Overcoming Fear

When we think of the archetypal warrior, we will almost certainly be sure to think of someone that is brave, courageous and seemingly fearless. This is the kind of person that will walk into the line of fire. That will speak out against injustice, that will take on enemies that are much greater than them. In our personal lives, there are no real dragons to slay. Rather, they take on many other forms, whether they be illness, whether they be debt, or whether they be the struggle of going to the gym every day…

How to Use ‘Fear Setting’

If you’re a fan of reading self-help literature than chances are that at some point you will have written down your goals. This is something that almost every guru seems to advise and that many claims can help you to accomplish your dreams by better defining and visualizing them. But in Tim Ferriss’ 4 Hour Workweek this advice is turned on its head somewhat. While Tim doesn’t necessarily have a problem with goal setting per-say, he also recommends doing essentially the opposite by ‘fear setting’. And he claims it can do a great deal more than goal setting when it comes to realizing your aims and getting more from life…

What is Fear Setting?

The general idea behind fear setting is that you’re defining the fears that are holding you back so that you can face them. In most cases, Tim postulates that after doing this you’ll find that your fears are actually relatively unfounded and thus will move forward and past them. Normally, our fears are of ‘irreversible’ negative outcomes, but actually, these are rarer than you might think… So what you do is write down the absolute worst possible outcomes for doing whatever it is you want to do, and then write down all the ways you’d cope with the situation or possibly reverse it.

An Example: Changing Careers

Let’s take changing careers as an example. This is something that a lot of people want to do, but feel held back by fear of the potential repercussions. By defining those fears though, you can minimize their potency. So if you were going to write down the worst possible outcomes for changing careers, it might well look something like this:

  • I might leave my job only to fail to find another job
  • I might be unable to pay the mortgage and thus be forced to move home
  • This could upset my partner so much they leave me
  • I might get the job I think I want and find out I hate it more than my last job
  • I might apply to other jobs only to get rejected by everyone and end up damaging my ego

These are all real concerns, but now if you think about all the ways you can manage risk and reduce the impacts of those negative outcomes you’ll find your fears aren’t all that founded…

  • I can look for jobs without leaving my current job to avoid the risk of unemployment. No one has to know.
  • This will also be a lot less reckless in the eyes of my partner.
  • Alternatively, I could speak to my boss about my problems and see if there are other positions within my organization.
  • If I end up out of work I could always speak to my old boss about getting my job back, work in a supermarket while I look for other work, live off of savings for a couple of months, or move back home with the parents!
  • If my partner leaves me for trying to become happier than I need to reassess that relationship.
  • If I don’t like the job I find next then I will feel more confident about job hunting again in the future.
  • If I struggle to get accepted by anywhere, I can work on my interview technique/improve my resume or CV/seek career guidance. All of which, will be useful experiences anyway.

As you can see then, the very worst scenario is probably not as bad as it seems, it may just mean living out of savings for a while or taking a small step backward in order to take two forwards. Likewise, as there are so many ways to minimize the risk of things going wrong, it’s actually quite unlikely you’ll end up in those positions anyway.

In The 4-Hour Workweek, Tim also gives one other piece of advice, that I feel is very relevant here: Don’t ask for permission, ask for forgiveness. Take that attitude and outline your fears and you’re on track to a happier version of yourself as well as to accomplish much more.

Stoicism and the Warrior Mindset

Tim Ferriss’ ideas might seem unique but actually, he says himself that he is inspired by ancient philosophy and specifically, by the ideas of the ancient Stoics. Stoicism is a school of philosophy that dates all the way back to the 3rd Century BC. Its principles were founded and practiced by historical characters such as Epictetus, Seneca and Marcus Aurelius. And in many ways, Stoicism was an early approach to a ‘warrior mindset’. It was all about mental hardiness and about learning to expect and then live with things going wrong. In fact, many of us describe someone who is brave and courageous as being Stoic.

So, what precisely does it involve?

The Power of Pessimism

If we tell someone that we don’t think things are going to work out as we hoped, then you’ll often tell us that we need to be ‘more optimistic’. There’s even a song that tells us to ‘accentuate the positive’ and ‘eliminate the negative’. The consensus is clear: being positive is a good thing and being anything other than positive is unacceptable. But is this really the best way for us to approach our problems? Or is it perhaps actually quite damaging to constantly be blinded by optimism? Does it leave us vulnerable to disappointment and potentially easily caught off guard? Is expected life to be constantly ‘sunshine and rainbows’ the precise opposite of a warrior mindset?

Wouldn’t a warrior accept and embrace the fact that life is going to be hard? And then toughen themselves up to deal with it? That’s the view held by stoics at least and when you delve into the philosophy a little, you might find that they actually make a very good case for pessimism.

The Central Ideas of Stoicism

The general gist of stoicism is not to try to ‘shut out’ negativity and pretend that bad things don’t happen but rather to embrace it and even to use it as a tool. Hope, according to the Stoics, is the enemy, precisely because it means we’re unprepared for things going wrong, and we’re likely to be disappointed. Instead, stoicism advocates the notion of the gritty realism of recognizing the negative aspects of life and accepting that a lot of what happens is out of our control and is probably not going to be very pleasant!

Using Stoicism in Your Own Life

This might not sound like a particularly helpful stance to take on things, but then that’s because most of us are highly trained in only accepting positive viewpoints. This is the general conceit of countless self-help books and even Hollywood films. Dream big and you can get what you want! In fact, it’s pretty much the driving force behind capitalism. But the Stoics take the opposite approach. They prepare for the storm. They learn to enjoy life even when things aren’t going their way, and they recognize hardship as a challenge and an opportunity for growth.

So how does rejecting this incessant positively help? How do you practically apply stoicism in your own life?

Negative Visualization

One suggestion from stoicism is something called ‘negative visualization’ – the idea that you visualize your fears rather than your goals. Instead of picturing things going perfectly to plan, instead, picture things at their worst. Imagine how your plans can fail and picture what life would be like if all your worst fears came true. What these do are to first help you to prepare for those worst case scenarios. Once you know what your fears actually look like, you can then think about how you would cope in that scenario. Often, you’ll find that this worst-case scenario is not as bad as you at first thought it would be. And in other cases, you’ll find that you can actually find ways to cope with that situation.

This removes fears that could otherwise hold you back and means that you aren’t blindly ignoring what could potentially go wrong. If this sounds (familiar) than that’s because it’s precisely the same concept that helped Tim Ferriss to come up with his Fear Setting technique.

Be Content With the Scantiest and Cheapest Fare

In one of his letters to Lucilius, Seneca said: Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with a coarse and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: is this the condition that I feared?

The general idea here is that you should not only visualize your worst-case scenario but also try living it. That might mean spending a week living off of minimum salary, it might even mean sleeping rough. In either case, this teaches you not only that you can handle your worst fears and therefore have less reason to be afraid but also that you actually don’t need material possessions in order to be happy.

This is actually something that is very important to cultivate. It takes great discipline to part with your possessions and belongings but the results are freedom from fear and also from many physical restrictions. If you are weighed down by possessions and belongings, then you will not be able to move home freely. You will spend a lot of time cleaning and attending to things that do not help you further your goals. And ultimately, you will have much more to fear. The more you own, the more you have to lose. This creates a sense of fear.

So, try to declutter and live a more focused and minimalist life. At the very least, learn to detach yourself from physical possessions and remember that they are indeed ‘just things’. They are means to an end and if you must sacrifice them, so be it. Selling your widescreen TV or turning down a holiday in order to pay off debt or pay for your child’s tuition, those are warrior-like choices.

Wear Ugly Clothes…

Another classic Stoic move is to wear ‘ugly’ clothes in order to teach yourself not to be ashamed. People might stare at you, but this will simply teach you that it doesn’t matter at all what others think, only what you think. This is an important aspect of the warrior mindset: caring what other people think makes you vulnerable to peer pressure and to vanity. Sometimes, to do what must be done, you must be willing to sacrifice your reputation.

Expect the Worst

Think about the last time you swore with anger. Chances are that it was not because it rained or because you found you were in debt. More likely, it was because you dropped something on your toe, or because you broke your favorite possession. The point is that the anger comes from the surprise, not the disappointment. You don’t swear when it rains because you know that rain is a possibility. Therefore, if you are angry, this then suggests that you don’t expect whatever happened to you and this is arguably your own fault. If you accept that bad things happen and if you accept that sometimes things won’t go to plan, then you will have no need to be angry, because you will have accounted for it and prepared mentally for it.

Now, when your partner cheats on you, or when a service provider doesn’t deliver a good service, you will think of it as being simply a part of life – just like the rain.

Control Your Reaction

Stoicism means submitting to the fact that you have scant-to-no control over reality. But at the same time, it also means taking solace in the knowledge that these outside factors can’t hurt you – only your reaction can. You can’t control what happens to you but you can control what you make of that event and your own interpretation of it. Being mentally prepared for things that could go wrong is one good example of this in action. Likewise, though, you might also simply decide not to let things affect you – to take a step back from them and to deal with the consequences rather than thrashing against things that you cannot change.

Mindfulness and the ability to decide how you want to react to the things going on around you.

But simply by remembering that tough things happen and it’s your job to deal with them, you should find you can.

I actually think that Rocky Balboa is one of the great modern stoics and one of his famous quotes summarizes the ideas of Seneca and Marcus Aurelius perfectly: The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place… and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me or nobody, is gonna hit as hard as life. But ain’t about how hard you hit… It’s about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward… how much you can take, and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done.

Those that fear death, fear life.

It is true that if you live life in fear of death, then you will be permanently cautious. You will not take risks and you will not live to its fullest as a result. So, what is the solution? Do we put death ‘out of our mind’? No, it would be better to come to terms with it and in Stoic fashion, simply accept it as a reality. And this mirrors the way that a Samurai would approach their lives too. Here is a quote from Edo Samurai Daidoji Yuzan, which can be found in the book Code of the Samurai:

One who is a Samurai must before all things keep constantly in mind… the fact that he has to die. If he is always mindful of this, he will be able to live in accordance with the paths of loyalty and filial duty, will avoid myriads of evils and adversities, keep himself free of disease and calamity and moreover enjoy a long life. He will also be a fine personality with many admirable qualities. For existence is impermanent as the dew of evening, and the hoarfrost of morning, and particularly uncertain is the life of the warrior…

Remember your goals and your vision. Work toward them. Stick to your code. Try to make a difference and focus on what you leave behind. That might mean protecting your family even when it means putting yourself at risk, or it might mean taking chances in order to chase after bigger goals.

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The Warrior Mindset

Have you ever felt like life is hard? Life it can sometimes be a struggle to get up in the morning and do all the things that you have to do? Do you ever wake up feeling constantly tired and stressed? Does life just seem too much? Sure, I get it. You have lots of work to do. You have debt maybe. Maybe you’re tired of shopping and maybe you’ve got a stomach ache.

Now think about a true warrior.

Think about someone who sleeps rough, unsure of whether they’re going to die during the night. Then they wake up, no time for a shower or a nice breakfast, and they leap straight into action. They ignore their wounds, they take lives, and they see their friends and their brothers in arms shot and killed in front of them. But now I get it. You’re tired. You had to work until 6pm last night…

What I’m getting at, is that your life isn’t really hard. You might think it’s hard and sometimes it might feel hard. But there are people out there with much worse lives than you. There are people out there who live with crippling illness and not two cents to rub together. And many of them do this with dignity, grace, and bravery that puts the rest of us to shame.

You see, the warrior mindset actually has nothing to do with combat. In fact, the hooligans that start bar fights and that think they’re hard for starting fights are about as far from true warriors as it gets. Ask anyone who has seen real combat if they would want to risk their health and waste their energy on looking for trouble.

The warrior mindset is different. This is about knowing what you want and going for it. It’s about being hard and it’s about not letting little things get you down. It’s about pushing ahead with what you know is right and it’s about carrying responsibility and hardship on your shoulders with dignity and pride. It’s about not letting your emotions get the better of you and it’s about not taking the easy answer or the easy route to solve your problems.

So where do this title and this approach come from? What is the theory behind the warrior’s mindset? Of course, it comes from our romantic image of the warrior and from stories of warriors from history. It comes from tales of our bravest men and women who fought actual battles while remaining cool-headed, sacrificing themselves for others and doing incredible things.

Now, we all know that in reality, not every warrior fits this mold. For every heroic individual who put themselves in the line of fire, there would have been hundreds more soldiers that complained, that was in it for the wrong reasons, or that wouldn’t put themselves out for others. Romanticizing warfare is, in fact, a terrible idea – it is a truly horrific state of affairs and very few people feel like warriors when they are faced with enemy fire. But it’s that image of the ideal warrior that we’re looking at here. And at our notions of history’s greatest warriors like the Samurai or Spartans.

The point is that some people manage to stay cool and calm in even the worst situations. Some people constantly forge ahead and do not allow small inconveniences or a lack of creating comforts stand in their way. And those people put us to shame. Those people make our complaints seem very minor indeed. Now imagine if you could take that same mindset and apply it to modern life. Instead of getting tired or bogged down, instead of being distracted and tempted, you would instead drive forward with an unstoppable, bulletproof mentality. Your enemies would quake knowing that there was nothing they could do to stop you and your career obstacles, relationship goals, and financial plans would all crumble beneath your will.

If you apply an iron will and warrior mentality to a modern lifestyle, you get extreme efficiency, determination, and pride. Self-discipline, determination, and self-sufficiency are traits that make us strong and that help us get what we want. They are traits that make us good parents, good friends, and good partners. They are traits that help us to live with ourselves and to earn respect and admiration from others. Imagine if you had the mental strength to sit in a freezing cold shower for hours on end. Imagine if you weren’t phased in life-threatening situations. Take those traits and then put them up against the absolutely measly challenges that most of us face today. They would fall like dominoes.

Having a warrior’s mindset and going through modern life is like bulging with muscles and having to lift 5 kg. Developing that warrior’s mindset is like a workout for your mind, your philosophy, and your soul. It will make you unstoppable.

Life is Growth

I want to share this email with you.


Life is growth.

And yet, we shrink in the face of opportunities to grow.

Because growth is pain. We don’t like pain.

So when life presents us with an opportunity to grow, we often choose to stay where we are.

“I’m not ready.” Or whatever reason we give ourselves.

And it’s a plausible excuse. Plausible, because there’s always some truth in it.

How much CAN one person handle at once? You need recovery time. You need time to relax and enjoy as well.

And it’s easy to buy into your own rationalizing when there’s truth mixed in.

However, while growth IS pain, growth is ALSO joy. Deep satisfaction. Real pride.

Grow personally and your influence, impact and income grow too.

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it comes dressed in overalls and looks like work.” – Edison

Here’s what I’ve noticed.

You go through your days with an Inner Knowing that you’re capable of more, specifically in area X.

And one day you have an opportunity to do something about X.

There’s a catch: Acting on that opportunity, well… it’s gonna hurt.

You don’t feel ready.

You don’t have the money. You don’t have the time. You don’t have the knowledge. You don’t have _____.

And so you wait. And the opportunity passes you by.

Well, notice what just happened: You chose the illusion of comfort over growth.

I say the illusion of comfort because this comfort comes with a perpetual nagging inner voice, always reminding you that you’re settling for less than you’re capable of being.

AND really, it’s worse than that.

If you don’t push yourself to what you think is your limit, you never find out what your limits really are.

David Goggins didn’t wait to run his first 100 mile 24 hour race until he was ready.

Neither should you or I.

The point isn’t that you or I should run 100 miles in 24 hours. The point is that you and I each have our own version of a 100 mile race.

And when the opportunity to run that race shows up, you won’t feel ready.

Here’s what you must remind yourself of at that time:

No one is ever ready for their next big opportunity.

HOWEVER, it is those who commit to run their next “race” even before they know how they’ll finish… They’re the ones who feel the pride, joy and deep satisfaction of living.

The rest?

They get daily angst. And ultimate regret.

So next time your opportunity shows up, and you don’t feel ready…

Take it.

Dov Gordon