from The 4-Hour Workweek by Time Ferriss

💡 The Big Idea: Define Your Fears Instead of Your Goals

Almost exactly a year ago, I quit my day job at a digital marketing agency to become an independent creator.

Making a decision like that is always scary. But there was one particular exercise helped me muster the courage to make the leap:

Fear Setting.

How Fear Setting Connects to the PKM Stack

The PKM Stack is a framework I came up with that helps you escape the reactionary default life and live with intention by aligning everything in your PKM system with your vision and your values (or Philosophy).

But when you start to make this shift, it can be uncomfortable to find that the things you're currently doing don't line up with what really important to you. This creates a disconnect between the Philosophy and Actions levels of the PKM Stack, making you frustrated with your situation but ultimately feeling too afraid to do anything about it.

When this happens, we tend to avoid thinking about it too much. But that just prolongs our period of misalignment and ultimately makes things worse.

The practice of Fear Setting can help you work through the discomfort and make the changes you know you need to make — even if it seems scary.

What is Fear Setting?

Fear setting is basically the exact opposite of goal setting. Instead of defining your goal (the positive outcome you hope to achieve), you get specific about the fears that are keeping you from making a decision (the negative outcome you are trying to avoid).

I first heard about Fear Setting in a Tim Ferriss YouTube video where he walked through the process and why it works:

  1. Write down the change you are considering making. Often we are afraid of things we don’t fully understand. This forces you to grapple with the issue instead of avoiding it.
  2. List the worst possible outcomes. Usually, we try to avoid thinking about these types of things, but this is the whole point of the exercise. Get as specific as you can when thinking about what could possibly go wrong.
  3. Identify the steps you could take to mitigate or repair the damage. Once you face the worst-case scenario head-on, you realize there are steps you can take to avoid or lessen the impact of those events.
  4. List some other possible outcomes or benefits of taking action. Once you consider the negatives, look for some of the positives that could result from your decision. There are always two sides to every coin.
  5. Identify the real long-term cost of inaction. If you don’t go for it, what will be the cost in 3, 6, or 12 months?

The result of doing this exercise is that you get crystal clear on what exactly you’re afraid of. And when you do, it doesn’t seem so scary anymore.

How Fear Setting Helped Me Quit My Job

Let me preface this by saying that my day job wasn’t horrible. It just wasn’t for me.

I learned a ton in my ~18 months as an Integrator at a digital marketing company, but agency life was like fingernails on the chalkboard of my soul. All the meetings drove me nuts, and I was worn out from the constant firefighting.

Nevertheless, the thought of actually quitting my job to be an independent creator was scary.

What if it didn’t work out?

I’m married with 5 kids at home, and the pressure to provide for them is real. So one night, my wife & I were talking about the possibility of me quitting my job and I roped her into an impromptu Fear Setting exercise. The conversation we had went something like this:

Me: If I quit my job, what’s the worst that could happen?
Her: Yeah, that’s the right attitude!
Me: No really, I want to know — what do you think is the worst thing that could happen in that scenario?
Her: Uh… (what the heck?!?)

In hindsight, maybe I should have told her what we were doing 😂

After talking it through for about an hour, I realized that the big fear I had was that my creator business would fail and I wouldn’t be able to get another job (or at least one that paid as well). But once I started considering my skills, experience, and resume, I realized that my worst-case scenario of looking for another job was actually not all that bad. I found that not only could I likely get another job if I had to, but I could probably even make more than I was at my current position!

Suddenly, the thing I was so afraid of wasn’t so scary anymore.

I also realized that there was a significant cost to my inaction if I stayed. I’d been doing my own creative work on the side for years, but never been confident enough to go out on my own. I helped a ton of people be more productive and creative through the courses I had made, but I always did it under someone else’s brand (that always felt safer). And when I realized my kids were at the age where they were starting to think about what they would do after high school, I knew that I needed to model being willing to bet on myself.

You always tell your kids they can do anything if they put their minds to it. But it was time for me to live it out.

So I made the leap.

What Are YOU Afraid of?

Every once in a while, I get a random thought in my head: I’m doing the thing.

And I’m immediately grateful that I made the leap.

Truth be told, it’s not always easy. The last 12 months have been tough. Growth in my business has been slow, but I’m starting to see traction and feel like there is light at the end of the tunnel.

And if it all disappears tomorrow, I still know that I have marketable skills and can get another job if I need to.

So I hope my story helps you take action. Fear doesn’t have to paralyze you. You don’t have to let it keep your world small.

A word of encouragement: Face your fear. Don’t avoid it, define it.

You might just realize it’s not quite as scary as you think.

😎 Something Cool: Funnel Quick Capture 1.3

I mentioned Funnel in the newsletter previously, but version 1.3 is a pretty significant upgrade. For one thing, you can now capture into Notion databases in addition to Obsidian, Todoist, Due, and a bunch of other apps that you probably already use in your PKM Stack. But it also adds widgets that allow you to capture straight from your Home or Lock screens and Shortcuts actions that allow you to do things like open certain capture modes or capture to specific destinations.

This app continues to get better and better. If you’re looking for a way to capture just about anything into your PKM system, you should check out Funnel.

📚 Book Notes: The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris

I mentioned Tim Ferriss above as my introduction to the topic of fear setting, but he’s perhaps more famous for his bestselling book, The 4-Hour Workweek.

This might be the most misleading book title ever. What sounds like a gimmicky way to get out of doing work is actually a pretty solid approach to lifestyle design. While I don’t agree with everything in this book, Tim Ferriss does do a pretty good job of challenging you to think about how you might be able to design the type of life you want to live.

If you want to download my notes from this book, click here.

— Mike

Practical PKM

by Mike Schmitz

A weekly newsletter where I help people apply values-based productivity principles and systems for personal growth, primarily using Obsidian. Subscribe if you want to make more of your notes and ideas.

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