Instead of Goal Setting, Tim Ferris Suggests This

Photo Credit: Luanne Olson

Tim Ferris, author of The 4-Hour Work Week and host of the Tim Ferris Show podcast has an interesting take on goal setting. Rather than set goals, define and address the fears that hold you back instead.

In a recent TED talk Tim Ferris asks “Where in your life might defining your fears be more important than defining your goals?”

According to Ferris, it’s the fear of the worst-case scenario that keep us from making the hard choices we sometimes face in life. And it’s often the hard choices that we most need to make. Most of the time the benefits of defining your fears and addressing life’s difficult decisions head-on can lead to a much better outcome than if we do simply nothing.

He offers a simple strategy to keep fear from standing between you and your goals.

First — Identify and write down what you are afraid of. List the top 10-20 worst things that could happen. Consider what you might do to minimize these risks and what you can do to fix the situation if things really go bad.

I’ll give you an example.

My sister-in-law, Luanne, and her husband recently took a long anticipated trip to France. An art lover and school teacher, she dreamed of going to Paris and visiting Monet’s Garden. For the past 17 years she has told her kindergarten and first grade students, “Someday, I am going to stand on Monet’s bridge”.

Luanne standing on Monet’s Bridge

Truthfully, we have never discussed why she hasn’t gone sooner, but I imagine the usual limitations of work, family and other more urgent matters have played a role. Sometimes “someday” just takes a while to get here.

Nevertheless, there are a lot of reasons why a person may worry about taking such a trip: the weather can be bad, luggage can get lost, you don’t speak the language, what if you get injured or sick? and it’s expensive – not to mention the risks to your safety when you travel far from home.

Turns out they do have umbrellas in France for when it rains. Most shops in Paris take American Express (which is a good thing, because they really did lose their luggage!), it doesn’t take long to learn a little French (Mais oui, mon ami!) and with a little planning a trip abroad can be affordable.

Second – Consider the potential benefits of success. Sure, things could go wrong, but on the other hand… You will experience the vacation of a lifetime. You will have memories and experiences you can share forever. You will take amazing photos that you can’t get anywhere else. You can dance ‘til midnight on the summer solstice. You will visit unique and interesting places like nowhere else on Earth.

Best of all you will be able to say to your students,  “I stood on Monet’s bridge”!

Or you could stay home and think about it a little longer.

Finally – Don’t forget about the cost of inaction. Not doing something may be the safe and easy decision, but it comes with a price. The status quo may be comfortable but overcoming your fears allows you to reach for new levels that previously existed only in your dreams.

In the example above, the cost of inaction would have meant that Luanne would never have realized her “someday”. She would never be able to say, “I stood on Monet’s bridge”.

I can’t think of a bigger cost than that.

Take a stroll through Monet’s Garden.

What fears hold you back from your goals?

Maybe you want to retire early or do something different in your work life. Perhaps, like Luanne, you want to take the vacation of a lifetime.

Of course, many fears are well founded. Traveling abroad can be scary stuff. However, identifying and working through your fear can help you to realize that the worst-case scenario can be managed, and the benefits of success outweigh the risks.

Then imagine the cost of NOT taking action. A 17-year-old dream never comes to pass. The memories you would have created exist only in your mind as fantasies, waiting for a “someday” that never comes.

Make someday, today. Don’t let fear or worry stand between you and your goals. Tackle it head-on, take steps to minimize the risk, and consider the potential gains if things go well.

Tim Ferris’ fear setting strategy is simple and easy to use. For more details check out his TED talk or visit his website.

And send me a post card when you get to Monet’s Garden.