The Ultimate Guide to Making Decisions: Fear Setting
“What is quite unlooked for is more crushing in its effect, and unexpectedness adds to the weight of a disaster. This is a reason for ensuring that nothing ever takes us by surprise. We should project our thoughts ahead of us at every turn and have in mind every possible eventuality instead of only the usual course of events… Rehearse them in your mind: exile, torture, war, shipwreck. All the terms of our human lot should be before our eyes.” — Seneca
Stoicism is a popular form of philosophy that dates all the way back to the 3rd century BC. Within this meditative practice, it allows us to transform our negative experiences and emotions into thoughts that allow us to feel more at ease.¹
Premeditatio malorum was a popular mental exercise that Seneca, a stoic philosopher, practiced. This premeditates the evils and troubles that might lie ahead.²
Tim Ferris is an investor, author, and podcaster that utilized this popular stoic practice to create a template that can aid in decision making by addressing what brings us fear and anxiety.
All you will need to get started is 30–60 minutes, a pen, and at least 3 pages.
Page One: What if I…
On the first page, there are three columns: define, prevent, and repair. On this page, we will be analyzing our fears and their worst outcomes. By organizing your thoughts in a neat and orderly way, it allows us to physically see our worries and solutions at the same time. This can allow us to feel a stronger sense of control over the situation.
Define: Within this column, we will be writing down the worse case scenarios of whatever it is that brings you to fear or anxiety.
Prevent: Within this column, we will be writing down all the ways we can prevent each point in the “define” column.
Repair: Within this column, we have to imagine what would happen if the worse case were to happen. But then write down what you can do to fix the situation, even in the slightest. Or even write down who you can go to for help when you’re in times of need.
Page Two: Benefits of an Attempt or Partial Success
On the second page, we will be analyzing how going forth with your decision could benefit you.
Even if not everything follows through as planned, consider the benefits from the attempt. We could potentially build a skill, gain a positive experience, meet new people… Take some time to consider whether or not there might be a social, financial, or emotional gain from facing your fears.
Page Three: Cost of Inaction
The last page will help us consider how not facing our fears can affect us. It can be beneficial to break up the page into 3 columns labeled: 6 months, 1 year, and 3 years. Within each column, list how not following through with your decision could affect you within those timespans.
Addressing your fears is never an easy task but organizing your thoughts can greatly help when trying to make decisions.
Inwood, B. (1985). Ethics and Human Action in Early Stoicism. Oxford University Press.
Graver, M. (2007). Stoicism and Emotions. University of Chicago Press.